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Anto back for Antrim

Published 18/01/2013

PADDY TIERNEY




ANTRIM'S National League prospects have received a timely boost with the news that defender Anto Healey has rejoined the squad. The St Gall's clubman was an integral part of the Antrim set-up under previous manager Liam Bradley.

After the Antrim champions bowed out of the Ulster Championship to Kilcoo, Healey (right) indicated that he wasn't ready to link-up with Dawson's squad.

However, the Saffrons boss last night confirmed that the highly-rated defender is back on board.

"Anto has joined up with us," said Dawson.

"I had asked Anto before and he said he needed a bit of break after St Gall's finished. He has come back and he has refreshed the batteries and he is ready to go."

Dawson also confirmed that Andy McClean, Tómas McCann, John Finucane will return from injury in the coming weeks but revealed that he doesn't plan to alter his squad much prior to the start of the National League next month.

Antrim's involvement in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup came to an end of Wednesday night when they played out a thrilling draw against Derry in Celtic Park.

Despite letting an eight-point lead slip, Dawson expressed his delight with how his players fared against the Oak Leafers.

"There was disappointment but there were far more positives to take out of the game.

"It was a great game of football for this time of year.

"We lost an eight-point lead but every team gets a period of dominance and usually when it happens at the end it becomes more significant.

"Overall, we were hugely proud with the effort our boys put in."

The Saffrons boss also proclaimed himself satisfied with Antrim's overall showing in the pre-season competition.

"We have seen a progression in terms of the three games we have played in the McKenna Cup so that is very pleasing.

"We have been able to see other members of the squad and give them game-time and we have been able to judge where they fit into our plans.

"We set out that we wanted to get two wins out of three.

"You don't get everything right in January but the boys are really responding and trying to do everything we ask of them so the McKenna Cup has been very worthwhile for us."

The focus for Antrim now swiftly turns to a tricky Division Three campaign. The third tier of the National League looks set to be the most competitive of the four divisions.

Having surprisingly suffered relegation from Division Two last season, Meath and Monaghan have been priced up as favourites to gain promotion.

Antrim face the Division Three heavyweights in their final two games but Dawson insists that every team in the division merits respect.

"I wouldn't place any team favourites looking at the quality that's there," said Dawson.

"Looking at Roscommon, Sligo, Wicklow and Fermanagh who are in the McKenna Cup semi-final this weekend.

"We have our slights set on Cavan in a couple of weeks.

"Division Three is going to be some division to play in.

"Everybody will feel that they can get promotion.

"Likewise, everybody could be looking at relegation as well. It's really tight and there are really good football teams in it and it is going to be an exciting challenge ahead of us."