Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

McNaughton wants to set Antrim free

Cusack Park in Mullingar was the scene of immense Antrim embarrassment last season as they fell by two points to Westmeath.

In putting eight points between the teams on Sunday, Shane McNaughton declared himself satisfied.

"For about seven or eight of us, that was always in the back of our heads from last year. It did put a few things to bed," he said.

Referring back to that other horror show last summer – the 32-point defeat to Limerick and how they narrowed that to three by February past – he added: "With Limerick at the start of the year, we feel we settled that and got back on even keel and now that was our final one of the year. So we can hopefully push on and hurl a lot more freely from here on."

He echoed his manager Kevin Ryan when he talks about hurling more freely, but a crucial element of Sunday's contest was the Antrim hooking and blocking.

The first half ended with both teams level with seven points each as Antrim played into the wind, but they notched up eight in the second half to Westmeath's one.

"At the start of the year, even when we were playing at the start of the league we were still doing plenty of hard work and that's probably standing to us now," McNaughton explained.

"That's really it; we have tried to work on workrate and work ourselves into games.

"We have to try and become more consistent. I think we have problems with being consistent for 70 minutes.

"But we are working towards it and we are improving in every game."

Having hit five points, McNaughton was withdrawn with five minutes to go having suffered a wild swing of timber to the ankle.

But he knew the future of this provincial arrangement would have been scrutinised had they not have gained a positive result.

"We needed to prove that we deserve to stay here," he said.

"If we didn't win that today, then people would have every right to question our involvement in the Leinster Championship.

"That's why it was important, not only to get through, but for minor teams coming through, to make sure we stay in Leinster."

Through hard work and camaraderie, this Antrim team seem to be comfortable with each other and enjoy what they are doing, a factor alluded to by captain Neil McManus afterwards when he joked: "I think it helps that the age profile is so similar.

"There is serious banter on the bus coming down. The craic is mighty and the camp is very, very together.

"We are loving it and really enjoying it. We love going to training and going to matches and that's a wee bit of payback today."

Next up will be Laois on Saturday May 18. Should they win that, then they will have doubled their winning tally in Leinster.

When that potential statistic was put to McNaughton he grinned and quipped: "Let's do that then!"

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