Returning Liam Watson hurt by his absence from Antrim
Antrim's Liam Watson says he is looking forward to a return to Saffron colours this weekend, and lays the blame for his absence over the last few years squarely at the feet of former manager Kevin Ryan.
Talking about a decision he was forced to make in the early months of 2012, Watson said: "Kevin Ryan knocked me back, it wasn't that I wasn't good enough, it was that I couldn't commit because we were playing in an All-Ireland semi-final against Na Piarsaigh and he wanted me to commit there and then. It was a no-brainer for me because I was always going to commit to Loughgiel.
"I thought he should have maybe gave me a bit more time. Let us finish our campaign and then ask those questions that he asked the other county boys. That wasn't the case and I took four years and I thought I would never play for Antrim again."
The 33-year-old would subsequently go on to light up the All-Ireland club final in 2012, hitting three goals as Loughgiel Shamrocks sealed their second All-Ireland title, but he felt he still could have earned another call-up.
"I talked about it last year to my wife and I said, 'that's that gone,'" he said.
"I wanted to get back. Even under Kevin Ryan, I don't know whether he was that stubborn he didn't want to phone me, but I don't understand.
"After my scoring sprees in the semi-final and final of the All-Ireland I still thought I might get a call-up, but he has never spoken to me in three years."
And, Watson feels he came in for harsh criticism on social media, stating that although he was sick of it, it was his choice to hold his counsel. Asked why he did not lift the phone himself and call Ryan, he answered: "It's not the done thing. I got bad press about it and people were saying about it on Facebook and Twitter and all the rest of it that I should just have gone to training and arrive at it.
"You can't do that. I would like to see some players arrive at Kilkenny to a Brian Cody training session and say, 'I am coming to train with Kilkenny.'"
He added: "Antrim shouldn't be like that. I didn't think I had any given right to go there and say 'I am on this panel.' You have to be invited onto a panel and I wasn't, so I never attended.
"For me to get that aired out to everybody, it was hard. I never really opened up on the situation, so that's where I have been left, everyone taking a dig at me, and I am sick of taking it."
Watson will surely emerge as one of the leaders for Antrim this season as they bid to claw their way out of Division 2A, and they begin their campaign with a trip to Celtic Park to take on Derry this Sunday.
He talked about coming back under his former club manager, PJ O'Mullan Jnr, especially considering how he injured both right and left cruciate ligaments in his knees.
"When I was asked up by PJ, I said I wasn't going to commit to something that I wasn't going to be 100% into. He said he wanted me on board and I said I would go for the first two months and see how I was going," he said.
"I think some players in the last few years say they will go to the county but don't fully commit.
"They just go through the motions, and once one goes through the motions, the next man goes through the motions, so you are not training as hard as you could be. It bleeds through the team."
Watson also stated that the cardiac arrest that affected his father, Paddy, during a club game last summer has made him more appreciative of life outside his sport.
"When I jumped the fence," he said. "I couldn't have cared if I never hit another hurling ball. When I jumped it, he was dead and it was hard.
"He got his two stents in and 20 minutes later he was sitting on the end of the bed looking to see who had won the Loughgiel-Cushendall game.
"Just hurling mad. I told him there was more to life than hurling," added Watson.