Antrim defender James Laverty speaks to the Saffron Gael in the lead up to Sunday’s NFL Div. 4 semi-final against Waterford

Much has been made of the new faces in Enda McGinley’s Antrim panel this year, and rightly so, but the former Errigal Ciaran man’s ability to persuade a number of players who had left the county setup to return this season has played a big part in the Saffron success story to date.

One of those players is Cargin’s James Laverty who had been part of the Antrim set up for 9 years before stepping away owing to family commitments. This year the Erin’s Own man has been persuaded to re-join the Saffron camp and has been a regular starter at the heart of the Antrim defence.

Today I spoke to the Cargin stalwart and asked him about his return to county duty and how he is feeling as Antrim head into this weekend’s division 4 league semi-final against Waterford in Dungarvan.

Paddy Mac: James having stepped away from the county setup following a long and distinguished career in the Saffron jersey what was it that persuaded you to give it another go?

James Laverty: (I’d say the biggest thing was getting the opportunity to play at the highest level again. Also with the current squad there is a lot of young players eager to do something with Antrim and I wanted to be part of it.)

Paddy Mac: your return has coincided with a successful start to the season for Antrim and while I know you are too modest to take credit for that success you have certainly played you part. How has life been under Enda McGinley, Stephen O’Neill, Sean Kelly and the rest of the backroom team?

James Laverty: Under the new management this year it’s definitely been enjoyable. They have set clear targets for where we want to be at the end of the season and very straight talking when it comes to how we are performing.

Paddy Mac: You have served under a number of managers during your Antrim playing career. What is different about the present management?

James Laverty: Every manager I’ve played under has brought something new to the squad and one thing about this setup is the standards they expect. On and off the field they expect high standards which this squad has bought into. The management team is making sacrifices and are preparing us to perform to the best of our ability. They simply ask that we do the same.

Paddy Mac: One of the things that has impressed me this year has been the side’s never say die attitude and their ability to keep going when things appear to be going against them. Antrim teams in the past have had a tendency to drop the head when things were not going their way. What do you attribute this change of attitude to?

James Laverty: It’s 100% down to the coaching and the style of play the management team are trying to implement. The players have a belief that no matter what happens during the game or what the score is we can still get up the field for another score.

Paddy Mac: Sunday’s game against Waterford is arguably the most important game that Antrim have played in for some time and a win would guarantee promotion. What is the mood like in the Antrim camp as they head to Dungarven?

James Laverty: The mood in the camp is good. Players are fighting for positions and even squad places so that can only be good for the team.

Paddy Mac: Three wins on the trot was probably more than anyone would have dared predict before a ball was kicked in this year’s National League campaign. Antrim have mixed the excellent with the mediocre in some of these games but dogged determination has got them over the line. What areas do you feel we need to improve on if we are to be successful on Sunday?

James Laverty: I think the most obvious aspect is we have conceded goals in every game. If we can reduce this then we’d make it a bit easier on ourselves. We probably need to manage the game slightly better than we have done in previous games. Waterford will have good spells and so will we but we’ll need to make our good spells count.

Antrim James Laverty in action during the Saffrons win over Louth in Saturday’s National Football League at Dundalk Pic by John McIlwaine

Paddy Mac: Antrim beat Waterford handy enough in Haggardstown last year but there was nothing at stake for them and they have certainly shown improvement under their new management team and their 2-13 to 0-18 win away to Wexford made people sit up and take notice. What do you know about Sunday’s opponents and who are the Waterford players Antrim will have to keep a tight rein on?

James Laverty: From what I have seen of them they are a seriously hard working team who can move the ball very quickly into their forwards. They have a number of good scorers in the forward line and very physical around the middle. They were fully deserving of their victory over Wexford so we will have to be on the top of our game if we are going to get the result we want.

Paddy Mac: Finally James what have the preparations been like in the two weeks leading up to Sunday’s semi-final?

James Laverty: Preparations have been as good as they can be. We’ve been focussed on this game since the final whistle in the Leitrim game so hopefully we can get the right result.

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