Antrim Senior Hurling Manager Darren Gleeson is presented with his 2020 Nenagh Guardian Sports award from Sports Editor Shane Brophy. PHOTO: Bridget Delaney


In his first full season as Antrim senior hurling manager, Darren Gleeson guided the Ulster county back to the top tier of senior inter-county hurling by winning the MacDonagh Cup.

Having previously been involved as a coach with the team in 2019, Darren Gleeson stepped into the role as manager after Neil Peden moved onto become Antrim’s Director of Hurling following a restructuring of the game within the county.

And all that pre-planning paid off as Antrim not only returned to the All-Ireland Senior Championship for 2021, but they were also promoted back to division 1 of the National Hurling League for the first time since 2008.

They did so with an unbeaten campaign, winning five and drawing of their six league games, including victory over Kerry in the Division 2 League final which was played in October. Eight weeks later they met again, this time in Croke Park in the curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland senior hurling final as the Saffrons won 0-18 to 1-13 to win the McDonagh Cup and return to the top tier of championship hurling for the first time since 2015.

“On the day it was general excitement,” recalls Darren Gleeson.

“There was a lot of pressure leading up to it for Antrim because Antrim would look upon themselves as underachievers in the hurling world and as one of the top 10-12 teams in the country and when you are outside of that there are a lot of questions asked.

“There was serious relief, but the knock-on effect has been brilliant. The minors and under 20’s haven’t really gotten any proper mentoring since they got to an under 21 All-Ireland Final (2013) with a lot of this team at senior level which are coming through now. There is a lot of impact underage with clubs sending forward players instead of keeping them in their clubs so that has been the major impact. They are profiling their inter-county players better which is great.

“Division 1 of the league means a lot to them and I know the league can be undervalued in certain counties but for Antrim it is massive so the focus for this year is to establish ourselves there and get a platform there for a few years ahead where we can improve in championship.”

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