Darren Gleeson: Antrim boss's embrace with Domhnall Nugent left its mark

Did he knock me down or did I knock him down? - Gleeson on Nugent embrace

Antrim hurling manager Darren Gleeson noticed a few bruises on his frame on Monday morning arising from his embrace with player Domhnall Nugent after Sunday's Joe McDonagh Cup Final win.

Manager and player jumped into each other's arms after the final whistle and both of them ended on the turf.

"I don't know did he knock me down or did I knock him down," Gleeson told Radio Ulster's Sportsound Extra Time.

"We'll have to check the action replay for that one.

"I'm finding a few marks on myself today alright. Ah it was great. Maybe I picked the wrong lad to go to first. He's an incredibly strong man."

But the emotion of that moment after they had clinched a 0-22 to 1-17 victory over Kerry spoke volumes about the bond that exists between the former Tipperary goalkeeper and his players.

Antrim conditioning was 'lacking'

Gleeson had to work the Saffrons squad hard when he took the job last year after being surprised by their lack of conditioning.

But unlike in times past with Antrim hurling teams, no-one that the manager truly wanted in the panel walked away and the team's efforts over the past two months in clinching promotion back to Division One and to the Liam McCarthy Cup has demonstrated the worth of that labour.

"Get the group physically fit was the number one objective at the start. It was lacking. They weren't conditioned the way they should have been to play at inter-county level.

"We're in phase one of that. It's working well. The boys know there have another hurdle to jump to get to the next level of fitness."

Antrim's victory over Kerry clinched them a berth in next year's Leinster Championship as they return to the top-tier Liam McCarthy Cup but Gleeson admits he can't be certain whether the Saffrons are yet equipped to live at hurling's top table.

"The only thing that will tell us that is how we go in Division One of the National Hurling League.

Darren Gleeson tries to rally his players during one of Sunday's water breaks
Gleeson says Antrim did not play their best in Sunday's final at Croke Park

'Division One will be the true test'

"That's going to be the true test for us. The answer will be in that early stage of the year in February, March.

"No doubt it's a big jump but these are an ambitious bunch of players and that's where they want to be. When you have players who want to be in a situation, we'll be able to prepare them easier than people who you are trying to force to do the work."

Gleeson admits Antrim misfired for much of Sunday's game before the introductions of Neil McManus, Conal Cunning and the aforementioned Nugent helped them pick up the pace at the crucial stage in the second half.

However, the Tipperary man believes the highly competitive nature of the Antrim club scene does produce players sufficiently equipped and battle-hardened to flourish on the inter-county stage.

"If you experience the Antrim championship up there, they are big games which are highly competitive where big decisions are being made all the time.

"We didn't flow or play brilliantly yesterday like we have all year but that decision-making ability really came to the fore in the second half when they started making the right choices."

Championship has 'shortened the winter'

While Sunday was a great day for Antrim hurling, Gleeson is convinced that his players will now want to push on.

"The talk last night with the lads was about the great day but how they were all looking forward to next year."

But that's not to say that the success is immediately parked.

"People have not been able to be there but the support we've got and the messages that have been coming into myself and the other members of the management team and the players has been fantastic.

"A real outpouring of what Antrim hurling means to people and what the GAA has meant to them this year in a really difficult time.

"The last six or eight weeks in the championship has maybe shortened the winter for people."

Listen back to Monday's Sportsound Extra Time

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport