Antrim’s McManus makes a sound case to retain Division 1B in its current format

Staying in the Leinster set-up is vital to the county’s progress

Antrim hurler Neil McManus.

Antrim hurler Neil McManus.


It’s important and refreshing to hear the counter-argument to the much maligned hurling league structures laid out so coherently.

Neil McManus is not a household name in Irish sport, mainly because he’s an Antrim hurler. He is, however, the championship’s leading scorer. Not that difficult a feat, mind, as Antrim’s 3-18 to 2-13 defeat of Westmeath last Sunday was the first game in Leinster.

Still, McManus’ 2-4 is nothing to be sneered at, with 1-4 from play. Laois are up next in Portlaoise on May 18th with the winners facing Carlow or London and Galway waiting in the semi-final.

But before that treadmill speeds up, the 24-year-old laid out the case for the retention of Division 1B in its current format. Limerick will not be happy, but as McManus stated: “That’s their problem, we have enough problems in Antrim.

“I like the league set-up. We were in a relegation play-off this year but I think it’s really competitive. If you look at 1A on the last day. Everyone was in danger of being relegated and only one team knew they weren’t going to be in a semi-final spot.

“I think it’s the most competitive league we’ve seen in a long time. From our own point of view, we were beaten by Dublin by four points, Limerick beat us by a goal and Offaly by two points. Even the games we won were by small margins. There’s nothing in it; I think it’s a good set-up.

“The set-up at the minute helps. If you win 1B you will really have earned it because you’ll have to beat some top sides to get into 1Aand play the big boys. I think it’s fair.”

Leinster championship
We bring him into championship matters, specifically Antrim’s involvement in the Leinster championship. “If you look at it geographically, Antrim are an overnight’s stay away from a really good challenge so our inclusion in Leinster is vital if Antrim are going to progress,” said McManus.

Should your under-age teams be given similar access to the same competitive market? “I think it should be moved across the whole board, from under-14 up if we are going to see the benefits.”

He was making sense now so we plough on. Next year’s Leinster championship and pending relegation? “I don’t like it at all. I don’t think that it’s fair.

“The round-robin system in Leinster next year would mean that we would have three games played and possibly four depending on how you were drawn before you’d get into a Leinster preliminary round so to get to an All-Ireland quarter-final you might have to play 12 games which seems crazy. Another team could win two and get there. I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

It can be perceived as hurling snobbery. Antrim are being the second-class citizens who are destined to always lose out. “That is what it is. You’re being told you’re not . . . I suppose I would be in a better position to argue against it if Antrim were to see some success this summer and if we do we will be challenging that.

‘Closer reflection’
“We played Limerick down in the Gaelic Grounds this year in the first round of the League and there was a goal in it. That would be a closer reflection of where we’re at. We’re building for two or three years down the line. We know the best isn’t going to be seen of this team for a couple of seasons. We’re well aware of that but we’re working very hard towards it.”

The problem is many Antrim players would rather hurl for their clubs than the county. “Well they’re not the people you want. You have to do the hard graft at this time to move it forward. But I think everybody that’s there at the minute, we have bought into what (manager) Kevin Ryan is putting across and we know this is the early stages of a programme.

“They’re doing the work and we’ll maybe not see the best of it this year but in the next two or three years we’ll see Antrim transformed out of all recognition.”

Would he like to see Liam Watson return? “I would like to see everybody make themselves available for the county team. I strongly believe that the panel that’s there at the minute is the best players available to Antrim and they’re going to work the hardest for Antrim and put the hard yards in.”

And that’s where Antrim are at right now.