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Pride in Antrim jersey McKillen's goal

By Declan Bogue

If the next generation of Antrim hurlers need any encouragement or a pointer towards what can be achieved, they need only look to the latest man to take charge of their minor side.

Paul McKillen, an All-Star hurler in 1993 and a veteran of the 1989 All-Ireland final, takes the Saffron minors into battle this weekend against Galway in Kingspan Breffni Park (Sunday, throw-in 2pm), with an All-Ireland semi-final place up for grabs.

Historically at this level, Antrim have had some major difficulties. Last year they ran into eventual All-Ireland champions Waterford and were mown down, 4-20 to 1-9.

The year before they did not even get out of Ulster, beaten by three points in the Ulster final by a talented group of Down players.

Ballycastle McQuillan's man McKillen, reveals he had some major soul searching to conduct before he took on the job, and explained some of the difficulties he encountered.

"I thought long and hard about it after I was asked before Christmas. I did a bit of homework and found out that through exams, fixtures etc it is a serious hard job to do," he said.

"We went in with the attitude that we could change it. We weren't going to let boys just walk in two weeks before Championship and get a jersey. That saying, we set out this year and stuck to it.

"The problem is, the month of June for the young boys, is they are killed with fixtures and exams so you can hardly get them out the door.

"They might have a fixture on during the week on a night that you are trying to arrange training."

With all the other commitments his players have, they have only been able to meet up for one weekly training session, something McKillen dismisses as, "not good enough for an Antrim minor team to compete in the All-Ireland series".

However, you have to admire his determined stubborn streak in that he is only interested in players who want to play, and is determined to restore the worth of an Antrim jersey.

It's all very similar to the ongoing work of Kevin Ryan at senior and under-21 levels.

The management team along with McKillen consists of Alex Campbell of Ballycastle and Marty Devine of O'Donovan Rossa, two men impressively familiar with the underage scene in the county through their involvement in their own clubs.

"We have worked with about 28 young players this year," said McKillen. "They have stuck with us and now we're hoping we go out on Sunday and put up a good performance."

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