Antrim sharp-shooter Tiarnan McAteer plans to embrace the occasion against Down
TIARNAN McAteer is confident his Antrim team-mates will embrace the occasion of playing their Ulster U20 showdown with Down before Sunday’s Ulster final between Donegal and Cavan in Clones.
At just 19, the Creggan Kickhams attacker has already experienced the highs and lows of Gaelic football.
In 2017, McAteer was St Mary’s Magherafelt’s super sub in their dramatic MacRory Cup final win over St Colman’s, Newry, coming off the bench and hitting two brilliant points, while last season the teenager suffered senior county championship heartbreak with Kickhams as Cargin pipped them in the decider – 0-5 to 0-4 – in Ahoghill.
Playing in big games so early in his career has only whetted McAteer’s appetite for more – and Antrim’s centre-forward can’t wait to be playing in front of close to a capacity crowd in Clones this weekend.
“A lot of our boys are used to the big stage and, to be honest, I think we need the big stage to get the best out of ourselves,” said McAteer at the Ulster U20 launch in Garvaghey earlier this week.
“You want to be playing in big games and this is a big opportunity to show what we can do. I know what this team is capable of.”
He added: “There are other boys in Antrim that have MacRory Cup medals, boys from Aghagallon [with St Ronan’s, Lurgan] and obviously when you get to the last 10 minutes of a big game we’ll be able to call on those boys to help us get over the line.”
Alongside Down, Antrim are the only other team that were unbeaten in the inaugural Leo Murphy Cup this season.
While champions Down cut a dash in their group games against Meath, Monaghan and Armagh before beating Cavan in the final by six points, Antrim held their own in their group by drawing with Derry and Cavan and beating Louth.
“We’ve been rotating the team throughout the three games to give everybody a shot at it,” McAteer said.
“It showed the depth we have. Boys came on in the last 10 minutes in games and did the job. It was a heavy load though – three games in about 12 days. It probably should have been better organised as we’d club games running through that as well.”
McAteer admits he’s “lucky” to have been coached and developed by some excellent managers in the early stages of his career.
Former Antrim forward Kevin Brady coached him at MacRory Cup level at the ‘Convent’ and Kevin Madden – a former county team-mate of Brady’s – has been raising standards at Creggan Kickhams over the last few seasons.
At county level, Hugh McGettigan has guided the likes of McAteer from U14.
“I’ve had a lucky run with good managers,” the youngster said.
“The two Kevins have been excellent, tactics-wise and development-wise. They just know how to win games. And Hugh is just top notch. I’ve been with Hugh since U14 and the respect he has for the boys and his knowledge of the game is second to none. He loves Antrim so much. I don’t think our team would be where it is without him.”
McAteer was one of Antrim’s bets performers when McGettigan’s minor team upset Donegal in the Ulster Championship first round clash two seasons ago, hitting four points from play in Ballybofey.
He also featured in Antrim’s narrow defeat to Down in last year’s Ulster U20 opener in Newry.
“Obviously,” he said, “I’d like to win something with Antrim, first and foremost. There is this narrative around Antrim that players don’t really want to play for their county team but all the boys that I play with at U20, we just love playing for Antrim and I love the group of players I’m playing with.
“We know the potential of this team. But Down are a lethal team and are probably better than last year when we played them. We know we’ll have our work cut out but we’ll give it our best shot.”