12 Feb 2016

Derry open NHL at home to Antrim

Dunloy and Loughgiel are two of the big guns of Antrim hurling with an age old rivalry that captures the imagination of those in the Glens of Antrim anytime they cross paths.  

This Sunday there will be a similar theme at Celtic Park as Derry take on their  Saffron neighbours in the opening game of the league.
Derry boss Tom McLean is a native of Dunloy and is steeped in the game of hurling and he will lead his side into battle this Sunday.  As he confirmed last week, he will park his Saffron ties at the gate on the way into Owenbeg.  It's all about Derry now.
Last week they had a useful game against Armagh to keep the touch up to speed and the squad went through their last daylight session at Owenbeg on Sunday.

Antrim manager PJ O'Mullan is no stranger to the Derry club scene where he managed Slaughtneil to their first Derry camogie title.  He is a first cousin of Emmets player Patsy Bradley so he will be well versed in what is happening in the Oak Leaf county.
In the preseason Antrim used the Conor McGurk Cup (which they won) and the Walsh Cup in Leinster to run his eye over all the panelists.
We spoke to Antrim based journalist and Dunloy man Brendan McTaggart at the weekend to get the lowdown on the how things are panning out on the other side of the Bann.

At the weekend Cushendall had a historic and convincing win over 1993 and 1994 All-Ieland champions Sarsfields of Galway.  It was a great boost for hurling in Antrim and Ulster in general.

The Antrim GAA fraternity needed this tonic, as McTaggart highlights that last year's relegation hit the county hard.
"It's hard to accept relegation, especially when through the 2015 League campaign Antrim looked more competitive than in previous years. Relegation from the Liam McCarthy was an eye opener and the manor of the performances in the Leinster Round Robin was disappointing."
Like in most cases the manager will bear the brunt of any failure.  "Ultimately something had to change and Kevin Ryan paid for a run of extremely disappointing performances in the Championship."

When you scratch the surface perhaps there was more to the relegation that meets the eye but McTaggart hopes it will kickstart the county's fortunes.
"Relegation harsh as it was, could have been exactly what Antrim needed. There is huge talent and potential within the current squad but they lack in experience. Hopefully a successful year in Division Two can aid their development."

Loughgiel's All-Ireland winning boss PJ O'Mullan was appointed but there were mixed feelings, like any county there is always the inter club rivalry.  McTaggart is happy with the direction Antrim are taking.
"PJ O'Mullan's appointment was the best for all concerned. He knows Antrim hurling inside out, coaches and trains an attractive brand of hurling and is an All-Ireland winner. The best and obvious choice."
When managing Loughgiel he put a terrific management structure in around him.  The late Jim Nelson was a major cog and quite simply - a legend.  Anytime you mention Nelson to one of the Loughgiel players, make sure you have plenty of time to follow up the conversation.  He was God up in their corner of the Glens.
Now in Antrim setup, O'Mullan has recruited the highly experienced Justin McCarthy, Paul Graham, Gavan Duffy and Paul Talty.
Despite the positive energy that a fresh management team brings, McTaggart knows there are long days ahead.
"PJ knows what's ahead of him. There is no short term fix for the problems in Antrim at county level and PJ has got his work cut out for him."
There are two notable additions to this year's Saffron squad.  "He has got Liam Watson along with Eddie McCloskey back in an Antrim shirt which is a huge plus for him. They are two of the best forwards in the county and have been prominent in Antrim's matches in the Walsh and McGurk Cups."
Last year Ballycastle almost had the Antrim championship in the bag, but they let Cushendall out of jail.  Key to the McQuilan's chances was the form of Saul McCaughan who has now rowed in behind the Saffron cause.
"Saul  showed during the Championship last year for Ballycastle that he is one of the brightest talents in the county. Although he wasn't in the early squads, his inclusion for the latter stages of the McGurk Cup is a huge plus for Antrim along with Loughgiel's Sian McGrath."
With Cushendall preparing for their All-Ireland Final, O'Mullan won't have access to any of their players.  He has been through the mill with Loughgiel and understands how these players need managed.
Two players who won't join O'Mullan after their Croke Park adventures are Neil McManus and Aaron Graffin.  McTaggart's Dunloy clubmate Paul Shiels is also missing with a long term injury.
This Sunday will be a great baromter where Derry hurling is currently at.  Tom McLean will be hoping that he has his Eoghan Rua contingent back on board.
It won't worry McLean, he is fully focussed on the pack at his disposal and he has targeted this Valentine's Day date as the main event. 

Team News:

1. Darrell McDermott (Banagher)

2. Eugene McGuckin (Swatragh)

3. Conor McSorley (Ballinascreen)

4. Seán McCullagh (Banagher) (Capt)

5. Darragh McCloskey (Banagher)

6. Paddy Kelly (Kevin Lynchs)

7. Dermot O'Neill (Lavey)

8. Oisín McCloskey (Banagher)

9. Tiarnán McCloskey (Banagher)

10. Jonathan O'Dwyer (Banagher)

11. Mark McGuigan (Slaughtneil)

12. Gareth O'Kane (Slaughtneil)

13. Shane Farren (Banagher)

14. Ruairi Convery (Swatragh)

15. Alan Grant (Na Magha)

16. Ciarán Gaile (Eoghan Rua)

17. Meehaul McGrath (Slaughtneil)

18. Breandán Quigley (Na Magha)

19. Brendan Douban (Na Magha)

20. Deaglán Foley (Na Magha)

21. Brendan Laverty (Lavey)

22. Johnny McCullagh (Ballinascreen)

23. Mickey Conway (Swatragh)

24. Niall Farren (Banagher)

25. Ruaidhri Leonard (Eoghan Rua)

26. Thomas Magee (Eoghan Rua)
1.     Chris O’Connell (Loughgiel)
2.     Odhran McFadden (Loughgiel)
3.     Neal McAuley (Ballycastle) (Capt)
4.     Conor McKinley (Dunloy)
5.     Simon McCrory (St John’s)
6.     Ciaran Johnston (St John’s)
7.     Barry McFall (St John’s)
8.     Kevin McKernan (Sarsfields)
9.     Daniel McKernan (Sarsfields)
10.  Eddie McCloskey (Loughgiel)
11.  Donal Nugent (Lamh Dhearg)
12.  Liam Watson (Loughgiel)
13.  Conor Johnston (St John’s)
14.  Daniel McKenna (Sarsfields)
15.  Ciaran Clarke (Ballycastle)

16.  Gabriel McTaggart (Dunloy)
17.  Bernard Graham (Clooney Gaels)
18.  Conor McCann (Gort nA Mona)
19.  Dan McCloskey (Loughgiel)
20.  Darren Hamill (Shane O’Neill’s)
21.  Stephen McAfee (Ballycastle)
22.  Jackson McGreevy (St Gall’s)
23.  James Connolly (Rossa)
24.  James Black (Carey)
25.  Michael Bradley (St John’s)
26.  Saul McCaughan (Ballycastle)

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