GAA Football

Let Monaghan and Down think Antrim are an easy touch: Captain Ruairi Hagan

Ruairi Hagan of Antrim pictured at Monday evening's launch of the Electric Ireland Ulster GAA minor football championship. Also pictured Oliver Galligan, Ulster Council president, with, from left, minor team captains Jason Irwin (Monaghan), Aidan McCluskey (Derry), Niall Devlin (Tyrone), Sean McVerry (Armagh), Ruairi Hagan (Antrim), James McCahill (Cavan), Kieran Tobin (Donegal), Aaron Jones and Fergal Quinn (Fermanagh joint captains)

ANTRIM minor captain Ruairi Hagan knows that the winners of tonight's Ulster MFC preliminary round tie between Down and Monaghan will feel they have a handy path to this year's semi-finals.

However, the Portglenone youngster says he has every faith in this year's crop of young Saffrons to cause an upset.

“That's part of the problem in Antrim,” says Hagan.

“People say: ‘It's only Antrim, why would you want to go and play for them?' If all the players came together in Antrim I'm sure we'd put it up to any county.”

Antrim last won the minor – now U17 – grade back in 1982 and their last provincial final appearance was in 2006.

“I think it's to do with a long period without having success and people become accustomed to that. Other teams in Ulster are probably hoping to draw Antrim.

"I know the squad of players that we have. We've good enough players to challenge any county so it doesn't bother me too much.”

While there are players drawn from 15 or 16 clubs, Antrim boss Collie McAllister is faced with the novel and unwanted scenario of not having any representation from the current county champions of Antrim - Dunloy.

Despite this, Hagan says: “We know we're a quality side and we've done the hard work and we're looking forward to our quarter-final.”

The St Louis, Ballymena lower sixth student, whose father Damien played for Tyrone, feels honoured to be leading this year's U17 squad.

“I took the captaincy in my stride. I saw it as a privilege more than a duty. I was very grateful for the opportunity Collie gave me.

“I just hope to do my best for the team and make all the new players feel welcome especially the U16 Buncrana Cup squad (who beat Armagh and Down in the group stages) and they're obviously good enough to come up and challenge for places.”

McAllister experimented heavily during Antrim's Ulster Minor League campaign with their best display coming against a fancied Derry side in Dunsilly, losing by just three points.

Hagan has been involved in county development squads since U14 and wants to continue his ascent into the senior ranks one day.

“My plan is to play for Antrim seniors. I always wanted to represent my county and challenge myself against the best in the province.

“Being involved in the development squads, I definitely feel it's made me a better player, just being around coaches that have been at the top level and learning from them. Year on year it's getting more professional and I feel this year is a lot more professional than other years.”

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