Antrim fans can have a shout in new era: O'Kane
Gary O'Kane, who is part of the Antrim hurling management team, has made an impassioned plea to fans to get behind the Saffrons as they prepare for what he believes will be one of their busiest years on record.
With confirmation provided at Saturday's Special Congress in Dublin that the reigning Ulster champions will take their bow in a new second tier of the All-Ireland championship and facing into a daunting itinerary in Division 1A of the league, O'Kane believes that followers can play an important role by coming out in numbers to support the team on a consistent basis.
"When you look at our league fixtures, you see that we will be up against All-Ireland champions Galway as well as sides such as Limerick and Dublin," points out O'Kane.
"Those are teams that are above our station at the moment but we have to try and get up to their level. Then when the league is over we have to try and retain our Ulster Championship title before we embark on the new All-Ireland format."
Antrim will be bracketed with Carlow, Kerry, Laois, Meath and Westmeath as part of the overall championship shake-up which will see five teams from Leinster and five from Munster compete for the Liam McCarthy Cup.
"To be getting a minimum of five straight championship games is a bonus for Antrim and we want to make the most of it," says Dunloy clubman O'Kane. "I would just love to see the fans row in behind the team and give them the lift they need. I think our supporters could play an invaluable role."
"The fact that we will be involved in high profile games for the next three years at least is surely an inducement to people to throw their weight behind us."
O'Kane is particularly keen to see Galway, the new All-Ireland champions, come to Antrim in the league.
"Obviously we are not aware of our fixtures in that particular competition but what a boost for the sport it would be if we were to get the chance to host them," says O'Kane. "You really could not ask for a more attractive fixture, could you?"
There is also now the strong possibility that Antrim, Derry or Down may be invited to join the Leinster Under 21 hurling championship. This would be viewed as a further boost for hurling in the province and would be an important stepping stone for players aiming to achieve senior status.