Saffrons have a bright future, insists Gary O'Kane
Gary O'Kane, who marked the then golden boy of hurling Nicky English when Antrim fell to Tipperary in the 1989 All-Ireland final, is urging fans within the county to put their differences aside and get behind the Saffrons in both codes today.
Antrim will meet Kildare in the Christy Ring Cup, the second tier of the All-Ireland hurling series, at Parnell Park, Dublin (1.30pm) before the unbeaten footballers take on Louth in the Division Four final at Croke Park (4pm).
O'Kane's commitment to Antrim remains steadfast - so much so, indeed, that he readily agreed to join the new hurling management team.
Now the Dunloy dynamo, as happy coaching his club's under-age sides as he was when he was in the national spotlight at Headquarters over a quarter of a century ago, sees today as a significant day for Antrim's GAA status.
"We are involved in two very important fixtures in Dublin and it's vital that the fans get behind both teams," stated O'Kane.
"This is a great opportunity for Antrim to be shown in a positive hurling light after our recent well-publicised travails and it would be a great pity if we did not make the most of it.
"I would encourage followers to get down to Dublin and get behind the hurlers before heading on to the football."
Today's assignment is the first since the resignation of PJ O'Mullan from the post of manager and while the squad has undergone something of a makeover since then, a core of experienced players will be expected to set the tone for the display against a Kildare outfit that tended to blow hot and cold in the league.
"We feel we have a hurling squad now in which there is unity and players are prepared for the pride of the county rather than self-promotion," insisted O'Kane.
"I believe that this could prove a platform for real progress going forward."
With Conor McKinley and Neal McAuley set to be defensive anchors and the Johnston brothers Ciaran and Conor along with Ciaran Clarke likely to have key roles up front, Antrim plan to adopt an expansive policy against a Kildare side that they beat in the league prior to veering off course.
O'Kane is convinced that an Antrim win today would set the stage for what he believes could prove a strong onslaught on the Christy Ring Cup.
"Because of the rather convoluted format it is possible for a team to be beaten but still get another bite at the cherry but we're not thinking about that. We want to hit a winning run," declared O'Kane.