McManus says Saffrons are out for redemption
Neil McManus isn't the type of man to wallow in pity, but he admits the Antrim hurling team are "still hurting" from their unexpected relegation to Division 2A of the National Hurling League three weeks ago.
However, the Saffrons captain's natural disposition is to look to the next challenge with positivity, and so he is chomping at the bit to host Laois in the first qualifying round for the Leinster Championship (tomorrow, Ballycastle, 3.30pm).
"The mood has actually been pretty good since we were relegated," says McManus.
"People have looked at it and seen that the only thing that gets us out of this is a Championship performance. That's the only thing that turns this season round.
"We are where we are in regards to next season. We didn't play well enough and we paid the price for that.
"We know that this season is only halfway through and we have a real shot at redemption. The mood has been good in the camp."
For 24 hours after that play-off defeat the ship looked rocky, with manager Kevin Ryan throwing himself at the mercy of the players and county board. But after a player meeting in Hannahstown the following night, they lent their support to the Waterford man through a statement.
The move typified Ryan's honesty, insists McManus.
"Kevin is nothing if not honest and he would put his neck on the line if he thought that we, for a second, didn't have complete buy-in, then he wouldn't be there.
"We want to repay some of the belief that he has in us for this Championship campaign."
And he claims the players accepted full responsibility during those discussions.
"We knew in the changing rooms afterwards and we all had a talk about it. We knew that the blame lay with the players and we didn't play well enough," he admits. "Really and truly we are still hurting from the relegation."
Now, they get that chance against Seamus Plunkett's Laois, a side they have already met and been beaten by twice this Spring.
DERRY manager Tom McLean is hoping that his experienced forward division can fire on all cylinders in today's important Christy Ring Cup clash against Mayo.
Paddy Henry, John O'Dwyer, Ruairi Convery and Alan Grant are among Ulster's most potent marksmen when they hit form and McLean is keeping his fingers crossed that they can chart a course to success.
Elsewhere, Down face a difficult assignment against newly-promoted Kerry in the same competition while in the Nicky Rackard Cup, Armagh host Louth at the Athletic Grounds.
Newly-promoted Donegal will renew their rivalry with Tyrone at Letterkenny.
Fermanagh, meanwhile, have retired the No 2 jersey that was worn by the late Shane Mulholland, whose tragic death a week ago stunned everyone in the county.
They will take on Warwickshire in the Lory Meagher Cup at Brewster Park, Enniskillen today.
Derry (v Mayo, Christy Ring Cup): D McDermott; M Warnock, C Quinn, S McCullagh; A Rafferty, C McSorley, K Hinphey; D Flanagan, B Quigley; P McCloskey, P Cleary, P Henry; J O'Dwyer, R Convery, A Grant.