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Antrim's belief is on the rise, says captain Neil McManus

By Neil McManus

Antrim captain Neil McManus believes that five days spent stewing on a 32-point loss to Waterford sufficiently focused the minds of the Saffrons players before they restored some pride in the jersey against Offaly on Sunday.

Manager Kevin Ryan had pencilled in a mini-break in training after the trip to Waterford anyway, but the nature of the result left the panel doing some soul-searching during the week, McManus revealed.

Speaking after the four-point loss to Offaly despite fielding an experimental and under-strength team, McManus said: "I understood why we took that break as soon as training was over on Thursday - we were waiting to right the wrongs so much, we were made to wait double the time that we usually have to wait to do that.

"It was evident that we didn't want that to happen to us again. Everybody said, 'no way, this is not where Antrim hurling is at, we will make sure that the performances from here on in show that'."

Offaly had threatened to inflict another heavy defeat on Antrim in Ballycastle, but after conceding 2-3 in the opening quarter, Antrim went on to outscore their opponents by two points for the remainder of the game once they got up to the pace of the contest.

It leaves them with hope for this Saturday's relegation play-off against Laois at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, and McManus had words of praise for some of the players making rare appearances.

"Ryan McCambridge from Cushendall, a young lad hurling at centre-half-back, might have struggled a little bit and then went into corner-back and was outstanding," he said.

"Michael Bradley came out to midfield for the second half, I thought Paul Shiels was super at centre-half-back after he was moved.

"Up front, some of the young lads like Conor Johnson who has had very little gametime showed well."

The performances of McCambridge and Bradley - the St John's youngster who scored five points from play - were particularly eye-catching and as manager Kevin Ryan said in the post-match huddle, they weren't seeking moral victories, but a performance.

McManus agrees, saying: "The performance puts a positive outlook on our whole panel and on our mental state.

"I think we have definitely done that. We have got what we wanted out of this game."

On a personal note, McManus is fully recovered from a nasty dead leg he suffered earlier in the campaign, and revealed: "Apparently, I didn't know this, but the rugby boys will know about this as you don't get it much in the GAA, but when you got through the muscle and hurt the bone, it doesn't heal easily. It doesn't get better until a couple of weeks later."

There was a danger that the leg might have suffered from calcification, an affliction that affected Monaghan footballer Darren Hughes in 2011, and McManus added: "You can't go into a deep massage because that slows down the recovery process.

"All you can do is ice-heat, ice-heat. It's a nightmare four weeks."

In preparation for the Laois game, Antrim will re-align their training. So, what will that involve?

"More hurling. More pitch-based hurling. There will still be plenty of hard work in it, and we have done an awful lot of pre-season so our bodies are recovering quickly," said McManus.

"So there will be two really good, sharp sessions, plenty of physicality in them on Tuesday and Thursday and then we will go down Saturday morning, take our time going down the road.

"We'll probably stop in Dublin, have a bite to eat and then get down and stuck into it."

Should they lose to Laois, however, they still have another safety net of a second play-off - against the winners of the Division 2A final, which will feature Westmeath and Kerry.

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