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Exiles not in line to make an Antrim return for Kevin Ryan

By Declan Bogue

Hopes that exiled Antrim hurlers such as Liam Watson and Eddie McCloskey could be recalled to Kevin Ryan's squad ahead of the Championship are wide of the mark, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

In the wake of their crushing loss to Kerry on Saturday, which left them falling through the trapdoor to play in Division 2A of the National League next year, manager Ryan referenced the two All-Ireland club winners with Loughgiel, saying: "If Liam was willing to push it over the next few weeks I'd be prepared to sit down and talk to him.

"Eddie would be a help to any team but he didn't have the time a few weeks ago… but if that changed with Eddie he would have been a serious asset."

However, the likelihood of either man having any involvement in the forthcoming Leinster Championship game against Laois on May 3 is miniscule.

Watson, an electrician, departed last night on a flight to work for five weeks in Sri Lanka. He is due to get married later in the year, but he is also recuperating from a knee operation and is not expected back for his club until July.

Meanwhile, McCloskey is completing his studies at Jordanstown over the next few weeks before his final exams.

The 26-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph of his departure earlier in the year: "Kevin knew I was dropping off the panel. We had a conversation and I told him I was unhappy and it was affecting my form. I wasn't up to the standard at all.

"I have three weeks of University time left and two weeks after that for exams.

"If it runs until five weeks, you are into Championship time. It's a big commitment and at the minute I feel refreshed because I have had time off."

He added that a return at this point is unlikely, stating: "I need to focus on my University work. I wouldn't rule out going back for five weeks, but at the minute I can't see it."

Manager of Loughgiel Shamrocks, PJ O'Mullan, insists there is not an issue between the club and the county, pointing out that goalkeeper Chris O'Connell and defender Odhran McFadden have been with Ryan's side since the turn of the year.

"Whenever boys are with the county I never ask for them, unless we were training for an All-Ireland," said the 2012 Tommy Moore Cup winner.

"Our county players this year are being given a free reign until they are finished and I would always encourage every player from every club to go."

However, he agrees with Ryan's assertion that the composition of the squad is something that needs examining.

"I would be of the opinion that there are better hurlers than some of the boys who are there," offered O'Mullan.

"The county board and Kevin Ryan need to work it out. I think the players have a lot to answer for as well. At the end of the day they go into training and play the matches."

The trouble with relegation, explains O'Mullan, is the difficulty in selling a vision of hurling among less illustrious company, while they would also fall foul of the promotion-relegation play-off system that they were so grateful for last year.

He explained: "It's very hard to get a group of players, who have been used to playing with the big boys, to realise that they will soon be going to places like Kildare to play National League matches. It won't be easy in November and December.

"I hope it all works out, because that's what we all want to see. It will not be a matter of stepping in, playing matches and getting out of it, it can have a knock-on effect."

Belfast Telegraph


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