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Veterans can still thrive in young man's game, says O'Connell

By John Campbell

Long-serving Antrim goalkeeper Chris O'Connell is reluctantly beginning to accept that inter-county hurling is becoming more of a "young man's game", as he puts it himself.

Yet the 28-year-old Loughgiel clubman, who has been part of the Saffrons squad for the past decade, believes that the senior citizens in the side can play their part in reviving the team's fortunes after a disappointing 2016.

And he has certainly sent out a message that age is no barrier to individual achievement by winning the Quinn Building Products Ulster GAA Writers' Association award for January following a string of outstanding performances in the Walsh Cup.

But while delighted to have been honoured, the quiet-spoken, unassuming O'Connell, who is still playing with the same enthusiasm and commitment he showed when first introduced to the squad, is adamant that a win against Carlow on Sunday will further bolster Antrim's chances of perhaps figuring in the promotion race from Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League.

"A lot of people are saying that at inter-county level it's now more of a young man's game but I think we have a solid core of experienced players who are still capable of doing the business," pointed out O'Connell.

"What we are hoping to see is a nice blend of youth and experience. Last year was a big disappointment but we have put that behind us now and we are very much focused on the future."

In beating London last Sunday, Antrim believe that they have laid down a marker for the league although O'Connell recognises that tough tests against teams like Armagh and Westmeath still lie ahead.

"There is no doubt that Division 2A is a tough section and we certainly need all hands on deck," insisted O'Connell.

"That's why it's great to have people like Neal McAuley and Paul Shiels back on board. They are two outstanding hurlers and when you think of Ciaran Clarke and Conor Johnston who are bedrocks of the attack you can see the fusion of skill there is in the side."

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