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Cash lift can help raise bar: O'Mullan

By John Campbell

An early-season glut of injuries and a raft of other players unavailable because of major club commitments might be deemed more than enough to constitute a big headache for any county team boss.

But even though he is currently handicapped on these two fronts, Antrim hurling supremo PJ O'Mullan is prepared to focus on what he believes to be a much greater concern in the countdown to tomorrow's crucial Allianz Hurling League Division 2A encounter against Kildare at Ballycastle.

"We badly need additional funding to help us prepare better for games, that's the long and the short of it," said O'Mullan.

"Let's not beat about the bush here. We have good players in Antrim but unless we get the finance that will allow us to take our development squads, under-age sides and senior team to play games in the top hurling counties, we will not make any real progress."

O'Mullan, delighted with what he felt was achieved during a two-day trip to Cork recently when his senior team played two challenge matches, wants the Ulster Council and Croke Park to step in with finance to boost hurling.

"The time for talking about this has passed, it's action that's needed," insisted O'Mullan.

"We need to be banging on the doors of these two bodies for money.

"Antrim may be regarded as the leading light in Ulster hurling but we will go nowhere if we can't improve further and the only way we can do that is by challenging ourselves against the very top sides and at the same time allowing our developing squad members to see just what they have to do to make real progress."

O'Mullan casts envious eyes in the direction of counties such as Tyrone and Derry when it comes to assessing training facilities and amenities.

"They are ahead of us in this respect but I am convinced that the talent is here in Antrim to be nurtured and I want to see that done," stated O'Mullan.

"I am passionate about Antrim hurling and I won't be deflected from my aim. I am certainly not blaming the county board - they are doing their best in difficult circumstances - but as I see it we need outside help and quickly at that."

For tomorrow's game against a Kildare side that lost to Carlow last weekend, he is without Tony McCloskey, Chris McGuinness, Daniel McKiernan and Mark Bradley while Liam Watson remains a real doubt.

In addition, he is still without his Cushendall contingent who are preparing for their All-Ireland club semi-final against Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) on St Patrick's Day.

"We have a decent squad and we can plug the gaps," confirmed O'Mullan. "It's the long-term worry that really occupies my mind."

O'Mullan's palpable desire to see Antrim elevated to Division One of the league is tempered by realism, though.

"We are where we are and it's up to us to lift ourselves up. I am not bleating about money - what I am doing is making a heartfelt plea for an investment in Antrim hurling that I honestly feel can yield a rich dividend in time," added O'Mullan, who guided Loughgiel to the All-Ireland club title in 2012.

In Division 2B tomorrow, Donegal will host Armagh and both sides will be keen to get off the mark having lost to Mayo and Down respectively last Sunday.

The Mournemen will face Wicklow at Newry where the home side will aim to take a step towards promotion by coming out on top even though they will be without Gareth Johnston and Johny McCusker while in Division 3A Tyrone will have home advantage at Healy Park, Omagh against Fingal.

New Red Hands boss Kevin Ryan, who was O'Mullan's predecessor at the Saffrons, has lost no time in formulating an attacking strategy which he feels could reap benefits and his team's victory over Monaghan last weekend has provided him with an early boost.

Red Hands sharpshooter Damien Casey has started the season with a flourish and this is viewed as a good omen for the side as a whole.

Monaghan, a mixture of youth and experience, face a tricky away game against Roscommon tomorrow and need to triumph if they are to have a chance of fighting it out at the top for promotion.

Antrim: G McTaggart; O McFadden, N McAuley, C McKinley; S McCrory, C Johnston, B McFall; K McKernan, J McGreevy; E McCloskey, N McKenna, D Nugent, C Johnston, L Watson, C Clarke.

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