| 6.6°C Belfast

Sack me or back me threat for the best, says Antrim hurling boss Kevin Ryan


Short change: Kevin Ryan has criticised the short turnaround given to Antrim from the end of the league to the start of the Championship

Short change: Kevin Ryan has criticised the short turnaround given to Antrim from the end of the league to the start of the Championship

Lorcan Doherty

Short change: Kevin Ryan has criticised the short turnaround given to Antrim from the end of the league to the start of the Championship

Just over two weeks from his 'sack me or back me' ultimatum to the Antrim players and county board, hurling manager Kevin Ryan says the dramatic move was the best course of option.

Ryan oversaw Antrim's relegation to Division 2A when they lost a relegation play-off against Kerry at Parnell Park. After that game, he made an unprecedented move of allowing the county board and players the time and space to decide if they still wanted him in charge.

The following evening, the senior hurling team released a statement backing Ryan, followed by similar sentiments from the county board.

When mentioned to Ryan that it was a brave and slightly unorthodox move, he said: "I am not surprised by the reaction, but there would be a lot of people starting to speculate, so let's get it out in the open, let's not delay the inevitable.

"You either support this or you don't. As I said to the players, if you haven't 80% of the players behind you, you shouldn't be there anyway, regardless of whether what you are doing is right or wrong."

"People can say what they like and we don't have to defend it or answer it, but the players are content and the board are content. I suppose it rubber-stamps what I am doing, keep looking at the younger players, bring a few more of them in and drive it on.

"It might have been brave, but at the same time, if the result went the other way, then so be it, that's the way it should be anyway."

Antrim are preparing for the Leinster Championship opener against Laois on Sunday in Ballycastle, but Ryan also questions the worth of the current round-robin series, stating "Nobody is going to learn much" with the competition's present structure.

Westmeath and Carlow also meet on Sunday, the four teams playing out a round-robin with the goal of reaching the Leinster Championship proper.

"I just think it's all so wrong. The league finishes and the top teams have two months to go away and work on what they want, change their whole strategy and adapt to the firmer ground," said the ex-Carlow boss.

"We are playing within two or three weeks and it is just not right. We are at a huge disadvantage."

The Waterford man, in his third season at the helm, would be in favour of a return to a more traditional Championship structure.

"Straight knock-out and then qualifiers. Absolutely. I don't see why it should be any other way," he emphasised.

"I think there should be no-one precluded from it either. If Westmeath or Carlow or Laois or Antrim want to enter the Liam MacCarthy proper, they should be let enter it, not just having to qualify through a back door or whatever.

"The thing for me is the higher authorities, and listening to some pundits, when you see a bad result in the round robin and when someone gets a hammering they say it's no good to anybody.

"But it absolutely is and it's where those teams want to be. You would suffer one or two bad results for the chance of getting six or seven of those types of game over the year.

"I don't think the round robin gives any team that kind of atmosphere. Nobody is going to learn much over these three games other than trying to qualify for the Leinster Championship proper."

The senior squad have been robbed of a few players such as Conor McCann and Ciaran Johnston through injury, while PJ O'Connell has left the panel citing work commitments.

Nonetheless, Ryan is optimistic that things can be turned around after relegation.

"Our focus turned to Championship straight away, that's all you can do. Of course, we were so disappointed in the league but we can't win in the Championship looking over our shoulder," he said.

"The way our overall mood is, we just want to play hurling and get on with it. The mood is quite good. We more or less don't care who we are playing, we just want to get back playing. We have worked hard in the last few weeks."

Belfast Telegraph