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McKillen demands evidence of total commitment

By Declan Bogue

While Antrim minor manager, Paul McKillen is only fresh into his first year in the job, this weekend his young Saffrons team come up against a Galway side that have been reared in the finest traditions by a long-serving servant.

Mattie Murphy has been managing inter-county teams for two decades, including two spells in charge of Galway seniors, while he was also over the Galway minor teams that made four consecutive All-Ireland finals in the middle of the last decade, winning two of them and unearthing talent such as a fledging Joe Canning.

In various spells over the minor teams, he led them to six All-Ireland titles in total.

His record was something McKillen is in awe of when he spoke ahead of the game, saying: "He has been a long time at the job and he knows it inside out and has turned out some great minor teams. I am sure he has been getting good challenge games against club teams in Galway. It's easier for those teams because they are right beside each other."

While Antrim suffer the usual problems of isolation, McKillen reminds us that they were in the second tier of the Leinster league this season, reaching the final where they were defeated by Carlow, however, that was completed by March.

They also played in a round-robin tour hosted by O'Donovan Rossa along with the under-17 teams of Kilkenny and Dublin, an initiative that McKillen would like to see more often.

"I think you need at least 10 of them from January to Championship time," the 1993 All-Star said.

"Say Wexford run one, Antrim run one, Offaly run one, teams like that, and you go down and play three or four games in the one day and get a look at your panel, it will be plenty of exposure to hurling. I think that's the way forward for Antrim."

But Antrim, he feels, will not achieve until they are exposed to regular hurling and demand total commitment.

"There is no use boys coming at 50%. You need 100% from everybody to perform at the top level, that's my opinion anyway. There are too many distractions for young lads now. We are losing two who are going on holidays this week (Dara Rocks and Stephen Walsh) and I think for the final in Ulster against Derry we had three boys away.

"Years ago when we were playing, we looked at the hurling fixtures! Hurling came first, but I don't think it matters as much now to young fellas."

His experiences with the Antrim team of the late 80's and early 90's allows him to make that claim, as he continues: "We were a group of lads who fought for each other and that's the mentality you need to get into these young fellas. 'We are together here, and we are all in it for the one thing' approach."

The fixture is set for Cavan on Sunday (2pm), a virtual hurling wasteland at present despite the ongoing work at underage, and McKillen claims that it might have been better if the teams had just tossed a coin for home advantage.

Either way, Antrim will look to upset the rather generous odds of 10/1 against them.

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