BY KIERAN LYNCH
ANTRIM juniors are off to a good start to their Division 3B campaign, with two wins from two, but tougher tests are to come warns manager Brian Kearney.
He feels as though his team are still a work in progress, because as is the nature of any ‘seconds’ team, they have lost a number of the players who guided them to glory in the All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship title in Croke Park last August.
“We’re happy so far, even if our performance against Limerick (a 0-10 to 1-5 win) wasn’t great,” said the Antrim manager.
“But to be fair, it was our first run out, and we have basically a new team. We have eight changes from our team that won the All-Ireland final last year. So, we’re rebuilding, between players going away and some players going up to senior. But the team are coming together well.
“It’s a difficult thing to manage, because at the end of the day, we’ve probably lost a good bit of experience. The new faces that have come in are younger, a lot of them have come up from minor, but to their credit they’re gelling in well.”
A new influx of players mightn’t be a bad thing for Antrim however, as they have unearthed corner-forward Ellen McIntosh, who fired home 2-4 in their latest victory, a 4-15 to 0-3 triumph over Offaly.
Up next, Antrim battle Clare in a rematch of last year’s epic All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship semi-final, where the Saffrons needed two periods of extra-time to overcome their Munster counterparts.
“It certainly is one to look forward to,” said Kearney of their upcoming fixture.
“It’ll be a bit of a barometer to see if we have gone forwards, or backwards, from last year. I’m sure that Clare will be coming all guns blazing to get a good result.
“We’re certainly looking forward to the Clare game, because it will be a big test for us, and that will let us see where we’re really at.
“After that it’s Dublin, who gave us a tough match too, so it’s all going to be very interesting.”
The Dublin game which Kearney alluded to will round out Antrim’s fixture list, but crucially both of the next two games are at home for the Saffrons. That may give them the desired edge they need to pick up the points, with promotion in their sights.
“We’re probably lucky in the sense that we have our two toughest matches on paper at home,” said Kearney.
So, will it come down to a three-horse race between Antrim, Clare and Dublin for the two semi-final spots?
“This weekend will give us the answer to that question,” said Kearney.
“But to be fair I think any of the three teams: ourselves, Clare and Dublin, can takes points off one another.”