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Antrim are hungry for a return to the top tier, says Carson

By Declan Bogue

Published 03/05/2016

In the thick of it: Antrim hurling skipper Conor Carson takes it to Roscommon in the Christy Ring Cup
In the thick of it: Antrim hurling skipper Conor Carson takes it to Roscommon in the Christy Ring Cup

He may only have been the Antrim hurling captain for the past two weeks, but Conor Carson has sent out a warning that the Saffrons will go all out to win the Christy Ring Cup and make their return to the big time.

The Cushendall man has targeted a return to the Championship top-flight of Liam MacCarthy Cup hurling, but first they have to earn the right by claiming the Christy Ring crown.

They have already taken their first two steps on that journey by beating Kildare and Roscommon, making it to the semi-finals on May 21.

"We want to be playing a better standard. We want to win it and get back into the Leinster Championship in the qualifiers group," stated the 27-year-old.

"That's where we want to be. I wouldn't disrespect the Christy Ring but we want to win it, to get out of it."

It wasn't lost on the engineer with Bombardier that when Antrim last won this trophy in 2006, it pushed that generation of players on. In the 2010 season when he joined the panel, they reached an All-Ireland quarter-final, losing with honour to Cork.

He explained: "We are in the Christy Ring because that's where we deserve to be after last year. We weren't good enough and we deserved relegation."

While on duty for his club Cushendall during their run to the All-Ireland club final, Carson missed out on the league campaign when Antrim failed to get out of Division 2A.

That tumultuous period led to the resignation of manager PJ O'Mullan, who has been replaced by a management team of Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton, Dominic 'Woody' McKinley, Gary O'Kane and Neal Peden.

"It was maybe a blessing not to have been involved in that sort of stuff," he suggested. "I only hear rumours and had very little to do with it. The previous manager has said that when the All-Ireland club campaign was over we would have two weeks' rest. That brought us from the March 17 to April 1.

"By that stage the management changed. I found it all a bit unbelievable because you heard stories and rumours, and all the time you were thinking, 'no, that's rubbish'. I didn't originally believe it."

By working late the Thursday before Antrim faced Kildare in the Christy Ring opener, Carson missed the dressing room announcement that he was the captain for the summer. He admits that coming into a team managed by his clubmate McNaughton and other familiar faces makes things easy for him.

"Most of the players we have now have been playing with each other, in minors, Under-21 or senior. There aren't too many new faces and everyone knows each other," he said.

"And then the vast majority of the team have played for 'Sambo' and 'Woody'. So there wasn't too much bedding in."

It was Carson's 50th-minute goal that arrested a slump against Roscommon. While Antrim ran out five-point winners, he admits that they were certainly off colour in Dunloy.

He added: "It's hard to put your finger on it. We were doing the basics wrong in the first-half, hand-passes were going astray and we were dropping catches, things you need to get right.

"We were making very, very simple mistakes, not picking up runners and things like that. Our focus wasn't where it should have been, especially when compared to last week."

Belfast Telegraph

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