By Paddy McIlwaine
Antrim‘s opening game in the McKenna Cup augers well for the season ahead. Antrim’s win over an experimental Down in Newry last night may not be the surprise result many predicted but it will be the manner in which they achieved that two point win which will have pleased the Antrim management as much as the result itself.
Under the guidance of Enda McGinley, Stephen O’Neill and Sean Kelly Antrim appeared to have cast off their soft touch reputation last year when the going got tough and there was further evidence of that new found resilience when the going got tough late in last night game.
The astute McGinley and his management team will of course be concerned at the number of wides and missed chances the Saffron’s shot over the 70 plus minutes but will never the less be pleased with their side’s overall performance over the hour.
The truth is Antrim could have won much more convincingly than the final 1-12 to 1-10 final score suggests but you don‘t miss chances without creating them and the Saffrons created them in abundance throughout the game.
The Antrim management have been busy since that memorable day back in June when Antrim beat Waterford at Frahers Field in Dungarven to gain promotion from division 4 and introduced a number of new faces last night and those getting a first run out in the Saffron jersey certainly justified their selection.
St. Brigid’s youngster, Ronan Boyle, Jamie McCann from championship winners Creggan and Pat Shivers and Jamie Gribbin from Cargin all made useful debuts but it will be the contribution of the more seasoned campaigners that will have pleased the management most.
In a starting line-up that contained a strong representation from Creggan and Cargin, Michael McCann, who wore the number 9 jersey, but gave a masterful display as sweeper was simply outstanding and dismissed any notion that he may be past his best as a county player.
James Laverty was strong and tenacious at centre half while Ricky Johnston never put a foot wrong at full-back and had useful colleagues in Kevin Small and Ruairi McCann in attack. Odhran Eastwood from St. Enda’s led the attack well and gave the Down defence plenty to occupy themselves over the hour.
Monaghan manager, ‘Banty’ McAneaney recently emphasised the importance of a big panel as a must in the modern game and Antrim were able to call upon Dermot McAleese, Pat and Darren McCormick, Conor and Ryan Murray and James McAuley from the bench last night.
A number of others were unavailable through injury, illness or Sigerson Cup commitments and will join the panel when their involvement in that competition ends so Antrim would appear to be in rude health going into their division 3 campaign.
The visit of Donegal to Portglenone on Saturday might provide a more accurate gauge as to where we are at present and I would imagine a strong performance is what the Antrim management will be looking for while a win over the Tir Conaill men might be a step too far at this stage of the season but we dare to dream.