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Antrim hurling manager Kevin Ryan hopes young guns can come of age

By John Campbell

Antrim hurling manager Kevin Ryan's decision to show faith in younger players during his senior team's involvement in the league and championship this year now forms a bonus for Saturday's All-Ireland U21 championship semi-final against Clare.

The Saffrons go into the game as rank outsiders – they lost to the Banner County by a whopping 2-28 to 0-12 in last year's decider – but the layer of experience which several players have gained to date this term could perhaps now stand them in good stead.

Yet for all his own relentless commitment and dedication to his cast, Ryan is still left to bemoan the fact that the level of interest and enthusiasm at Under-21 level is not what he feels it should be within Antrim.

"The days of players turning up for the odd training session and then going out to fulfil fixtures are long gone," insists Ryan. "We have some players who have come through this year but not as many as I would have liked."

The patience he has shown in relation to players such as Ciaran Clarke, Daniel McKernan, Jackson McGreevy, Stephen McAfee and Conor McCann means they will now go in against a buoyant Clare side fortified by a useful ration of senior experience.

Clare have won the last three Munster Under-21 crowns, they are the reigning All-Ireland U21 champions and their management team of Donal Maloney and Gerry O'Connor believe their current squad is the "best ever" to represent the county.

It all adds up to a massively intimidating contest for Antrim, who will derive little comfort from their 7-17 to 1-5 mauling of a feeble Down side in the Ulster final.

"Obviously Clare are well ahead of the pack at the minute but the only way that players will improve their own game is by playing against quality teams and this match represents a chance for Antrim to put on the best show possible," insists Ryan.

Clare beat Cork by 1-28 to 1-13 in the Munster final and in David Reidy, Colm Galvin, Eoin Enright and Bobby Duggan they have outstanding players.

Antrim, though, could be spared the task of trying to cope with the mercurial skills of last year's All-Ireland senior final hero Shane O'Donnell, who might not make the cut because of injury.

* DERRY county board have re-fixed the Lavey v Magherafelt Championship match for this Thursday at Owenbeg with throw-in at 8.00pm.

This is following the abandonment of the original match when Lavey captain Kevin McCloy suffered a trauma on the pitch and had to be revived by a defibrillator.

As a result, the county board are not charging in, but Club Derry will be collecting voluntary donations for the Cormac Trust, in recognition of their pioneering work in popularising defibrillators.

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