Cup duels can give us belief for promotion quest: Murray
Antrim hotshot Ryan Murray believes his team's performances in their forthcoming Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup games against Armagh on Sunday and St Mary's on Wednesday night will fashion their bid to gain promotion from Division Four.
Few managers are under similar pressure to that being experienced by Saffrons boss Lenny Harbinson as he strives to plot a course that will take his side to promotion, but the fact that his men must meet Ulster rivals Derry in their opening league game later this month poses a massive challenge for his players.
Murray, an Antrim regular for several years now who has already underlined his value to the current side by snapping up six points in the opening McKenna Cup fixture against Monaghan, which his boys lost 1-20 to 1-12, is convinced that the team must get into their stride as quickly as possible.
"Make no mistake about it, this game against Derry is crucial for us," insisted Murray,
"We can't afford to concede ground early in the league. That's why it is important we should reach a decent level of performance against Armagh on Sunday and then replicate this against St Mary's.
"I think we have to show what we are capable of so that we can go in against Derry in a positive mode. They will be equally keen to get their league campaign off on the right foot so there is a lot to play for."
In their loss to Monaghan last Saturday, Antrim showed flashes of enterprising form but only after they had found themselves in arrears by 1-15 to 0-6.
"For the first 25 minutes or so we were toe-to-toe with Monaghan when it was point for point, but we lost a bit of our shape towards the end before falling further behind after the break," reflected Murray.
"But we got back into the game and trimmed Monaghan's lead back before they came out on top. You have to consider that we had seven new players in the side and that Monaghan were in the All-Ireland semi-finals last year when they only lost to Tyrone by a point."
While keen to embrace what he sees as the positives from that game, Murray is keenly aware that Derry, now that they have their Slaughtneil contingent back on board, will represent extremely tough opposition.
"Obviously you don't want to be in Division Four, and to have to face a team like Derry in our first game is going to be a massive test," stated Murray. "We're building towards this game. It will be like a Championship game for us when you think about it. We're using the McKenna Cup to blood new players because we will need a bit of strength in depth for the league.
"We need to be ready for what will be a difficult campaign but Lenny Harbinson is working hard and the players we have in there are very committed. That is encouraging and hopefully we might get a few breaks along the way."
And Murray is hopeful that his brother Conor will be in action sooner rather than later.
"He is devastated at having to sit out games but that's the way it is for the moment," he pointed out.
"Hopefully he will make a full recovery and will be able to get back into the swing of things. We need all our experienced players in particular for what is ahead of us. It would be nice if we could maybe get to play in a Division Four final at Croke Park further down the line but for now we will take each match as it comes along."
Meanwhile, Mayo manager James Horan has described the new experimental rules for football as "a little bit crazy".
The new playing rules, which came into effect in recent weeks, received more criticism from managers over the course of last weekend and Horan has admitted he's not a fan ahead of Mayo's FBD League opener against Leitrim on Sunday.
"Let's see how they are. I wouldn't be a fan of them. I think they're a little bit crazy to be honest," maintained Horan.
"I don't know what we're trying to do to referees. How they're going to be refereed, I just don't know. You've seen it in a lot of the games already where they've been used, they're going to be a struggle."
He added: "I'm not sure what's going to be brought in for the Allianz League, so we're just going to wait and see.
"We have to play with what's there. We've done a little bit of work on it, to make sure the players understand. We'll play whatever is happening."
Horan is one of a number of top-flight managers to have expressed serious concerns about the new playing rules and he is particularly concerned that they could be retained after this month.
GAA President John Horan has made it clear that a review will take place before the end of this month, during which the impact which the rules have made will be assessed.
Donegal boss Declan Bonner, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, Armagh chief Kieran McGeeney and Monaghan supremo Malachy O'Rourke are just a few team managers who have expressed reservations about the new playing rules and in some cases they have called for them to be scrapped.