Jackson desperate to help Antrim defy the odds
jackson desperate to help antrim starlets defy the odds in glory bid
Not too many players are pitched into the maelstrom of senior inter-county hurling while they are still just 18 years of age.
But then, Jackson McGreevy is no ordinary example of youthful talent.
Mature beyond his years, cushioned by an inner belief and inherent skill that have served him well to date and fired by ambition he more than justified Antrim manager Kevin Ryan's bold decision to give him his senior wings earlier this year.
Since then the St Galls clubman, physically strong yet light of touch in terms of technique and imbued with leadership qualities that would do justice to a veteran, has helped to bring his native county to within one hour's play of what would be the greatest achievement in its history.
McGreevy will lead the Saffrons out in tomorrow's All Ireland under-21 final against Clare conscious that the 80/1 odds which they confronted in advance of their stunning semi-final eclipse of Leinster champions Wexford will probably now be doubled given the Banner county's illustrious reputation at this level.
Indeed, Clare will be peppered by familiar faces – faces that saw action against Cork in last Sunday's epic drawn All-Ireland senior final against Cork.
And McGreevy knows that this as much as anything else underlines the extent of the challenge that his side faces.
"We know that Clare have been the big force at under-21 level but we are just concerned with our own game," he declares.
If Antrim's cohesion, spirit and courage illuminated their display against Wexford, then McGreevy is in no doubt in relation to the source from which the players derived their inspiration.
"Our manager Kevin Ryan is very positive. He keeps telling us that we have the stickwork, the fitness and the attitude to do well and after that he maintains it is all down to self-belief. He can make you even feel a better player," states McGreevy.
"I have seen players including myself improve under him and he has told us to always adopt a positive stance and not feel inferior to any team. We will be going down to Thurles determined to win no matter what anyone says about the odds which appear to be stacked against us."
While McGreevy is viewed as the heartbeat of the team, Stephen McAfee and Ciaran Clarke (pictured) are the Saffrons prime source of scores.
In the semi-final, they scored 2-9 between them, shattering the Wexford defence with their pace and penetration.
But, as McGreevy points out, they may find it more difficult to mine scores against the Clare rearguard.
"While we know we have players with great finishing skills we also know that Clare might not allow us to play but we have to counter that if we can," stresses McGreevy, "I think we have shown that we can play with flair and adventure but at the same time we have to make sure that we restrict Clare as much as possible. They carry a big attacking threat and they have lots of pace."
Manager Ryan has come up with what he hopes will prove a blueprint for success which will entail Antrim maintaining an all-out effort from start to finish.
"We have to match Clare for fitness and work ethic," states Ryan.
"They are very much the top side at under-21 level just now because of their recent form at this level but this is a fresh challenge for these Antrim lads and one for which I feel they are well-equipped."
Meanwhile, Antrim PRO Brendan Mulgrew believes that the senior experience which players like skipper McGreevy and Matthew Donnelly among others have acquired will fortify the side.
"The fact that these boys have played against senior teams in the league has given them a ration of experience that could prove extremely valuable in the context of tomorrow's game," declares Mulgrew.
Cathal O'Connell, Shane O'Donnell, Stephen O'Halloran, Paul Flanagan, Jack Browne, Alan O'Neill and Seadna Morey form the backbone of a Clare side that is viewed within the county as "something that comes along only once in a while", according to joint manager Donal Moloney .
"Obviously much has been written and said about this Clare side but they still have to go out and do the business tomorrow. We cannot allow the hype to deflect us from our goal of capturing this All Ireland title – indeed we all hope it will be the first of two to come our way before the month is out," says Moloney.
Be that as it may, Antrim, anxious to do Ulster proud, will certainly not be touching their cap to the Munster champions.
But Eoghan Campbell will need to be in top form in his role as sweeper, McGreevy will have to be at his best in terms of providing leadership and McAfee and Clarke will be required to reveal unstinting predatory skills if a truly historic step is to be taken.