Captain Neil McManus wants Antrim to join elite
Antrim captain Neil McManus is convinced that the time is ripe for the side to make "a serious push" to join the hurling elite.
With the Hurling 2020 Committee's report still being digested throughout the country, McManus will now urge his squad to commit themselves to attaining enhanced status when they convene for Sunday's Walsh Cup fixture against Dublin Institute of Technology at the St Paul's club in west Belfast.
"I honestly believe that we have a team now that has matured with a number of players in the 25 to 27 age group and they have acquired the experience and committed approach needed to bring us up in the world," said McManus.
"There is a feeling among the players that progression must be the name of the game for us and I think we have to set down a marker this year. We will make a serious push to move up."
It was former Antrim and Ulster ace Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton, a member of the high-powered 2020 Committee, who declared earlier this week that Antrim should target a place among the top teams within the next five to 10 years.
And McManus believes that given the right attitude and approach this is possible.
"Obviously that would represent a big step-up for us but I think the time to mount that push is now," said the Saffrons skipper.
He is relishing the return of top-flight hurling to Belfast this weekend, too.
"It's some time since Antrim played in Belfast and I would love to see all the clubs in the city bring their juvenile squads along to the game so that their interest in the sport will be heightened," he said.
"They are the players of the future and it's important that their desire to become better players and maybe gain inter-county status one day is properly fuelled."
Antrim manager Kevin Ryan is likely to field an experimental team but he will have a shoal of experienced players at his disposal should they be required including Neal Macauley, Aaron Graffin, Paul Shiels, PJ O'Connell, Barry McFaul Conor McKinley and, of course, skipper McManus.