Antrim hurler Neil McManus believes that “the biggest overhaul in the recent history of the side” could pay dividends for the Saffrons.
McManus, who admits he is now something of a veteran within the side even though he is only 24, warns that the commitment, drive and self-sacrifices that new manager Kevin Ryan is seeking will have to be maintained over the course of the league and championship.
Like everyone else associated with Antrim hurling, McManus has been surprised by the fierce resolve, passion and zeal for perfection that former Carlow boss Ryan has brought.
“Suddenly, the squad under Kevin Ryan is unrecognisable,” reveals McManus.
“He has completely revamped the playing personnel, but now the people of Antrim will have to exercise patience if their hope for success is to be achieved.
“I have never known such a seismic change and we will have to wait and see does this bring the desired result.”
McManus, six years in the Antrim side and regarded as one of the most accomplished players in the country, admits that he has been taken aback by the new manager’s hard-nosed approach.
“He has made it abundantly clear that he wants a squad of about 25 men who are totally committed to playing for Antrim,” states McManus.
“He wants them to adapt to what he sees as the lifestyle of an inter-county hurler with all that this entails.
“This maybe will not be the strongest hurling panel that Antrim can parade, but it will certainly be the most committed.
“Never has the term a team in transition been more appropriate than when it is applied to this current Antrim squad. It’s the biggest overhaul in the recent history of the side. “
He may have garnered a shoal of Ulster medals with his county and represented his province, but McManus is keen to see Antrim distinguish themselves in the Leinster championship.
“Obviously we have been playing in Leinster for the past couple of years and I would have to say that the defeat to Westmeath this year was just about the most sickening that any of us have ever experienced,” says McManus.
“We were in a good positive mood yet somehow contrived to lose the game.”
It precipitated the departure of Jerry Wallace — and there was more than a touch of farce to his ultimate exit — and provoked deep disappointment within the county board with chairman Jim Murray, secretary Frankie Quinn and other officials expressing “deep disappointment” at the result.
McManus is confident that the anguish and heartbreak experienced on that occasion have now been replaced by a fresh resolve and rekindled optimism.
“There is no doubt that Kevin Ryan and his backroom team will need all the support they can get,” insists McManus.
“We are in Division 1B of the league bracketed along with teams such as Limerick, Dublin, Wexford and Offaly. There are certainly no easy games there and we are going to have to win maybe three of them just to survive in that division before we can even start to think about championship hurling.”