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We can stand tall once again, insists Liam Watson

By John Campbell

Injury deprived Liam Watson of a potential sporting honour last year and that's why he is determined to start his pursuit of a different personal goal with a bang when he lines out for Antrim against Derry in Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League tomorrow.

Watson, who has just ended a three-year absence from the Saffrons line-up following his recall by PJ O'Mullan, was leading the Donegal Motocross Championship last year when he fell off his bike and injured his knee.

"I missed the next three rounds of the series but I still managed to finish fourth," recalled Watson. "If I had stayed healthy I might have won it. Instead, I had to pack it in.

"But now that I'm back in the Antrim side, I'm raring to go. It will be surreal. You always want to go out and play for your county, it doesn't matter what age you are. What has happened before or after, you just want to play."

Watson's herculean scoring feats have underpinned Antrim teams in the past and although he was not part of Kevin Ryan's set-up for the past three years, he has come to harbour huge respect for managers whom he feels have served Antrim well.

"We had a good team under Dinny Cahill and then you had Jim Nelson who was a true legende," reflected Watson.

"Now we have PJ and Justin McCarthy. We are glad that Justin is coming up from Cork to give his services, because we are down in the gutters of hurling. We can't go any lower. It's nobody's fault but our own. Antrim got themselves down there, so it's up to us to get ourselves out."

In Derry boss Tom McLean, Watson will encounter another manager for whom he has considerable respect.

"Tom will know plenty about us but we know a lot about them. We are not far from each other. But we will be focusing on our own game, we have enough to think about," rapped Watson.

McLean will arrive in Celtic Park fortified by what he believes is a buoyant spirit within his squad.

He looked on in admiration as Slaughtneil took Cushendall down to the wire in a riveting Ulster club final and was among the Eoghan Rua followers when the team were just edged out by Kilkenny side Glenmore in last Sunday's All-Ireland Junior final.

"I think Slaughtneil and Eoghan Rua have not only done Derry hurling proud but they have shown club hurling in the province in the best possible light," insisted McLean.

"Now I would like the county team to follow in their footsteps by showing the same level of commitment and pride in the way that they go about their business. If they do, I think we are capable of making headway in the league."

McLean is greatly heartened by the return of brothers Oisin and Daragh McCloskey along with Paddy Kelly and is further boosted by the hunger shown by Slaughtneil trio Mark McGuigan, Micheal McGrath and Gareth O'Kane since their elevation to the county squad.

Derry: D McDermott; E McGuckin, C McSorley, S McCullagh; D McCloskey, P Kelly, D O'Neill; O McCloskey, T McCloskey; J O'Dwyer, M McGuigan, G O'Kane; S Farren, R Convery, A Grant.

Antrim: C O'Donnell; O McFadden, N McAuley, C McKinley; S McCrory, C Johnston, B McFall; K McKernan, D McKernan; E McCloskey, D Nugent, L Watson; C Johnston, N McKenna, C Clarke.

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