Antrim hurlers aim to restore pride in Leinster SHC

Antrim manager Kevin Ryan
Antrim manager Kevin Ryan came under pressure after Antrim's relegation

Antrim manager Kevin Ryan has drafted a number of Under-21 players into his senior panel for their Leinster SHC campaign, which begins against Laois.

The Saffrons are seeking to restore some pride after suffering relegation to Division 2A just three weeks ago.

They begin the round-robin series at Ballycastle on Sunday, followed by away games against Westmeath on 10 May and Carlow on 24 May.

"One or two new faces can change things and push other players," said Ryan.

Among those giving the squad a more youthful look are Deaglan Murphy (O'Donovan Rossa), Ruairi Diamond, Cormac Ross and John McGoldrick (all St Enda's), Ruairi Laverty (Cloughmills), Paddy McBride (Carey) and John Dillon (Armoy).

A Division 1B play-off defeat by Kerry ensured relegation from the top flight, sparking much soul searching in the camp.

"We've looked at our style a little bit since the League to see if there's on or two things we can change to have a better effect on our scoring," Ryan told the Irish News.

Sunday's clash will see the sides meet for the third time in eight weeks, Laois having won the previous two encounters, the league group game at Armoy on 8 March, and the relegation clash three weeks later at O'Moore Park.

The winners of the four-team round-robin group will face Offaly in the Leinster SHC quarter-final, with the second-placed team taking on Wexford.

The bottom placed team will play off against the Christy Ring up winner for the right to play McCarthy Cup hurling next year.

Meanwhile Down begin their Christy Ring campaign against Kerry at Austin Stack Park at the weekend without a raft of unavailable players.

Defender Sean Ennis is ruled out for the entire series and manager Mickey Johnston will also have to do without injured trio Danny McCusker, Brian Brannigan and Caolan Daly, while Michael Ennis and Fintan Conway are suspended.

Youngster Danny Toner is expected to be handed a chance after featuring briefly in the League while Carryduff's Conor Cassidy has slotted seamlessly into defence.

Derry begin their campaign against Mayo at Owenbeg.

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