Fitzsimons rings the changes for Antrim's return to Brewster
ANTRIM manager Frank Fitzsimons has made wholesale changes to his team for Sunday’s All-Ireland Qualifer clash with Fermanagh in Enniskillen.
The Saffrons went out of the Ulster SFC at the hands of Pete McGrath’s Ernemen in the quarter-finals on May 31, going down to an eight-point defeat at Brewster Park.
They will go into this weekend’s round 2A game boosted by a surprise comeback victory away to Laois in first round of the Qualifiers, although Fitzsimons has retained just four players in the same positions as they lined up in Portlaoise.
Chris Kerr remains in goal, while Niall Delargy again gets the number two jersey, Benny Hasson retains a midfield berth and Ryan Murray starts at full-forward after scoring 1-4 in the comeback success at O’Moore Park.
One of the most eyecatching changes to the starting line-up sees Seán McVeigh, who was sent off in the first half of the clash with Fermanagh, return at full-back after suspension, which frees captain Justin Crozier to move back into his more accustomed role in the half-back line.
James Laverty drops back to left corner-back, and Owen Gallagher moves into corner-forward, having patrolled the midfield againat Laois, although he is likely to move out to the centre of the pitch at times to bolster the Saffrons in an area where Fermanagh are especially strong.
Ricky Johnston comes back into a high-quality half-back line alongside Crozier and Tony Scullion after missing the Laois game due to a family bereavement, and Dermot McAleese is handed a start at centre half-forward after impressing as a replacement last time out.
There is no place in the starting line-up for either of the McGourty brothers, Kieran or CJ, who were left out of the panel in Portlaoise after playing a club hurling game for St Gall’s the night before the Qualifier clash. They could both provide qualify options for Fitzsimons from the bench, while the same can be said of last year’s captain Niall McKeever, who steps up his return from injury with a place amongst the replacements.
Antrim will go into the game as underdogs once more after their Ulster SFC loss to a Fermanagh side who went on to lose to Monaghan in the provincial semi-final by 10 points, a result which flattered the Farneymen.
For long periods of that game, Fermanagh were the match of Monaghan and they will come into Sunday’s game feeling they still have some Championship road to travel.
However, there is no telling what that win against Laois might have done for Antrim’s often brittle confidence, and it could well be tighter than the first game.
Elsewhere, there are two changes to the Cork team that beat Clare in the Munster SFC semi-final for their final meeting with old rivals Kerry on Sunday.
Eoin Cadogan, who has recovered from injury, is named at number three as Conor Dorman makes way. Fintan Goold comes back in at midfield for Colm O’Driscoll and Kevin O’Driscoll moves into the half-forward line.
Kerry manager Éamon Fitzmaurice has made five changes to the Kingdom side which overcame Tipperary in the other Munster semi.
Colm Cooper drops to the bench as all lines on the field, bar the half-back line, show changes. Jonathan Lyne, who was a full Championship debutant against Tipp, keeps his place despite Paul Murphy being fit again. Fionn Fitzgerald is selected in the full-back line in place of Mark Griffin and David Moran returns at midfield in place of Anthony Maher. In attack, Stephen O’Brien and Donnchadh Walsh have been handed starts in the half-forward line at the expense of Michael Geaney and Cooper, while James O’Donoghue replaces Paul Geaney in the full-forwards.
Meanwhile, Offaly meet Kildare in a Qualifier clash tomorrow but talisman Niall McNamee has not been named in the Faithful line-up for the Tullamore clash.
Kildare manager Jason Ryan has also been dealt a blow ahead of the game. Panel members Davy Hyland and Darroch Mulhall have both informed Ryan they will be leaving to travel to the United States.
Galway hurling captain David Collins is a doubt for Sunday’s Leinster SHC final against Kilkenny.
Collins sustained a slight hamstring tear in training and it could be tomorrow before a decision is made on whether he will take part.
Antrim (All-Ireland SFC Qualifying round 2A v Fermanagh): C Kerr; N Delargy, S McVeigh, J Laverty; J Crozier, T Scullion, R Johnston; C Murray, B Hasson; D Lynch, D McAleese, M Pollock; M Sweeney, R Murray, O Gallagher
Cork (Munster SFC final v Kerry): K O’Halloran; M Shields, E Cadogan, J Loughrey; B O’Driscoll, B O’Driscoll, S Cronin; A O’Connor, F Goold; P Kerrigan, D O’Connor, K O’Driscoll; C O’Neill, M Collins, B Hurley
Kerry (Munster SFC final v Cork): B Kealy; F Fitzgerald, M Ó Sé, S Enright; J Lyne, P Crowley, K Young; D Moran, B Sheehan; S O’Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh; BJ Keane, Kieran Donaghy, James O’Donoghue
Offaly (All-Ireland SFC Qualifying round 2A v Kildare): A Mulhall; B Darby, P McConway, C Donohue; N Darby, J Moloney; J O’Connor; C McNamee, N Smith; P Cunningham, G Guilfoyle, A Sullivan; B Allen, N Dunne, W Mulhall
Cork (All-Ireland SHC Qualifying round one v Wexford): A Nash; D Cahalane, S McDonnell, Murphy; A Walsh, M Ellis; C Murphy, D Kearney, B Cooper; C Lehane, P Cronin, B Lawton; A Cadogan, S Harnedy, P Horgan
Offaly (All-Ireland SHC Qualifying round one v Clare): J Dempsey; N Wynne, D Shortt, D King; E Murphy, C Egan, P Camon; E Nolan, S Ryan; J Mulrooney, D Currams, P Murphy; S Dooley, J Bergin, B Carroll