Antrim hurling manager Dinny Cahill has called for a greater spirit of unity within the sport in the province as his team prepare for their important Leinster Championship quarter-final against Offaly on Sunday.
In making their debut in the competition last year, the Saffrons lost to Dublin but Cahill believes that victory this time out could have important implications for Ulster hurling.
Cahill said: “I honestly think that if we can beat Offaly it will help the sport here but it’s vital that all counties help each other. Every county needs the next county beside them in hurling — Antrim needs Down and so on.
“It’s encouraging to see the strides the sport is making in the province. When any county here begins to do well particularly in an All Ireland context I know that the other counties will get behind them and I would love to see more of that because it’s great for the game.”
For the confrontation with Offaly Cahill has Johnny Campbell returning at centre-half-back while Shane McNaughton and Neil McManus will be in the full-forward line and Paul Shiels will lead the side from midfield.
Shiels endured a heartbreaking 2009 when a torn ligament in his hip precluded any involvement in championship hurling and now the Dunloy clubman is determined to make up for lost time in his new role as captain.
“We probably did not do ourselves justice against Dublin in Leinster last year but we have a big chance to show our true worth this weekend. There is a good balance within this Antrim side and we have skilful players who have acquired more experience lately. We are sure that they will be very fired up for the game but so will we,” promises Shiels who will have St Gall’s ace Karol Stewart as his midfield partner.
While manager Cahill is hopeful that his side can make an impact in the Leinster Championship, he will also take more than a passing interest in the Ulster Championship quarter-finals on Saturday when Derry will face London and Down will confront Armagh on a Casement Park double bill.
“It was a great idea on the part of the Ulster Council to bring all nine counties under the umbrella of the provincial championship a couple of years ago and that has created a better competition,” he said. The winners of Saturday’s quarter-final ties will meet in a semi-final to determine just who will confront reigning champions Antrim who have received a bye into the provincial final.
ANTRIM: G McGhee; K McGourty, C Donnelly, A Graffin; N McAuley, J Campbell, C Herron; P Shiels, K Stewart; E McCloskey, T McCann, J Scullion; S McNaughton, N McManus, K McKeegan