GAA Football

Odhran Eastwood trying to be part of the answer to Antrim's conundrum

Antrim's Odhran Eastwood (right) returned to county duty soon after St Enda's, Glengormley's All-Ireland final defeat.
Picture: Cliff Donaldson

WHEN Kilcummin were pulverising St Enda’s, Glengormley and turning their eagerly awaited All-Ireland IFC final day at Croke Park into a living nightmare, the Antrim and Ulster champions needed inspiration from somewhere. Anywhere.

No amount of switches from the sideline would make a shred of difference. It was beyond tactical retrieval.

For this final had taken on a life of its own.

Within seven minutes, the Kerry men had sprinted into a 2-3 to no score lead. Kevin McCarthy was unstoppable.

The Glengormley footballers needed somebody to do something to prevent the most public of humiliations.

Step forward Odhran Eastwood. The diminutive 22-year-old was the first man in amber and black to put up his hand, and others followed.

Every time he got the ball he ran at the Kilcummin defence and hit two brilliant points from play.

In those few moments, when St Enda’s supporters could barely watch, Eastwood was the epitome of courage.

It’s easy to score points when you’re in the game.

Eastwood was sensational in St Enda’s historic run through Antrim and Ulster but the undoubted personal highlight of his season could be found in those bloody opening scenes at Croke Park.

For it’s in those moments a person’s true character reveals itself.

“Odhran plays a lot of basketball,” says St Enda’s boss and former Antrim manager Frank Fitzsimons, “and I think that’s why he always plays with his head up. I love seeing a player playing with his head up.

“He was outstanding in the All-Ireland final. I think Odhran can go that extra yard or two and be a regular in the Antrim team.

“It’s getting the right position for him. He’s not the type of player who’s going to win dirty ball but if you give him the ball he can do some work with it.”

The former St Malachy’s student is not bullish enough to tell you to your face – but he doesn’t suffer from an inferiority complex.

Antrim could do with a dozen Odhran Eastwoods in their team.

Some may wince at the prospect of facing Tyrone in Saturday night’s Ulster quarter-final. But Eastwood won’t.

Speaking at Antrim’s Championship press night in Randalstown, Eastwood says: “My theory is we’re getting to play one of the best teams in the country in a sport you’ve been playing for years, in The Athletic Grounds on a Saturday night in May. That’s why you’re training in November, December and January - to test yourself.”

Despite a couple of club league defeats in Antrim’s top division, Eastwood’s performances remain pristine as ever.

If Eastwood was the epitome of courage at Croke Park back in February he also represents Antrim’s bright future.

He knows club level is probably the only place he will win medals, but that doesn’t blunt his ambition to strive for better with his county.

“The big question for everyone involved in Antrim GAA is how can we get better? That’s what Lenny [Harbinson] was saying: ‘The first thing is to get out of Division Four.’

“We were close in both years but obviously close isn’t good enough. People from the outside probably look at it [he gives a derisory look]... but we’re as disappointed as anyone because we didn’t get promoted.

“No-one has the right answer yet but the effort is there from the players and management and I know Ciaran McCavana [St Enda’s club-mate and county chairman] has come in and wants to change it. Everyone here is fully committed to trying to change things.

“We’re here because we want to play for Antrim and we want to put pride in the jersey, we want to make it better and we want the kids here to want to play for Antrim.

“We want better results, get up the divisions and to start winning Ulster Championship games….”

Antrim's last Ulster Championship victory preceded Eastwood's arrival by two years - a 2014 win over Fermanagh.

He was introduced to the rigours of inter-county football by former joint managers Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams in 2016.

He’s had to bide his time to get game-time but 2019 could be the year Eastwood finally nails down a starting place on the Antrim team.

“When I first came in you were playing with Kevin Niblock, Tomas and Mick McCann who were playing Division Two and Three for Antrim, so it was good to see what they were doing as well as the likes of Ricky and Marty Johnston. They’ve been playing at a high level and now you’ve got the likes of Fitzy [Matt Fitzpatrick] and [Paddy] McBride who are quality players, so if you’re training with that sort of player you’re only going to get better...”

Within a fortnight of losing an All-Ireland final with his club, Eastwood was back in the Antrim fold playing against London even though their promotion hopes were extinguished by that stage.

Eastwood adds: “Everybody’s competitive. I’d say I’m fairly competitive myself. I want to be around when Antrim are winning Championship games, being competitive... a county career can be short so you want to make the most of it.

“I absolutely want to be playing as much as possible for my club and county. I’ll train as hard as possible and keep the head down which is essentially all you can do.”

Only Odhran Eastwood plays with his head up. Always.

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