McNaughton lauds revival but he still urges caution
Antrim hurling legend Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton is a past master of shooting from the hip.
Not for this most passionate of sportsmen pious platitudes, meaningless double-speak or empty clichés.
Instead, just as he did as a fiercely committed player in the Antrim side that reached the 1989 All-Ireland final, the Cushendall icon invariably goes for the jugular, never more so than when he did in a caustic blast less than a year ago.
"Antrim hurling will die unless something is done. There's a real apathy around and that's dangerous. I wish I didn't give a hoot and could just sit in a bar and talk rubbish about it as some do. But I'm not like that," rapped McNaughton.
Fast forward to today and McNaughton has mellowed somewhat in his appraisal of the health of Antrim hurling but certainly not to the extent that the merest hint of complacency tempers his outlook.
Last year, Antrim finished in the bottom half of Division 2A and were beaten by Meath, albeit by a point, in a re-fixed Christy Ring Cup final after a scoreboard error rendered the first meeting between the sides null and void.
Right now, though, the Saffrons have won promotion to Division 1B, claimed their 16th Ulster title on the trot and put themselves into a strong position to win the Christy Ring Cup this time round.
"It's great that we won promotion but whatever about that or the Ulster Championship, we have no God-given right to beat anyone," insists McNaughton. "We are still learning but the players are enthusiastic and ambitious and that gives us as management encouragement."
On Saturday, Antrim face their great Ulster rivals Down in a Round 2A Christy Ring Cup fixture in which victory would hoist the provincial champions a step nearer a third cup.
"Obviously it would be nice to win the Christy Ring Cup on top of the league promotion and the Ulster title, but it's one match at a time as far as we are concerned," points out McNaughton. "Down beat Roscommon last weekend and will have taken heart from that game so we will pick our steps carefully.
"We were not in a good place last year but things have improved although we have to work harder now to maintain our progress. Our total focus is on beating Down this weekend."
Should Antrim come out on top, they will ease into the next round of a competition in which a rejuvenated Kildare, who are benefitting from the expertise of a couple of 'imports' from stronger hurling counties, could potentially prove a barrier to their hopes of achieving further success.