ANTRIM hurling manager Jerry Wallace has explained his decision to remove Antrim from next year’s Walsh Cup competition is in order to ensure his team can hit the ground running in the National League.
He also cleared up the debate regarding the spelling of his name - he says either Wallace or Wallis is acceptable.
“Wallace is on the birth certificate, but both spellings can be used. I have been called worse in hurling,” laughed the new Antrim boss.
The Midleton man raised some eyebrows this week when he decided to withdraw his team from the Leinster pre-season tournament but says their time can be used much more effectively.
Some have questioned the decision to pull Antrim out of a competition they won back in 2008 - beating Kilkenny and Offaly along the way - but the Cork native says that with the winter training ban he would have no time to work out his best team ahead of their opening Division 1B clash.
He also believes the potential for injuries is too great and an extended training programme will give him greater scope for analysing his panel.
“I think the way the league is set up this year it is going to take us to hit the ground running from the start,” he said.
“I remember playing a game when I was with Antrim two years ago in the Walsh Cup and it was called off on the Saturday.
“The game was refixed for the following Saturday but that meant the team had to travel down and lost an entire weekend. I think from a player welfare angle that isn’t good and they need at least six weeks of training done before the league.
“With the training ban we can’t do that because the Walsh Cup starts two weeks into January.
“What you could end up with is guys with muscular injuries because they aren’t conditioned right or even get a belt and miss out on league games.
“I just think too that being a new manager I need time to get bedded in and to have a real look at players.”
Wallace is of a different mindset to previous manager Dinny Cahill in that he believes the league is of great importance.
Cahill famously dismissed spring hurling as an irrelevancy but the Cork All-Ireland winning trainer is putting much more emphasis on Division 1B where Antrim will face at least five tough games against Limerick, Wexford, Clare, Offaly and Laois.
“I think the league has to be a major focus for Antrim this year,” revealed Jerry.
“Loughgiel I think can have a huge say in the club cChampionship so if they win their semi-final I will have to work without their players for a longer period of time.
“I am going to have to try and get the best team out I can the first day against Wexford and that’s the only think I’m looking for at this moment in time.
“I’m not looking at Championships or anything else, just the first game against Wexford.”
A note on the official Antrim website last week listed the players that attended trials but refreshingly for some also named those that were unable to attend or simply didn’t show up. The new man admitted it was too early to be in a position to add any players to the 2011 panel with further trials coming up and that his backroom team would be finalised by the end of the month.
However, he did sound a word of warning to the trial no-shows by saying those that on board will have to display total commitment to the cause, as inter-county hurling is no place for passengers.
With no wild predictions of winning trophies, Wallace simply stated his goal is to ensure Antrim are a respected and established hurling county by the end of his tenure.
“It’s too early to say at the moment (to announce players or backroom staff). We have had our first senior trial and this week we will have trials at minor and Under 21,” he added.
“I think when you play for your county it should be an honour. To take part in a programme like that takes commitment and you have to decide whether you are going to give that commitment.
“That’s what I’m looking for in the players that I will be bringing on this journey.
“I want them to give me that commitment in training and buy in to what we want to achieve. I think if I can establish Antrim as a top eight team then that would be a very good goal to have.
“I make no promises about winning any tournaments. I am hoping for a good strong league campaign and then we will look at where we are for the Championship but certainly establishing Antrim in the top eight would be my objective.”