Top flight hurling is a must insists Saffron star

ANTRIM hurlers must continue to have Division One as their “playground” for the county’s development in the game insists Neil McManus.

Speaking after the Saffron’s secured their top flight status with Sunday’s win over Laois, the Cushendall man feels they have gained much from the league with newcomers getting experience against the top teams.

“It is really important for Antrim’s development that we continue to play our league hurling in Division One, there is no other way to learn.,” said McManus who hit 1-1 in Sunday’s win.

“We want to play championship hurling at the top level and the only way to prepare for that is Division One league, there is no other way to acclimatise new players.”

Antrim minor and u-20 were crowned Ulster champions over the weekend but enter the All-Ireland race via the earlier stages of the Leinster championships seeded below teams like Kilkenny and Galway.

“The only opportunity we have to bring our players up to the required standard is Division One hurling and we have got to keep that as our playground,” McManus insisted.

“If we don’t, then it will be virtually impossible to be competitive in championship at the top level.

“It’s very, very important and we know the significance of it for developing the players coming through in the county, not just our senior team.”

While safe from relegation and away from any hopes of a semi-final spot gone, McManus insists Antrim will be going all out to win when manager Darren Gleeson’s native Tipperary come to Corrigan Park this weekend.

He speaks of the interest top teams coming to Corrigan Park brings to the game in Ulster with fans from across the province coming along to sample the action.

“What better preparation for the Leinster championship could you have than playing Tipperary,” McManus said of a campaign that pairs Antrim with Dublin, Kilkenny, Galway, Wexford and Westmeath.

The last time Antrim were in Leinster, in 2021, they only played one game in a knock-out format with Dublin knocking them out.

“It’s the accumulation of games that allows players to get up to speed at that level,” he added. “It’s fantastic and that’s where we do our learning, we’ll make mistakes but we’ll do our learning in that environment.”

Antrim are the current Ulster u-17 and u-20 champions and McManus was in Owenbeg on Saturday as current senior panellists Christy McGarry and Eoin Trainor helped see off Derry thanks to goals from Aidan Scullion.

“There is a big jump to the top u-20 teams, but I have always said that your underage teams are there to develop players for senior level, that’s what they are there to do,” McManus said, hoping to see more made the step to senior hurling in the years ahead.

Tactics, skill and team structure all important when players move into the senior ranks, but determination and hunger are the building blocks before anything else comes into consideration.

“It is down to the player, to see the senior team playing and competing at the very top level and wanting to be a part of that and drive themselves on,” McManus summed up.

“Hopefully they are seeing that and there is plenty of talent in that u-20 team, so hopefully we’ll be seeing them join over the next year or two.”

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