GAA Football

National Football League is the priority for Antrim says Ryan Murray

Antrim's Ryan Murray gets away from St Mary's Michael O'Hare during last Sunday's McKenna Cup match
Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Anthony Gunning

THERE was disappointment for Ryan Murray in the wake of Antrim’s one-point defeat to St Mary’s in their opening Dr McKenna Cup game at Glenavy last Sunday, but the Lámh Dhearg man says these games are simply preparation for the beginning of the National Football League that begins next month.

The Saffrons started the game with seven debutants as they look to unearth some new talent for 2017, so it was always likely they would hit the ground running in their opening fixture.

While there were certainly positives for Antrim on the day, Murray admitted the 2-16 to 3-12 (although most observers had Antrim tallying 3-11) defeat to the students was not how they wanted to begin the new year.

“We are all disappointed with that as it was there for the taking at stages,” said Murray after last Sunday’s loss.

“We missed a right few at the end there. I missed a few myself and others were probably just getting used to playing [inter-county]. There were a lot of new boys playing there and maybe only four or five who have played senior for the county before, so it’s not all negative.

“We are disappointed that we didn’t win, but it’s the McKenna Cup and it’s about bringing new people in and seeing if we can find a few for the rest of the season.”

Antrim will test themselves in Division Three this year having spent the past three seasons trying to escape the basement division. They will certainly be tested from the off with a trip to face last year’s All-Ireland semi-finals, Tipperary in their opening game in Clonmel on February 5 and Murray says this McKenna Cup campaign is simply about trying to peak for that encounter.

“When you are out playing you want to win and you are disappointed when you don’t, but it’s all about Tipperary and our first game away,” he stressed.

“We are using the McKenna Cup to build up our fitness and trying to put some patterns of play together because before you know it you are straight into the National League and there are a few tough openers there. But we will be going to Tipperary with the full belief that we will take two points and this is about building towards that.”

Murray enjoyed a mixed afternoon last Sunday, kicking 1-6 with 1-3 coming from play, but he was disappointed with some of the chances he missed late on with the game in the balance.

“It’s the ones you miss are the ones you remember, so I’ll be kicking the walls for the rest of the day,” he admitted.

“But it’s McKenna Cup and nobody is going to get thrown under the bus for taking a chance on it. I’d be disappointed as much as anyone, but it’s just good to get out and get a competitive match under your belt.”

The competition gets even tougher this Sunday when Antrim entertain Monaghan, who edged out Fermanagh in Section B’s other game last  Sunday.

Murray acknowledges the Farney men will provide an even sterner test than St Mary’s, but believes he and his team-mates can give them a game as they look to help integrate the new faces into the senior set-up.

“It will be a step up from today again,” he agreed.

“St Mary’s are a fit bunch and they are in the middle of their season you would say as Sigerson is just around the corner. You can see they are flying fit and have some big names from throughout Ulster, but Monaghan will be another step up.

“They will be bleeding in new players too so we will be looking for the win, but at this stage it’s more important to give people a chance and give it a crack.”

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