Antrim hurling manager Kevin Ryan and captain Neil McManus have overseen what has been at times a traumatic sporting journey this year to date but yesterday a significant destination was reached.
In overcoming a gallant, fiercely-committed Carlow outfit at Navan in a gripping Allianz League Division 1B relegation play-off, the Saffrons assured themselves of another term in the top bracket.
"It's very heartening to be staying up. It has been a difficult league campaign for us but we will now stay where we want to be. I am particularly pleased that this Antrim side will continue to get the chance to pit themselves against high-quality opponents which is essential for its development," stated a relieved Ryan.
For McManus, yesterday's victory was particularly satisfying.
Not only did he score 8 of Antrim's points but he led by superb example boosted by the able support of Shane McNaughton who proved influential when he moved to midfield and Eddie McCloskey who performed heroically both in defence and attack.
"I'm delighted with this win. Now we will get the opportunity to become a much better side," said a clearly delighted McManus.
By half-time, Antrim's prospects of avoiding the drop had lessened as by then Carlow led by 0-8 to 0-4.
But when McNaughton eventually piloted over a long-range effort from play, this served to infuse fresh commitment and fluency into the side and with McManus unerring in his free-taking, they reined in the midland outfit.
And despite the difficult conditions – a gale-force wind militated against accurate finishing – Antrim produced a spirited effort in the last quarter.
"We can now focus on the Leinster championship in which we will play Westmeath and on the Ulster championship in which we are already guaranteed our place in the final in positive mood," Antrim PRO Brendan Mulgrew stated.
Antrim: R McGarry; C McKinley, A Graffin, M McFadden; J McGreevy, N McAuley, P Shiels; T McCloskey, M Donnelly; S Beatty, N McManus, E McCloskey; S McAfee, C Carson, S McNaughton. Subs: B McFaul for Donnelly, D Hamill for McAfee, S Casey for McGreevy, K B McShane for Hamill.
Carlow: N Roberts; D English, E Nolan, D Shaw; A Corcoran, R Coady, J O'Hara; J Kavanagh, E Coady; C Doyle, S Kavanagh, D Murphy, A Gaule, M Brennan, J M Nolan. Sub: P Shaw for Brennan.