Neil McManus is wary of the threat posed by St Gall's
Ruairi Óg, Cushendall, may be 1/12 on for this weekend's Antrim senior hurling final against St Gall's (Sunday, Ballycastle, throw-in 4.15pm), but their star performer Neil McManus disputes the bookmakers' rationale.
As Antrim county captain, McManus is very familiar with the hurling talent within the Milltown Row club, and explains: "I think the St Gall's team is littered with a few current and past county hurlers. Even the guys who didn't represent Antrim at senior level have all played for Antrim at minor and Under-21 level.
"They are an extremely strong bunch of hurlers. I learned so much from Kieran McGourty and Karl Stewart in my younger years of playing county and they are fantastic players.
"You have younger lads, such as Jackson McGreevey, seriously talented young lads and natural leaders too," said the 26-year-old.
This is the first time St Gall's have been in a senior final under the stewardship of manager Oliver Bellew and over the last few years they have shown their potential in the small ball code.
They beat Sarsfield's to get this far, but the other side of the draw was loaded with proven sides, Cushendall requiring wins over 2012 All-Ireland club champions Loughgiel Shamrocks and Dunloy to make it to the showpiece day.
St Gall's have ability though. The same year they won an All-Ireland senior club football title (2010), they reached the All-Ireland intermediate hurling final, beaten by St Lachtain's of Kilkenny.
The following year they caused Cushendall some discomfort in the senior county Championship and McManus is under no doubt that the progress of the football wing of the club has hampered the success of the hurlers, given how many dual players have had to spread themselves thin.
"They have won the All-Ireland club title, some of their current panel have 10 senior Championship medals," McManus reminds us.
"They are a serious outfit in club football and no doubt that has detracted from their potential for hurling success over the years."
However, one of Cushendall manager Terence McNaughton's themes this season is not to mention the opposition too much, but get their own house in order.
"From a Cushendall point of view, we are going to concentrate on ourselves.
"We are under no illusion about the task that lies in front of us, they have experience all over the field and we will have to deal with it like we dealt with our past two challenges.
"We are both in the final after having done the same thing and here we are. We know that St Gall's are every bit as strong as Loughgiel and Dunloy were, with the mentality they have – a winning mentality."
McManus admits that the hurt from last year's final – when they lost on a thumping 3-14 to 2-6 scoreline to Loughgiel – is something they have to set right although there are question marks over the extent of the involvement Shane and Christy McNaughton will have.
"It was very uncharacteristic of a Cushendall team to get to a county final and not put in a performance," McManus rues.
"You can swallow the taste of defeat sometimes if you have left everything out on the pitch, but we were absolutely gutted after our final performance.
"I know I want to get back there and set the record straight this year."
And they also want to cap the year for veteran Karl McKeegan.
"For Karl to still be hurling at the age of 36, it's because of the way he looks after himself," says McManus admiringly.
"He is in the gym three times a week. He does a lot of recovery work and works crazily hard, he has an insatiable appetite for it.
"He loves training and he loves Cushendall. You don't have to be a genius to work that out, but he is a massive, massive boost to have around our senior camp."