Antrim look to seniors for Esler showdown
Antrim trio Conor McCann, James Black and Matthew Donnelly are preparing to shoulder a huge burden of responsibility in Saturday’s All-Ireland Under-21 Hurling Championship Semi-Final against Dublin at Pairc Esler, Newry.
They are all members of the current Antrim senior panel and will be expected to give a lead against a Dublin side which will enter the match as red-hot favourites.
McCann and Black impressed in the Antrim attack during the National League but the attack as a whole will find it difficult to carve out scores against what is normally a frugal Dubs’ rearguard.
Antrim manager Dinny Cahill, aware of the huge challenge his side faces against a county in which hurling fever has been rampant of late, stresses that his side will not lack appetite for the fray.
“I think we have a lot of very good young hurlers in our side and they will not be short on courage and commitment. Several of our players have had experience in the senior side and this should stand to them,” maintains Cahill.
While Antrim boast some cultured forwards, it’s their defence that will face a massive test on Saturday.
In beating Wexford by 1-18 to 0-11 in the Leinster final, Dublin showed levels of skill, hunger and pace that automatically propelled them into pole position for the All-Ireland title.
Backboned by Liam Rushe who captains the side from centre-half-back and bolstered by some quality forwards, Dublin have improved as the season has progressed.
Kevin O’Loughlin, Niall McMorrow, Conor Gough and Dean Curran are among their key players while their resources on the bench were underlined when Eamon Dillon came on to score the only goal of the game against Wexford.
The huge injection of capital into hurling in Dublin and the response from the public to the progress made by the county teams at all level has given the sport a whole new dimension.
Antrim secretary Frankie Quinn, one of the most astute hurling judges in the country, believes that the Dublin model should become the template for many other counties seeking to improve their hurling structures.
“We are certainly not a weak hurling county but Dublin have been setting a very fast pace in terms of development. Also in conditioning and overall preparations they are ahead of the pack. The Under 21 side we will face on Saturday will be physically imposing and very, very fit,” states Quinn.
This being the case, he accepts that the young Saffrons could have their work cut out to emerge from the contest with a degree of respectability.
“Certainly we have a number of talented individual players but it’s functioning smoothly as a team on the day that counts and Dublin have shown they can achieve this,” said Quinn.
“We have played just one game, the Ulster final against Armagh, so we have not had what you might call an ideal programme of preparation for this semi-final. But we are where we are and hopefully the players will be able to respond positively to a very big challenge.”