Paul Shields tips Saffrons to go through the gears
January hurling. It's that time again already.
This Sunday at the St Paul's Complex on the Shaw's Road, Kevin Ryan's third year in charge of the Antrim hurlers begins when Dublin Institute of Technology come to visit for a Walsh Cup opener, with a throw-in at 2pm.
A fortnight later, Antrim will provide opposition for the second meaningful game that Ger Cunningham will preside over as the new Dublin manager, having taken over from Anthony Daly.
"Ah well, it's sort of a war of attrition in January!" says Paul Shields at the prospect of hurling in the wind and rain.
"It's not pretty, but it's good preparation for the National League," he adds.
The Walsh Cup has served the Saffrons well in the past. Indeed, they won it in 2008 when they beat Offaly in the final.
The year before that, Shields made his senior debut for the Sambo McNaughton and Woody McKinley management in the same cup as a teenager, finishing top-scorer against Wexford.
Now 25, his hunger for working hard months away from the dry days of the summer has not deserted him. EFP Gyms are currently looking after the conditioning programmes of the Antrim hurling squad and they work on this two or three times a week.
The rest of the week, they are based in the high-performance environment of Jordanstown. As well as five or six outdoor pitches, including a 4G surface, they have a proper 4G indoor surface to train on.
However, Dunloy clubman Shields takes nothing for granted. Back in 2010, he suffered a hip injury that required an operation.
He recounts: "The year I missed it (2010), Antrim beat Dublin in Croke Park. And then my own club win the Championship. I had to watch the whole thing from the sidelines. So it definitely gives you an added incentive.
"It's nice to get back and touch wood, I have had no bother since."
He also looks ahead to the targets of 2015, saying: "We are just looking forward to getting going. Kevin's starting to get his message across."