Saffrons aim to be lords of the Ring once more
Antrim hurling captain Simon McCrory has admitted the horror of the Saffrons' Christy Ring Cup campaign in 2016 - when they twice let Meath off the hook in Croke Park finals - is spurring them on ahead of their opener tomorrow against Carlow.
Running out of steam against the Royals came after a management change in mid-season, PJ O'Mullan leaving the post and the present management of Terence McNaughton, Dominic McKinley, Gary O'Kane and Neal Pedan coming in.
"The pain is still there because in both games we had built up big leads and let them slip," admits the St John's clubman.
"And that showed a wee bit of mental… we were fragile.
"That's something we have focused on this year. When we do get ahead we keep the foot on the throat and keep going. That's what the good teams do, the Kilkennys and the Tipperarys. We are a long way off that, but that's the style of hurling we want to play."
Staring down the barrel of a summer campaign without a manager was also a huge barrier to success, the 27-year-old schools hurling coach feels.
"The management came in late and they had a short period of time to get us ready for the Christy Ring. They did a great job but unfortunately we came up short," he says.
"Fitness was definitely one of the big factors for us. It's something we have addressed and we continue to address.
"Hopefully it will not be a fitness worry we have this year, we can just think about the hurling and getting the scores on the board."
After the 22-point mauling of Armagh in the Ulster final last weekend, Antrim will have a much stiffer challenge in the form of Carlow, who they just edged out in a real battle during the Division 2A League final in Newry.
Now that Carlow are playing host, McCrory knows Antrim are heading into a seriously tough assignment.
"It's only a puck of a ball between us and they need no motivation. That's their motivation now, though, for the last two or three weeks' training. They are thinking they need to beat Antrim because we got one up on them," he says.
"Look, it's been nip and tuck with us and Carlow in previous years and it's going to be a hell of a battle for us to get even near a Christy Ring final but that's our target at the back of it."
The winners of the Christy Ring Cup - Antrim triumphed in 2006 - get automatic inclusion in the Liam MacCarthy Cup next year, which would be a welcome boost after the Saffrons welcome the likes of Dublin and Limerick in the Allianz League.
"The main thing is not to take our eye off Saturday, it's huge for Antrim hurling," McCrory finishes.