- Antrim manager Kevin Ryan says it has been hard to get his team back to earth after beating Wexford
- Clare captain Paul Flanagan is full of praise for Antrim's achievement this season
- Ger Cunningham looks ahead to the All-Ireland U21 Hurling Final
- Antrim captain Jackson McGreevy tells Brian Carthy says they were shocked at their semi-final win
Antrim will fly a flag for the developing hurling counties across the country when they take on Clare in Under-21 hurling final, according to manager Kevin Ryan.
The Saffrons will become the first Ulster side to compete in an Under-21 decider after one of the more eye-catching results in a memorable summer of hurling, knocking out Wexford at the semi-final stage.
Today’s final in Semple Stadium (5pm)is likely to prove a step too far against a Clare side that have many players still eyeing a senior crown.
Ryan's belief is that with substantial progress comes a responsibility for the GAA to provide more to the teams that have started to defy the odds.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport in an interview to be broadcast on Game On on 2FM on Friday, Ryan said: “We're doing it for hurling because hurling is so under-developed in most of the country.
“Take out Munster, Galway and up the mid-Leinster, and after that hurling needs massive development. At the moment I'm even reading all the stuff they are doing internationally. I think we should be looking more after nationally first before we look at international stuff.
“A win would be for hurling and the underdog. The likes of Carlow, Westmeath and Laois, they have underage teams they are working hard with. They've shipped a few beatings and had a few tight results.
“Carlow were within a couple of points of Wexford and beat Dublin. The likes of them would be delighted and happy seeing it. They would be not that far away from it either.
“I would see a changing face in the counties that have put the work in over the last number of years.
“Dublin, Clare and Limerick and Wexford are coming good again but they are traditional counties.
“Dublin people always associate more with football but they have always been there or thereabouts in hurling.
“There are 10 or 11 teams in that bracket but I feel for hurling we need 17, 18 or 19 teams throughout the country to keep hurling growing and alive.
“Laois, Carlow, Westmeath and Antrim, they are all primed for a bit of help.
“People look at finance. There is a lot more to it like structures and how you can help counties and how you can develop. I feel there is not enough being done for those counties. But you have to look after yourself anyway and get your own plans in place.
“A changing face of hurling? I hope so. I would love to see a situation in a couple of years where a lot of teams outside of the big three - as we call them - have won All-Irelands.”
"It is bonus territory but we still feel a lot of pressure to perform." - Kevin Ryan comments on reaching the final
Such was the overwhelming feeling that Wexford would see off the Saffrons in the semi-final, Clare’s David McInerney inadvertently let slip in a televised interview that he was looking forward to taking on the Model County after their own success over Galway, before learning of Antrim’s historic win.
McInerney apologised seconds later for a simple mistake, but it sums up the situation Antirm find themselves in, one few would have even considered possible a short time ago.
An All-Ireland final is a new concept for their players but with it bring new challenges in their manager's eyes.
“It is bonus territory but we still feel a lot of pressure to perform. It is not as relaxed as ‘this will be great, we have nothing to lose here’.
“In a lot of ways we haven't anything to lose, but we don't want to let ourselves down. We want to be competitive, to get the most out of this for Antrim hurling and kids and everything else around.
“We feel it is important to be competitive and be well in this game.
“Clare gave them an awful beating last year and we don't want that to be seen on national television. There is an added pressure with that.
“But for the squad it is certainly bonus territory. Our ambition is to be close and competitive with Wexford. There is a new challenge that way.”
Clare’s panel is already filled with senior experience and remarkably, 19-year-old Tony Kelly and 20-year-old McInerney will compete in a second All-Ireland final in their short careers in two weeks’ time.
Ryan does not have much faith in a theory that a pending senior final will unnerve the Banner men, but has warned his team not to get lost in their big day.
“Since the game last Sunday, the Clare players are totally focused with the Under-21 squad.
"What got us through the semi-final was not 'nothing to lose' but 'everything to gain'". - Kevin Ryan
“The flip side of it is that you have some of those lads looking for a place in an All-Ireland final replay.
“Some of them are hoping to feature in that replay and they have a perfect stage for Davy Fitz and his management team to see them next Saturday.
“There is for and against. If the final was the following week, it would be more of a distraction.
“Some of the Antrim players might never see it again. They might, but really I think for our squad it is putting that stuff out of our minds.
“What got us through the semi-final was not 'nothing to lose' but 'everything to gain'.
“We could have been close to Wexford and been competitive. You have to change that trend and reputation of being the soft team.
“We need the same attitude going into the final. We need to play as if it is a first round game in Ulster.”
Antrim: Ger Dixon, Conal Morgan, Matthew Donnelly, Tiernan Coyle, Tomas O'Ciarain, Paddy McNaughton, Ciaran Johnston, Jackson McGreevy, Eoghan Campbell, Shane Dooey, Stephen McAfee, Niall McKenna, Daniel McKernan, Conor McCann, Ciaran Clarke.