Bring the games on says St John's dual player Ciaran Johnston
ANTRIM and St John’s player Ciaran Johnston may be feeling the rigours of the early season glut of games – but says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The dual player has featured in the Johnnies’ three games over the last seven days and is ready to go again in the senior football championship against O’Donovan Rossa tonight.
Johnston played for the footballers in a league opener against Cargin Sunday week ago before lining out for the hurlers at Naomh Enna last Wednesday night.
And last weekend, he played against Lamh Dhearg in the opening round of the football championship in Hannahstown.
While some observers have justifiably claimed there are too many games too soon in the condensed club championships, Johnston says he's waited around long enough during lockdown for competitive sport to resume.
Although St John’s have lost their opening three games – two in football, one in hurling – Johnston said: “For us in St John’s, it’s a balancing act. It’s very difficult for the management teams because they haven’t had the luxury of trying things out or bedding down a panel and giving lads a run.
“It’s a double-edged sword with the added games in the football championship – but the championship is where you want to play. For me, I don’t like knock-out championship because I’ve had experience of it, so the opportunity of added games in the championship is what you want.
“We had Lamh Dhearg on Sunday and we have Rossa on Wednesday. It is difficult, but the way I look at it, you’d be training anyway, so it gives you a wee bit of time to recover.
“But games are what we want, especially championship games, and games that will get you back sharp.”
Johnston, who works as a solicitor for Brentnall Legal Limited Solicitors, has praised how strictly his St John’s team-mates have adhered to the Covid19 rules.
Clubs dotted around Ulster have had to contend with Covid19 cases – but Johnston is still hopeful the club championships can be completed with no major hiccups.
“Unfortunately, we’ve no crystal ball and it’s an ever evolving situation,” he said. “You’re just hoping things do get finished. St John’s have been very clear with their players that if they don’t feel comfortable or they feel as if they’re putting themselves at risk or someone else, this is optional.
“Your health and your family’s health counts more than sport. Personally, I’m willing to take the risk, I want to push on but I’m being safe about it.
“With the club championship being played over the next four or five weeks, I don’t think going to house parties and stuff like that would be appropriate.
“If there was a St John’s player going to a house party, I wouldn’t be long telling them to separate themselves from the group because that would be irresponsible.
“Thankfully, our players have been fantastic. It’s just being very mindful of others because there are a couple of players that maybe have elderly relatives and you don’t want to be that person who puts them at risk.
“For the sake of four or five weeks, I don’t think it’s too big of a request to ask.”
The Johnnies will be fighting on both football and hurling fronts and hoping to end their respective championship famines this year. The west Belfast men haven't won a football championship since 1998 and the hurlers go further back to ’73 despite coming desperately close over the last couple of seasons in the small ball series.
“If we can get our best players on the field then we can see where it takes us,” Johnston said.
“You can see how competitive our football and hurling championships are, the fact that it has changed hands so many times over the last couple of years.
“I suppose, Rossa, St Gall’s and St Enda’s and other dual clubs are facing the same scenario as us.”
At the beginning of the season, the Antrim hurlers received a major boost when Ciaran and Conor Johnston rejoined the senior panel after time away.
Darren Gleeson’s men were preparing for a Division Two promotion decider with Kerry before the pandemic struck and sport was shut down. But the eagerly-awaited game is scheduled for this autumn.
“We were getting changed out of a boot of a car at the weekend and I reached into the side pocket of my Antrim kitbag and there were the [unused] tickets for my family for the League final.
“It’s massive for Antrim to get to Division One. You see the development work that’s going on at Corrigan Park. It’s huge for participation for underage players to see Antrim in the top flight. It would great to see the cream of the crop coming to Corrigan Park next year. It’s massive incentive for ourselves and Kerry. I think it’s only right that it is played because the League is already 95 per cent played and the footballers are in the same boat.”