Antrim newcomers given the chance to impress: Antrim co-boss Frank Fitzsimons
ANTRIM’S senior football management team has flung the doors open to the “best young talent” in the county to make their mark in the saffron jersey.
Apart from a few names, Antrim’s Dr McKenna Cup panel is virtually unrecognisable from last year.
Joint managers Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams have scoured the county for new players, with Fitzsimons insisting that Antrim have assembled the best available panel of players for the 2017 season.
“We’ve a very young side,” said Fitzsimons.
“A lot of players have played minor and U21. You’re looking for that big, fit player… There is no doubt that we’ve got the best young talent on the panel that is committed.”
Of course, the Antrim panel may have a more familiar look about it by the time of their first NFL Division Three game against Tipperary on February 5.
Niall McKeever, Ricky Johnston (both UUJ) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (St Mary’s) will not feature for their county team during this month’s McKenna Cup while Mark Sweeney is recovering from a shoulder operation and Sean McVeigh a knee injury.
Dublin-based Sweeney should be back in “five or six weeks” but McVeigh could be slightly longer before he’s fit to resume.
Antrim have been grouped with St Mary’s, Monaghan (both to be played in Glenavy) and Fermanagh (Brewster Park) in Section B of the McKenna Cup.
These games, Fitzsimons says, is the perfect audition for the raft of new faces.
“I’ve no doubt a lot of these boys will stake a claim in the McKenna Cup,” said the Lamh Dhearg clubman.
“They’ve probably got their chance a little bit earlier than they thought, but they’re good enough; it’s now about the commitment and hard work. They’re in there and they’re getting the best of training with Brian Magee.”
Lamh Dhearg’s Stephen Tully – son of well-known soccer player and Gaelic footballer Brendan Tully – is one of four Lamh Dhearg players to be called up.
“Stephen Tully was minor and U21 and he has knuckled down, so we’ve given him a chance and he’s taken it.”
Aldergrove’s Seamus McGarry will be trialled at full-forward this month, while Aghagallon trio Pat Brannigan, Oisin Lenaghan and Eunan Walsh have been given the chance to stake their claim in the senior ranks.
Stephen Beatty and Sean Donnelly, both from the O’Donovan Rossa club in west Belfast, have every chance of making the breakthrough in 2017.
Ruairi Scott of St Enda’s is another player highly rated by the Antrim management team who can play anywhere along the half-back or half-forward lines, while his club-mate Peter Healy could still feature in Antrim’s NFL campaign even though he will play for Dublin IT in the O’Byrne Cup this month.
James Laverty and Tomas McCann are the only members of county champions Cargin that will feature for Antrim in the McKenna Cup.
Last year, the Saffrons won promotion out of Division Four but suffered back-to-back Championship defeats to Fermanagh and Limerick that saw their season end in late June.
“It’s the same backroom team as last year,” said Fitzsimons, “and hopefully a year wiser.”