Keeping it simple suits Antrim in 2021: Antrim boss Enda McGinley
WITH a fast-tracked National League campaign and little time to tinker, Antrim senior football manager Enda McGinley decided to “keep it simple” upon taking the reins in 2021.
And the pared back approach has reaped the reward of promotion out of Division Four after spending three interminable seasons in the basement.
Antrim chiselled out three one-point wins over Louth, Sligo and Leitrim before breezing past Waterford in their promotion play-off.
How did McGinley and Stevie O’Neill do it? There was no magical formula and very few ingredients, if truth be told.
They stuck with the same nucleus of players, keep training methods simple and backed the squad to use the hurt of the last few years to finally get out of the division.
“I suppose you pare it back to the basics,” said McGinley, who spent two years at Swatragh before taking the Antrim job.
“For me, the game of football is 95 per cent about the basics so the level we’re playing at, it’s about trying to minimise mistakes. We’re going to make mistakes playing Division Four football and it was about trying to minimise our own and capitalise on the opposition’s and realising that most games would come down to those last 10 minutes and having the mind-set strong enough that you were quite happy and comfortable when it did come down to those last minutes of games.
“Playing simple and hopefully decent quality football and then being really ready to step up whenever the game was in the fire in the last 10 minutes.”
Antrim stepped up in all their games, particularly in the closing stages. They trailed in the closing stages to Louth and Sligo to win and allowed a 10-point lead slip against Leitrim before finally nailing the Connacht men with seconds remaining.
McGinley is carrying a squad of around 35 players but opportunities for those on the periphery have been few and far between, largely because of the truncated nature of the inter-county season.
The Errigal Ciaran man has used just 24 players across four League games, with a regular 10 players starting every game, while another six panellists featured in each of Antrim’s outings to date. Luke Mullholland and Michael Byrne shared two games apiece in goal.
McGinley added: “You could layer in loads of complexities – kick-out approaches, defensive and attacking approaches – but you just knew you wouldn’t have had time to do all that.
“But a half-baked plan is better than no plan at all. So it was about trying to simplify things as much as possible because you couldn’t afford to give different players lots of opportunities in different positions.
“That’s where you had to be a wee bit more ruthless; you were giving minimal chances to some players just because you had to try and get some semblance of a settled team and to get boys with enough game-time and form in their legs, so you were probably having to settle [on a team] earlier than you would have had than giving a few more chances out than what we did.”
Since assuming the reins alongside county team-mate and close friend Stevie O’Neill and former Antrim captain Sean Kelly, McGinley has been hugely impressed with the diligence of the players he’s been working with since accepting the role in November.
“There is a great bunch of lads there with a definite pride in playing for Antrim, a real integrity among the group,” said the 40-year-old manager.
“They are honest. They are a really diligent and really, really keen to learn. I’ve been really impressed with their ability to take on board various things we’re trying to coach and you can see that being put into action. That’s an amazing thing for a group of players to have and has helped us a huge amount in terms of the promotion push. They are really keen to improve and want to up the ante of improving Antrim football, which is what we’re there for.”
The Championship draw could have been a little kinder to the Saffrons. Armagh are one of the form teams in the northern province having beaten Armagh, drawing with Donegal and beating Roscommon in their Division One relegation play-off.
“In terms of bridging the gap between Division One and Division Four is not something you do in one game,” McGinley acknowledged.
“Even if the stars align doesn’t mean we are a Division One side. But Championship is marked by one-off performances. For us to go from being a Division Four team to a Division One team is a long-term thing with on-going development and bringing in U20s and having a strong ethos and ambition to drive to a higher level - and it will involve backward steps along the way.
“As a Championship match next Sunday, we want to get the best out of our own game – all the aspects of that are our handling, our error count, our concentration on turnovers and we’d also need to be up a couple of levels from where we’ve been playing. That’s a big challenge but I have to say it’s one you relish.”