GAA Football

Antrim's Mick McCann won't break a habit of a life-time on retirement

Antrim's Mick McCann is facing a fitness race ahead of Sunday's Ulster SFC against Armagh Picture: Seamus Loughran

ANTRIM’S ageless midfielder Michael McCann says he has no intentions of announcing his retirement – but may still quietly slip away from the inter-county stage.

Speaking ahead of Antrim’s Ulster Championship showdown with Armagh at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, McCann joked that he apparently “retired” four times without even knowing it.

The 35-year-old Cargin man said: “I’ve been retired four times now and never once did I announce that was retired. It just generally comes out that if I’m not there, I’m retired, so I’ve never actually said: ‘I’m going to retire’ – and when I do I’ll probably not say that either.”

McCann was persuaded back to the county set-up under former boss Lenny Harbinson and proved there is no substitute for calmness in possession and reading of the game.

He decided to stay on under new boss Enda McGinley but a few days before Antrim’s first NFL Division Four North game, he tore a calf muscle and has been sidelined ever since.

“I’m probably one of those people where you’re thinking: ‘This year will probably do me’ - but then you’re injured for four weeks and you don’t realise how much you miss it.

“I’ll just play it by ear. I’ll know myself [when to retire]. I’ve a young family. But Enda and the management team have been very understanding; they know what works and what doesn’t. They’ve young families themselves. But at the minute I just want to get back and play a bit of football. I certainly don’t feel 32!”

Antrim clinched promotion out of Division Four in McGinley’s first season in charge with three one-point wins over Louth, Sligo and Leitrim before clinching the deal down in Waterford with a bit to spare.

McCann feels Sunday’s clash might be a “bit early” for him – but his manager, and incidentally his brother-in-law, McGinley isn’t ruling out the experienced midfielder.

“How many inter-county seasons are left in me, I don’t know,” McCann added.

“If you asked me two or three years ago I would have said none. So every week is a bonus playing county football. It’s frustrating in the sense that we put in six or seven months’ work, albeit four or five of them months were on our own.

“The season is so short and three days before the first game I tear my calf. You couldn’t write it. It’s been frustrating from that point of view but it’s also been very rewarding to be part of a panel that has been promoted and with Enda and Stevie [O’Neill] in their first year, you never know where it could take you as one season rolls into another and if they want me, there’s maybe an opportunity, but I’ve to weigh up a lot too.

“But I have to say it’s been a very positive year for Antrim in all codes, to be fair.”

McCann’s absence from Antrim’s midfield this season has been cushioned by the dramatic rise and assured performances of 19-year-old Conor Stewart.

After posting a man-of-the-match display in Antrim’s opening win over Louth in Dundalk – described by McGinley as “absolutely outstanding” – the All Saints teenager has managed to maintain a high level of consistency.

“To be honest, nobody seen it coming – even coming up to the Louth game,” admitted McCann.

“Conor was steady, he came into the panel, trained well, he didn’t set the world alight. Against Louth, he was the best man on the field so he’s really grown. He’s definitely come out of nowhere in the last month rather than the last six months but a really, really level-headed young lad. He’s modest, works hard, really good on the ball, his decision-making is very good and he’s mad keen to learn and listen.

“To be honest, there are a few lads who have really impressed, but for Conor coming in at 19 and dominating inter-county games, albeit Division Four, can only be impressive to be fair to him.”

With promotion in the bag, the pressure is well and truly off Enda McGinley’s men as they bid to cause a massive upset against Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh team who impressed in retaining their Division One status.

“Listen, anything can happen. Our boys are confident,” said McCann.

“We’ve a lot of pace. Pace is scary no matter what level you’re playing at. But nobody’s thinking: ‘Antrim are going to beat Armagh’ – but we’ll try and show our best and do what we can.

“I think it’s a great challenge, to be honest. You go back to last year – Cavan became Ulster champions. I’m not saying we dominated them [in the first round game] but we probably deserved to get something out of the game.

“The lads are in good shape, they are as fit as ever I seen them, the management are more than capable of devising a game-plan that will suit us.

“Armagh are a physical team and they played at a higher level for longer, but long-term, we want to stay in Division Three, we want to establish ourselves and push on.

“We want consistent games at a higher level and that’s what’s going to bring the team where it needs to be. A one-off Championship game isn’t really going to do that, regardless of the result against Armagh.”

He added: “There was more pressure on the Waterford game than there is going into the Armagh game.

“All we want is a performance against Armagh and to see what the lads have coached us and where that takes us, you never know.”

With so little time to prepare for a truncated League campaign, and now a knock-out Championship, McCann says the new management team hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel.

“They want to see passionate football and they want people to express themselves. We might be a wee bit open at the back the odd time but we’re playing good football… the main thing is the players are enjoying the style of football.

“We’re carrying a 34, 35-man panel and there are boys there every week who don’t even make the 26 and they keep coming back because the coaching is top drawer.”

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