McGourty senior back with Saffrons for Fermanagh clash
ANTRIM boss Frank Fitzsimons has welcomed a number of new faces to his panel ahead of his side's Ulster SFC quarter-final against Fermanagh.
While a few familiar names have returned from short-term injury and study commitments, St Gall's Kieran McGourty has returned to the big ball game at county level for the first time since 2007. The 34-year-old played under then manager Mickey Culbert before concentrating on hurling with the county, where he was an ever-present corner-back under consecutive managers. He has also been one of the most consistent and versatile cogs in St Gall's stranglehold on the Antrim senior football title in recent years.
Also back in the Antrim panel is Niall Delargy (Portglenone), Colm Duffin and Ryan Doyle (both Moneyglass). Fitzsimons had a look at a number of players at a challenge game against Derry last Sunday to mark the opening of the Loup's new pitch. It was his side's first run-out since defeat to Offaly in the final round of National League games.
“They are looking sharp," said Fitzsimons.
"Both teams were missing players and we'd club games the day before, but it was a good enough run-out. We took nearly two weeks of a break (after the Offaly game), and let the boys go back to their clubs. It's a long enough league season and everyone came back buzzing.
“Kieran is a big boost to us. He's a very intelligent player, he doesn't lose much ball or waste much ball and takes the right option nearly every time. The players who've come in looked sharp on Sunday.”
Also back in the panel is Mark Sweeney (St Jude's, Dublin), who took time out for exams, while Cargin's Kevin O'Boyle is still carrying an injury.
With Antrim's Brewster Park clash against the Erne men on May 30, Fitzsimons may be tempted to add further to the squad. Brian Neeson (St John's) and Kevin Niblock (St Gall's) scored 2-9 between them when the sides met in last year's Championship, but have not figured in this year's league campaign due to soccer commitments. Both players are now back playing with their respective clubs, however.
As the only Ulster side in Division 4, Antrim go into the game - and indeed the Championship - as underdogs, but will aim to build on a league campaign that threw up some positives. They suffered two defeats in seven games, but ultimately failed to secure promotion in a winner-takes-all battle against Offaly. Fermanagh, on the other hand, secured promotion to Division 2, topping the league table before losing to Armagh in the final.
Fitzsimons is delighted with the preparation so far: “Anything we've asked for, we've got. We've as good a strength and conditioning coach that there is out there (Mike McGurn) as are the coaches (Sean McKenna and Gerard McNulty).
“Fermanagh are going to be hot favourites, but we have to prepare the best we can and go down there on the day and give our best. On our day, we can beat most teams outside the top five or six, but anything below that we are as good as them if we get the heads right and get the breaks on the day.”