Antrim to get reality check for year ahead
Antrim hurling captain Neil McManus pinpoints tomorrow's Allianz League semi-finals as setting the barometer for the forthcoming championship season.
And he believes that his own team, who will shortly embark on their Leinster championship campaign, will be served with a sharp reminder as to just what standards they must achieve if they are to join the sport's elite corps.
Having retained their position in Division One courtesy of an 11th-hour relegation shoot-out victory over struggling Offaly, Antrim will soon be confronted by much bigger challenges and McManus suggests that, by digesting tomorrow's action in detail, players can further acquaint themselves with the demands that will be made of them.
With All-Ireland champions Clare due to lock horns with Tipperary, and Kilkenny set to renew hostilities with Galway, an enticing semi-final double bill is on offer at the Gaelic Grounds Limerick.
"You would have to say that these are four teams of real quality and it would be difficult to script a more enthralling climax to the competition," says McManus.
"The bar is being raised all the time and this means that teams like Antrim who have ambitions of moving up in the world have to be alive to the even bigger tests that lie ahead. Tomorrow in all probability will certainly give us an insight as to just how the game has moved on."
Clare will go into action without the services of All Ireland title-winning hero Shane O'Donnell whose 3-3 in that memorable showdown last September brought hurling to a glorious new level.
Meanwhile, Galway manager Anthony Cunningham has fitness doubts over Iarla Tannion and Niall Healy for their clash with the vastly-experienced Cats.