Stephen Bennett pledges to respect unheralded Antrim

Stephen Bennett has dismissed suggestions that Waterford only need to show up in Thurles this evening to see off underdogs Antrim.

The Déise are unbackable 1/500 favourites with the bookies ahead of their Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland Under-21 Hurling Championship semi-final clash in Semple Stadium.

Bennett is among a supremely talent bunch of players who have starred for Waterford’s senior side this season, including his brother Shane and Hurler of the Year contender Austin Gleeson.

After twice pushing All-Ireland senior champions Kilkenny all the way over the past two weekends, the Déise’s young stars are expected to steamroll the Ulster champions but Bennett insists that they have not paid any attention to such predictions.

“You can’t get caught up in that,” said the 20-year-old. “With the few fellas that are playing great, the likes of Austin Gleeson that are flying at senior, people just automatically think they’re going to win it.

“We all know that’s not the case. It’s not as easy as that. We just want to get over it [today]. Hopefully, just win Saturday and hopefully get into a final,” added Bennett, who is wary of falling into the same trap that caught a Wexford side three years ago when Antrim shocked the Models at this stage.

“You need to have the right attitude for everyone,” said the Waterford forward. “We’ll be treating them with great respect.”

Antrim may be considered 20/1 no-hopers, but Saffrons utility man Ryan Cambridge insists that they are prepared for the massive task at hand in Thurles.

And he rejected the notion that Waterford’s senior contingent might lack focus following their heart-breaking two-point senior loss to the Cats last weekend.

“Obviously, they are going to be hurt from last Saturday, but a good team will not let that affect them,” said McCambridge.

“We wouldn’t mind if it did, but if their heads are right they will still be very hard to play against.

“Of course it is going to be hard to mark against the likes of Austin Gleeson, Stephen Bennett and Shane Bennett, but we just need to stay as tight as we can and try cancel them out,” continued the defender-cum-forward, who has been blown away by Gleeson’s impressive season.

“The man is just phenomenal, he’s not human,” laughed McCambridge. “He is in contention for Hurler of the Year, it’s outrageous.”

Central to McCambridge’s belief that an upset could be on the cards in Thurles is the recent memory of Antrim’s surprise under-21 win over Wexford in 2013.

“The last two years we were written off before we came in, but you see three years ago there was a big shock to the whole hurling community so you never know the same could happen again,” said McCambridge, who also reached an All-Ireland senior club final with Rúairí Óg Cushendall earlier this year.

“It was a massive thing for Antrim hurling to get to an All-Ireland Under-21 final and to beat that Wexford team was just phenomenal,” continued McCambridge.

“Definitely we would look back on it for inspiration to see how it was done. They just did the simple things, hurled hard and did what they had to do to get over the line,” added McCambridge.

The Saffrons have experienced poor back-to-back seasons at senior level, losing their place in Leinster before failing to regain it through the Christy Ring Cup this year after their replay final loss to Meath.

But McCambridge believes that Ollie Bellew’s young panel have a real drive to rebuild the county team.

“Definitely, especially the younger players coming up now, we have a weight on our shoulders. but hopefully we can rectify it in the years to come and do what we can to get Antrim hurling to where we think it should be,” said McCambridge.

“You have to look at what Waterford, Dublin and Galway have been doing and see what we can relate to and improve ourselves.”

Galway and Dublin meet in the later semi-final this evening, with both of those sides also seeking to salvage some small-ball silverware in their respective counties.

Dublin’s minors claimed a Leinster crown to go with their under-21 provincial title, but their senior campaign was a damp squib, while Galway’s Conor Whelan is among a handful of senior Tribesmen who will look to recover from last Sunday’s one-point loss to Tipperary with victory tonight.

“It’s not ideal but it is the structure it is. You have to put it to the back of your head and look forward to [today],” said Whelan on the quick turnaround from last weekend’s senior loss.

“We came in [to the under-21 semi-final] cold last year and it probably took us 25 minutes before we knew where we were and by then Limerick had built up a fair lead.

“It’s hard when you are coming in cold, you don’t know what to expect,” added the forward, who admitted that he would like to see his county competing in the Leinster championship at all levels but insisted they are not distracted by the issue.

“I would, but at the end of the day we are still being given a serious opportunity. We are in an All-Ireland semi-final without pucking a ball.

“There are two sides to the going and if you win on Saturday, it’s great, and if you lose it’s awful, but that’s the beauty of the under-21s - that’s the structure - its knock-out,” said Whelan before suggesting underdogs Dublin represent a real challenge.

“They [Dublin] seem to be a very good team, anyway. They fairly walked through Leinster. They took out Wexford and Offaly fairly substantially. They’ll be a massive test.”


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