Antrim's Ricky Johnston keen to put county final heartache to one side
CREGGAN Kickhams defender Ricky Johnston says the pain of last Sunday’s agonising Antrim SFC final defeat will be cushioned by Antrim netting promotion next month.
The Kickhams suffered county final heartbreak for the second time in three years at the hands of Cargin with Johnston describing last weekend’s extra-time loss as the lowest point in his senior career.
Creggan haven’t won a senior title since 1954 and were desperately close in ending that famine before Ciaran Close of Cargin grabbed a late goal.
“I think it was definitely the lowest, it was a real tough one,” said the 29-year-old full-back.
“I was disappointed because we’d done so much work. It’s hard to put into words. At times we were untouchable on Sunday but you need to be doing that for the whole 60 minutes and more if you can. I mean, 1-19 would win most championship games.”
“That’s two finals in three years. I just hope we’re there again next year. We’d be disappointed if we don’t win a title. We’ve a lot of young lads coming through over the last few years and we’re still relatively young. I don’t see why we can't push on over the next six or seven years. You’d want to be winning championships very soon but I feel we have the team to do that.”
Johnston returned to county training last night alongside club-mate and goalkeeper Oisin Kerr. Johnston’s younger brother Martin is carrying an ankle injury and may take more time to recover before returning to the county fold.
The fact that Antrim can claim promotion out of Division Four this season – with games against Wicklow (a) and Waterford (h) still to come – gives Johnston the chance to end 2020 with some sense of satisfaction.
“You’re preparing for a championship final and in a split second of that week you’re back training with Antrim,” Johnston said.
“It’s hard to get that mindset right again but the only good thing I can say is we’re preparing for two League games that we can get promoted from.
“In previous years I’d say it would be harder going back, so it makes it a bit easier going back knowing that we’ve something to play for, that we can achieve something this year by getting into Division Three.”
With the Covid pandemic forcing two condensed club and county seasons back-to-back, Johnston feels the GAA can learn some lessons as he enjoyed not having any distractions while Creggan aimed for championship glory.
“During lockdown I enjoyed the time off and I would have been happy enough with that for the rest of the year but when the club started back I was never as happy to be back,” he said.
The Creggan footballers played seven championship matches in seven weeks in reaching last Sunday's decider.
“There were no interruptions, it was a great feeling,” said Johnston.
“You weren’t thinking: ‘I’ve to play this match tonight for my club and I’m back with Antrim on the Tuesday night.’
“I thought it was great that you didn’t have any other distractions, whereas before you were going weeks without a game and the ratio between training sessions and games wasn’t right.”
With Covid19 still carrying the potential to cause havoc with the inter-county Championship, Johnston hopes Antrim can negotiate promotion and take their place in this year’s Ulster Championship on November 7/8 where they face the winners of the preliminary round clash between Cavan and Monaghan.
“If you’re on own social media, Covid19 is always there and it’s hard not to get distracted by it… But when you’re training or playing a game you just concentrate on that as much as possible.”
Another consequence of Covid is that it’s unlikely Antrim will plan for an overnight stay ahead of their vital clash with Wicklow on October 17/18 in Aughrim.