McManus insists Antrim ready to flourish after U-21s' breakthrough
ANTRIM star Neil McManus believes the county's All-Ireland U-21 hurling final appearance can drive the county to bigger things.
The Saffrons reached their first decider at the grade earlier this year when they recorded a shock win over Leinster champions Wexford at the semi-final stage.
McManus acted as a selector alongside Kevin Ryan for that side and insists that despite the heavy defeat in the All-Ireland final to Clare, Antrim hurling will benefit from the experience.
"I wouldn't trade it for the world," McManus said of the run to the decider. "It was of massive benefit to them young lads. The experience of even preparing for an All-Ireland final was unbelievable. The media hype that surrounded it... it was a super learning curve.
"There is no team in Ireland close to that Clare U-21 team. They were an exceptional side. There was huge nerves displayed on the day from our players. They didn't give a true account of themselves, but at the same time, I would not swap it for the world.
"That victory over Wexford was huge for that group of players and the benefit that will have for the senior team."
McManus conceded that attitudes to the U-21 grade used to be lukewarm due to a clash with the local club championship.
"The U-21 championship for a long time was seen as, if you won Ulster you were going down to Thurles or wherever to be beat, essentially.
"It falls in along with the senior club championship in Antrim – that's treated with such respect that players would nearly choose that over the (county) U-21 team.
"We saw with how the county got behind Antrim for the U-21 campaign this year that it will have a massive impact going forward."
Antrim are still waiting on a date for the 2013 Ulster final clash with Down which was originally postponed due to the Mourne men's run in the Christy Ring Cup.
And while McManus expressed disappointment that the game has not been played, he suggested it could be time for the Saffrons to concentrate completely on the Leinster championship.
"We've certainly been competitive within Leinster since we've been involved in it and it has improved Antrim, there's no doubt about that," he said. "But I just feel it might be slightly unfair that Antrim get to play in two provincial championships."
McManus has had a whirlwind few weeks. He was part of the Super 11s side that played in Notre Dame a fortnight ago, while last weekend he skippered Ireland to a first Test win over Scotland in the Hurling-Shinty International.
They travel to Inverness for the return leg and include Kilkenny duo Jackie Tyrrell and Richie Hogan. The Cushendall clubman insists the game makes for a good spectacle.
"It's very physical, but that's one of the better aspects of it too. There is very little referee involvement and it's nearly anything goes," he said.
"It's played in a good spirit. People get hit, it's a physical sport, but it's good viewing for the public. They go mad for it over there. Shinty is a religion in Inverness."