Antrim players embracing the gospel according to Andy McEntee: Marc Jordan

Down's Ceilum Doherty and Antrim's Marc Jordan in action during the Allianz NFL Division Three tie
Down's Ceilum Doherty and Antrim's Marc Jordan in action during the Allianz NFL Division Three tie Down's Ceilum Doherty and Antrim's Marc Jordan in action during the Allianz NFL Division Three tie

MARC Jordan says the Antrim players are beginning to embrace Andy McEntee’s attacking philosophy and no-nonsense approach as the Saffrons made light work of Tipperary in Thurles last weekend to bank their first League points of the season.

Antrim slipped up at home in their opening Division Three game to Offaly and were desperately unlucky not to take something against Down in Newry.

But the players seemed to absorb all the positives to come out of Pairc Esler and indeed the glut of second-half chances they created against Offaly to hammer Tipperary by eight points.

With promotion hunters Fermanagh visiting Corrigan Park on Saturday, Jordan believes the Antrim squad are in a much better headspace than they were in their opening NFL against Offaly.

“Andy has just asked us to go out and have a cut at teams, have a go,” says Jordan.

“Obviously we’ve put up big scores the last couple of games and I think that’s a reflection of that approach, and that breeds confidence into a team.

“Football now can be damage limitation, 15 men behind the ball – don’t get me wrong, we get men behind the ball just like every other team in the country – but I just love Andy saying to us: ‘Have a go, have a lash at it, lads.’ As long as the work-rate is there.”

Jordan acknowledged that it took the players a while to get used to the new manager’s ways of doing things and is a very different character to former boss Enda McGinley who was responsible for hauling the county out of Division Four after a four-year stay.

“If something needs to be said he’s going to say it,” Jordan says.

“He’ll call you out in team meetings when we’re going through the video. He doesn’t sugar-coat it, he literally just tells you how it is – and I think that’s benefitting us because there is no hiding place.

“On the defensive side of things, we obviously weren’t working hard enough. We were getting back but we weren’t active, stuff like that. That’s been a big focus for us. We actually had a lot of numbers back against Down, but the focus before the Tipperary game was getting back and putting pressure on the ball. Down definitely have better forwards than Tipperary but we got some work done and limited them to less scores.

Jordan adds: “Andy’s a different character to Enda. I think the turnover of players has allowed him to create his own team. How long is the list? We lost James [Laverty], Conor [Murray], Tomas and Mick [McCann] from last year… so because there are so many new players, it’s maybe easier for him to put his own stamp on it. It’s a bit of a clean slate in that sense.”

Last season, Antrim nose-dived towards the end of their League campaign and although they lost a couple of key players on the eve of their Ulster Championship tie with Cavan at Corrigan Park, the team delivered a very meek display – something that clearly wasn’t lost on the new manager coming in.

“It was definitely the hardest pre-season we’ve put in,” says Jordan (29).

“But Andy also set the stall out and told us what we were doing and before we were allowed to start training he made contact with pretty much everyone and told us we needed to be coming in with a certain level of fitness already.

“Even with our gym work, there is more accountability, not that there wasn’t before, but I just think that Cavan game really shook us and we realised there was a physicality difference, and there has been a big, big push with the S&C side of things this season.

“In terms of the cardio, we were doing big numbers – roughly 90 or a 100k a month. I think it’s standing to us now because we seem to be finishing games quite strongly. I definitely felt good in the last 10 minutes against Down, it was just one or two mistakes against them that cost us – it wasn’t a collapse. So fitness isn’t a problem at the minute.

“It’s probably the best I’ve felt over the last number of years. When you’re reaching 30, you just feel as fit as you can!”

An interesting detail of Antrim’s overnight stay in Tipperary last weekend was that they did a light session the following morning at Dr Morris Park, across the road from Semple Stadium, rather than head straight home.

“It wasn’t too much, it was just kicking about,” Jordan says, “but I think it’s a mind-set as we could have just patted ourselves on the back and said: ‘Well done, good stuff, see you on Tuesday.’

“It was more of a reset and let’s start thinking about Saturday’s game against Fermanagh rather than leaving it until the Tuesday night and then you’re only four days out from the game. I think it was psychological as much as anything.”

Jordan, who is at home anywhere in the middle eight, was a late arrival to the inter-county scene. He returned home from teaching abroad three years ago, primarily to try and win a club championship with Lamh Dhearg, but he was soon drafted into Lenny Harbinson’s Antrim panel and has been a mainstay of the team ever since.

As he approaches his 30th birthday, Jordan still gets a great kick out of playing at inter-county level.

“I still love it. Even though the Down game was a really tough loss, it’s those days when you’re playing in front of 6,000 people in Pairc Esler.

“And even though you’re playing in front of 200 or 300 people in Thurles, that’s just as enjoyable going down the road.

“It’s a really tight group we have this year. I’m among the senior players now and you’re trying to bring the younger lads on, chatting to them. We had tight groups in years gone by but there just feels a freshness to it this year.

“You spend that much time with each other. You look at Sean O’Neill, he’s a clinker. He’ll be playing county football for the next 10 or 12 years, you’ve got the Finnegans [Joe and Pat], Adam [Loughran] and Conor Stewart and Kevin Small are still only 23 or 24.”

Even though Fermanagh have won two out of their first three games in the division and Antrim having shipped two defeats already, Jordan doesn’t regard Saturday’s Ulster derby as a must-win game.

“You’re conscious that we’ve left games behind us and we’re only on two points. Fermanagh are on four and they’re looking in the opposite direction and will be looking at promotion.

“But I don’t think it’s must-win territory, teams will win and lose. Obviously we feel we’re in a good place but I’m not thinking in those terms, but we’re confident going into the game.”

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