The toughest opener of all

By Michael McMullan

WHAT a difference eight months can make in the Antrim senior hurling camp as they face into a potentially chastening league opener against top dogs Limerick.

Wind the clock back to last May and Antrim were comfortable winners over Westmeath to retain their Liam McCarthy Cup status.

It was the last day as an inter-county hurler for Neil McManus.

The message coming into the game focussed on the need to be hurling at the top flight.

With Dunloy on the cusp of an All-Ireland title, there were more shoots of positivity.

Darren Gleeson’s canvas has changed since. First McManus called time on his inter-county career. In fairness, he owed the county nothing having left the jersey in a better place than he found it.

Domhnall Nugent has also stepped away. So too Joe Maskey of Naomh Éanna.

There was also the news that Dunloy stars Keelan Molloy, Eoin O’Neill, Seaan and Ryan Elliott have also stepped away, decimating their squad further.

But the show must go on and it’s up to the rest of the panel to step up to the plate.

Ballycastle’s Tiernan Smyth has been wearing the goalkeeper jersey.

Ryan McCarry, Paddy Burke and Eoghan Campbell will be key players in defence.

In terms of scoring, James McNaughton, Niall McKenna, Conor McCann and Conall Cunning are still on board.

The Saffrons’ management will be hoping the next swathe of players can put their hands up for a start.

Cushendall’s Mageean Cup winner Joseph McLaughlin has the talent to push on.

Loughgiel duo Paul Boyle and Ryan McMullan have turned on the style at club level.

Antrim’s season won’t be defined by who is not there, but rather by how the core of their panel approach the new challenges coming their way.

They could’ve been dealt a more favourable hand than an away day in Limerick as their first taste of 2024 league hurling.

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