Kevin Ryan encouraged by Antrim's attitude
Antrim hurling team manager Kevin Ryan is asking his players to roll up their sleeves and prepare for "a lot of hard work" as the build-up to the Leinster Championship begins.
The round robin series will get under way next month and Ryan is hoping that his team, bolstered by the recent win over Offaly which secured their status in Division 1B for another year, can make an impact.
But the Waterford native, who was formerly in charge of Carlow, acknowledges that his side face a demanding mission, although he is heartened by their current attitude.
"We are certainly getting commitment from the panel we have. There's an awful lot more work to be done and there's another good few pieces to add to the jigsaw in the background to make the whole thing work," reveals Ryan.
"We have spent a year trying to build a panel and then you still have to ask yourself – how do you measure progress?
"Last year, we asked in 52 lads and got 17 of them. I ended up with just 10 or 12 of that 17.
"What I would be pleased about is that this year we invited 38 lads to come on board at Under-21 level and they arrived to a man. We played an Under-21 game on the January 4 and we had a full squad there. Now that's encouraging by any standards."
Ryan believes that he has the nucleus of a side that can carry the flag for Antrim in the Leinster Championship and also go on to retain their Ulster title.
Even though their league form was depressing – the relegation play-off against Offaly was the only match that the Saffrons won – Ryan is convinced that the experience which his team gained will now stand them in good stead.
"We have the nucleus of what we need and I have never changed my mind. I think it's all about these lads and making sure they're in a good place in two or three year's time," insists Ryan.
He pinpoints the heavy league defeat to Limerick in particular as a turning point.
"We changed a lot of the training as well as a lot of things round it and I think everyone believed and bought into it.
"Really, if you look at the whole league, had we just performed better the first day we could have beaten Wexford and you could have been looking at a different scenario. At the same time, we are content with the way things are progressing."