One unique beauty of the u-21 inter-county championship is that it’s a complete knockout competition, and once you’re beaten, there’s no coming back.
That will be the case for the Antrim u-21 hurlers, as Derry achieved an unfamiliar result in the Ulster u-21 hurling championship yesterday evening after overcoming the Saffrons by two points in the semi-final.
The result meant that the Saffron’s eight-year run of dominance in the Ulster competition has finally come to an end. Incredibly, since 2000 Antrim have gained silverware in the competition on thirteen occasions, which by itself is a remarkable achievement despite their lack of All-Ireland glory during that time.
In the final, the Derry-men await Down who comprehensively beat Armagh. Certainly, the final is sure to be a pulsating and lively encounter between the two sides who are craving silverware at that level.
— Derry GAA (@Doiregaa) July 19, 2017
The silverware will not be the only motivation for Derry and Down though, as the u-21 championship offers each Provincial winner a place in the All-Ireland semi-final stages. Notably, a semi-final against one of the hurling strongholds for either county would be a historic occasion, even if the final scoreline fails to promote a pretty picture.
The result of the Ulster semi-final came as a shock to many, but hindsight is a beautiful thing and that would suggest that this result was coming.
Even in late May, national news arose that the Antrim u-21 hurlers were still without a manager and an appeal was made to those interested in taking the job.
During that time, Christy McNaughton who started the game against Derry at full-forward yesterday stated:
“There’s still a bit of time if someone came in now but I was talking to one of the Galway lads and they’ve been training since February and they don’t play until August.” (via Irish Daily Star)
Considering their first round of the championship was less than eight-weeks away, it would come as no surprise to think that an upset was on the cards for the Saffrons.
While Derry were care-free for the managerless Antrim u-21 hurling team, an Ulster semi-final still awaited and they were training hard for that upcoming game under the watchful eye of Collie McGurk.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after the game against Antrim, McGurk praised his players for their immense display, yet expressed that they would certainly “not get complacent as Down will be tough opponents.”
Some of the players that McGurk spoke of here on his panel are senior inter-county players with Derry, players that have played in All-Ireland club finals with Slaughneil and players that are the talk of the province’s hurling sphere.
In total, seven of the players that started their game yesterday against Antrim are Slaughtneil locals, and their experience in the run to the All-Ireland football final and hurling semi-final undoubtedly would have stood to these players.
For example, Derry’s full-forward Cormac O’Doherty played a pivotal role in leading the Slaughneil’s march to an All-Ireland final. Yesterday, he was top-scorer in the game and arguably his impressive display would have gained headlines if he was playing for a team like Kilkenny, Tipperary or Galway.
Saying that O’Doherty and his counterparts will be untroubled about the fact that their Derry team failed to receive much coverage for their incredible win. Instead, they will be looking forward to an Ulster final where they will fancy their chances of conquering the championship for the first time since 2008.
Jason Redmond, Pundit Arena
Make sure to check out the latest episode of The 16th Man, where we chat to Shane McGrath ahead of the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals.