Antrim joint hurling boss Dominic McKinley, relieved that his side will again see action in the Leinster Championship and All Ireland series next year, has already flashed out a warning to his squad that nothing less than total commitment and burning pride will suffice if they are to make an impact at the top level.
And McKinley believes the players can take a leaf from the book of both Kilkenny and Waterford who will go head to head in Sunday’s All Ireland semi-final at Croke Park (4.00pm).
“It’s no coincidence that these two teams, who met in last year’s All Ireland final, are back again in the last four. They never take their eye off the ball and even though Kilkenny in particular have enjoyed huge ongoing success, their hunger and desire for more glory never relents,” insists McKinley.
Antrim, of course, have acquired experience of playing against such teams in the National League but the Championship is a totally different arena and McKinley, along with county board chairman John McSparran, has made it clear that the county squad faces a huge task next year.
“Teams like Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary lay down a marker for the rest of us and we have to try and pick up the gauntlet,” adds McKinley.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, who has proved a friend to Antrim in the past by helping in a coaching context, is now regarded as one of the greatest managers in the history of the GAA and McKinley believes his status will be even further enhanced should his side add yet another All Ireland title to their huge collection.
Cody will again lean on the vast experience of his tranche of household names — marksman supreme Henry Shefflin, lethal sniper Eddie Brennan, the combative Tommy Walsh and durable defender Michael Kavanagh.
And that’s just for starters. The Cats line-up is simply peppered with quality, a team that is more akin to a machine. The fact too that they appear to have ratcheted up their levels of physicality has made them an even more intimidating force.
Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald is keeping his fingers crossed that, at worst, his team can avoid a repeat of the humiliation they suffered in last year’s All Ireland final and, at best, provide a decent test for the champions.
Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, John Mullane, Stephen Molumphy, Seamus Prendergast and Michael Walsh are all players with considerable mileage logged in the county’s colours and Sunday could represent last chance saloon for them. Manager Fitzgerald is adamant that his side can match Kilkenny in the physical stakes — whether they can outscore them is another matter altogether.
Popular theory is that Kilkenny and Tipperary, who confront Limerick in the second semi-final next weekend, are destined to meet in the All Ireland final.