Antrim's bench men making a strong impact: boss Enda McGinley
ANTRIM may have had to absorb some experienced departures from last season – but boss Enda McGinley expressed his satisfaction with the new recruits to the 2022 squad.
The Saffrons can approach their NFL Division Three opener with Fermanagh at Brewster Park with a degree of confidence following their two Dr McKenna Cup outings against Down and Donegal.
After claiming a fine victory over the Mournemen, Antrim pushed Donegal all the way in last Saturday’s tie at Portglenone only to lose by two points.
While McGinley was niggled by the team’s error count, he was very content with the men who came off the bench.
“There are boys coming in with different form levels,” said McGinley. “There are boys who have put in a huge amount of work over the winter that are showing up well in training and you have to give them a credible chance in the match...
“We ran the bench [against Donegal] and, to be fair, I think our level remained really consistent so that’s really pleasing, and it’s up to certain players to really put up their hands and stake that place but to do that you have to push yourself up to another level. And that can only be a good thing for the team.”
Niall McKeever, Mark Sweeney, Paddy Cunningham, Niall Delargy and Adam Loughran were among those who stepped away from the Antrim panel this year.
But there are a host of new players and a couple of returnees that give McGinley some cause for optimism. New boys Pat Shivers and Jamie Gribbin started both McKenna Cup games, while Kickham’s Creggan Jamie McCann is pushing hard for a half-back or a middle eight position after a brilliant club campaign.
Seamus McGarry is back involved in the senior panel after a few seasons away. The Aldergrove clubman was a precocious talent in his underage days and was on the periphery of the senior panel during Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams’ time in charge.
Barry and Darren McCormick have earned call-ups having helped guide Tir na nOg to an intermediate county title before narrowly losing a provincial semi-final to Moortown of Tyrone.
Dominic McEnhill’s strong performances in the O’Donovan Rossa attack over the past two seasons has pushed him into the county reckoning too.
McGinley used 17 substitutes in total across their games against Down and Donegal and the countdown is on for their NFL opener against the Ernemen in 11 days’ time.
“We’ve seen all the boys in training and they’re due their chances,” said the former Tyrone player, who already cut his panel before their McKenna Cup games.
“We’ve had a decent changeover of the squad this year. We’ve a really, really good bunch of boys who work hard. From everything I see about them they are determined to improve and that’s all you can ask.
“It’s very, very enjoyable around training but we know every game in Division Three is going to be very, very narrow in terms of the margins, so that was a wee lesson [against Donegal]. If we learn the lesson and apply ourselves right in training, obviously Fermanagh is going to be a big test. It’s not going to be easy and we know we have to be on it.”
Fresh out of Division Four, Antrim have four home games and three away in Division Three in a League campaign that will run between the end of January and the last weekend in March.