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Antrim have the strength to power on, says Elliott

 

By Declan Bogue

After Antrim systematically dismantled Meath 5-25 to 2-18 in Saturday's Joe McDonagh Cup opener, star performer Nigel Elliott paid tribute to the impact new strength and conditioning coach Tommy Stevenson has had on the Saffrons panel.

Dunloy man Elliott scored three goals - two of them in a devastating three-minute spell in the second half, in which Conor Johnston also scored for Antrim - that burned off the Saffrons' opponents.

But it was the ability of Antrim's players to break the tackle and get beyond their markers that stood out against a side that had beaten them in their last three meetings.

The recruitment of Stevenson - who works out of a gym in Armagh city and was previously with the Orchard County hurlers - was a clever bit of business by Antrim joint-manager Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton over the winter, having used former All-Ireland football-winning Down captain DJ Kane in a similar role the year before.

Sporting impressive bicep muscles that cannot be acquired without serious time in the gym, Elliott - the son of the man by the same name who played for Antrim and for Dunloy in the 2003 All-Ireland Club final against Birr - stated: "Tommy's put us through our paces. Tommy shows us what's required at the start of the year and goes through it with each individual player, a programme that suits them.

"He doesn't need to be chasing us the whole time because he knows we're going to do it. Our fitness levels are starting to show now.

"I would say 11 or 12 different players were coming through and breaking lines, which we've been working on. It's good to see us racking up that score. Any team scoring 5-25 in any game is brilliant. It just shows the training we're doing is first class."

He also paid tribute to the presence of Liam Sheedy - the All-Ireland-winning manager with Tipperary in 2010 - who has occasionally given his expertise to the Saffrons camp this season.

"Liam is up when he can," explained Elliott.

"He was up during the league four times and took us through our paces. Liam Sheedy explains himself, you don't really explain Liam Sheedy. He's top class. To have him helping us is just giving us that extra drive."

Of all the teams in the McDonagh Cup, Laois and Antrim would appear to be best equipped to win the trophy in the first year of its existence having played at a higher level in Division 1B of the National League.

Both sides have faced Limerick, Galway, Offaly and Dublin over the course of the spring.

"Division 1B gave us a platform to work on," acknowledged Elliott. "Hurling against the likes of Galway, All-Ireland champions, at the start of the year, a great performance against Dublin… we were unfortunate we weren't getting results, we knew the performances were in us.

"I think that's the first time we've beaten Meath in three or four attempts.

"We have a bad history against Carlow as well. We just need to go and prove everybody wrong the way we did here. Everyone is just looking forward to it."

While Antrim were by far the more accomplished side on Saturday, they took some time to get to grips with their hosts. Indeed, the game commenced with Elliott winning the ball straight from the throw-in and attempting a long-range effort, which he then discovered to his horror was directed at his own goals, having momentarily forgotten what way he was playing.

Asked what he was thinking, he laughed: "I don't know, I actually don't know. How do you start answering that? I'm just glad it didn't go over!"

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