Saffrons set for youthful look after losing experienced trio

Niall McKeever has left the Antrim panel ahead of the 2019 season.
Niall McKeever has left the Antrim panel ahead of the 2019 season.

ANTRIM boss Lenny Harbinson says the Saffrons will be a “very young team” next year after losing another trio of experienced players.

James Laverty, Niall McKeever and CJ McGourty are the latest trio that will not be involved with the Saffrons in 2019, adding their names to those of Paddy McAleer (teaching), Chris Kerr (retired) and Conor Murray (injured).

Cargin man Laverty has been a mainstay of the side at wing-back in recent seasons, while McKeever and McGourty have both dipped in and out of the team during that time.

McGourty was the only one of the six absentees that didn’t play any championship football for Antrim this summer as they went down to defeats against Down and Offaly to seal a third consecutive first round exit.

The silver lining for Harbinson is the return of teak-tough full-back Martin Johnston, and he has drafted in a host of under-20s as they look to find their way out of Division Four, as well as St Brigid’s Andrew Sweeney, whose brother Mark is on the team.

The likes of Eoghan McCabe (who had an excellent year for St Gall’s), Lámh Dhearg flier Eoin McKeown and the athletic Kevin Quinn will be joined by All Saints’ Conal Lemon and St Enda’s duo Odhran Eastwood and Eoin Nagle.

With Antrim having produced excellent minor teams in 2016 and 2017, Harbinson is aiming to get them in early and try and bring them up to speed physically.

“You see some of the opposition you play against up close, stood on the sideline and they’re flying past you, they’re big, mobile and they can play a bit of ball.

“It changed my outlook on the type of profile of footballer I was looking for. Guys who are extremely fit and are very mobile, and have a level of football that could fit within a system of play somewhere.”