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Hurling: No Antrim challenge this year for Campbell

By Declan Bogue

A month after captaining Loughgiel Shamrocks to their second All-Ireland hurling club Championship, veteran defender Johnny Campbell has admitted that he will play no part in the forthcoming Leinster, Ulster and All-Ireland campaigns with Antrim.

After the Shamrocks recorded a fantastic win over Offaly’s Coolderry, Campbell wrestled with the notion of returning to the county team along with his clubmates, including the now-captain DD Quinn, and the three-goal hero of the All-Ireland final, Liam Watson. Despite his arm being twisted by Saffrons manager Jerry Wallace, Campbell wishes to take some time out.

“To be fair to Jerry, he gave me plenty of time,” said Campbell.

“I broke my ankle last year and went for an operation. I was rushing back and picking up wee stupid injuries here and there, never getting myself back to full, proper fitness.

“Obviously, I was trying to get myself back for Loughgiel’s run.

“I wasn’t hurling as well as I would like to have been. It had been playing on my mind since February, it was something I had to think about.

“We played Antrim in a challenge game and I played garbage, to be honest. I said to Jerry afterwards, ‘Listen, I have to tell you, I’m thinking of jacking it in here.’

“Fair play, he never put me under any pressure, he just said to go away and concentrate, keep my focus on the club and he would speak to me after we finished.

“He came back to me, and we met one night in Belfast a couple of weeks after the final. We talked about and I told him what I was thinking. He was understanding about it to be fair.”

It has left Antrim in a weakened position ahead of their opening Leinster Championship match against Westmeath on May 19.

It also emerged this week that the injury sustained in the league match against Limerick has left full-back Cormac Donnelly as another doubt.

Goalkeeper DD Quinn, who lifted the All-Ireland Cup with Campbell, knows exactly what they will be missing without his clubmate.

“Me and Johnny go back a right few years through Antrim and Loughgiel,” he said.

“Johnny’s just decided to not play this year, but he could be back next year. He just wants to get the body right,” Quinn commented.

“There is no doubt that if Johnny felt he was alright, he would be on that starting team.

“It’s just a shame that he can’t go, especially this year after I came back myself, I’d like to see him there.

“But it’s his call and at the end of the day, he knows his body better than anybody else.”

Recognised as one of the natural leaders of the Antrim team, Campbell came into the Saffrons panel in 2001, when just out of minors.

He established himself as an important part of the team in 2002, making his Championship debut under Dinny Cahill as Antrim fell to Tipperary in a thrilling All-Ireland quarter-final, 2-12 to Tipp’s 1-25.

While the rest of the season will be given over to rehabilitation and strengthening up his injuries, he is hopeful that he will have days ahead of him in the Antrim jersey.

“My ankle is totally grand now, it’s just the little things, like pulled muscles here and there. I need to get time to get to the gym and put in the work so I’m not picking up anything and being frustrated the whole time,” he commented.

“My hurling career is far from finished, hopefully I have a few years with Loughgiel yet, and if I can get my body right and fitness right but who knows, maybe Jerry mightn’t want me back.

“That’s a bit further down the road but as far as this year is concerned, I’m sitting it out.

“I would have been thinking of this for months,” Campbell added.

“When I went for the operation, I was out and was thinking about it since then. Who knows what will happen in the future though, time will tell.

Antrim are planning a weekend away in Killkenny (May 5 and 6) for a couple of friendlies, ahead of their Leinster opener in Mullingar.

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