Kevin Ryan is wary as Antrim kids set sights on glory
Antrim hurling manager Kevin Ryan could have his swansong on the provincial stage when his side confront Derry in tonight's Ulster U21 Championship decider at Owenbeg (7.30pm).
But while he is remaining coy about his future, Ryan is keen to see Antrim gain some measure of success after a disastrous season which saw his team demoted in the league and flounder in the Leinster Championship before retaining their Ulster title by the skin of their teeth.
It was in a one-sided semi-final against Armagh (6-22 to 0-7) that the Saffrons booked their place in tonight's decider and Ryan has been emphasising that scores will certainly not be as easy to come by against a Derry side that will be anxious to improve on their semi-final display against Down.
The Oak Leafs found themselves 14 points adrift at the end of the first quarter of that game but staged a robust recovery and eventually got over the line late on.
Ryan, conscious that Derry will have absorbed lessons from that wake-up call against Down, is warning his side to be on their guard from the outset.
"They were able to shoot from all over the place against Armagh but it won't be like that against Derry," said Ryan. "I've told the players they won't get that freedom. We were glad to get the semi-final out of the way and since then we have been focused on this final.
"There is an All-Ireland semi-final place against Wexford at stake and a match like this would certainly bring whoever wins this Ulster final on a little more."
Saul McCaughan, Conor Johnston, Niall McKenna, Patrick McBride and James Connolly are key figures in an Antrim side that boasts a flavour of senior experience.
Derry boss Tom McLean believes his side's win over what he considers to be a "seriously good Down side" has set them up for tonight's confrontation.
"Make no mistake about it, Down are seriously good and it took a big effort to get past them," stated McLean. "But it takes a lot of character to come back from being 14 points down and I think my players showed that."
McLean is looking for a repeat of that courage and application tonight. He believes that players like Deaghlan Foley, Mark McGuigan and Cormac O'Doherty can set the tone.
"While we have good individual players, it will take a collective effort if we are to come out on top," added McLean.