By Niall Gartland
SPEAKING ahead of Saturday’s Ulster Championship round two clash against Cavan, Antrim minor boss Laurence Higgins argues that his team are coming to the boil at the right time.
The Saffrons claimed a hard-earned 0-8 to 0-8 draw against Armagh in their opening day fixture last weekend with substitutes Cargin’s Callum Gribben, St Gall’s JJ Higgins and Sarsfields Sé Ferris making a big difference as they reeled in their opposition who led by three points with five minutes to play.
The Saffrons will progress to the quarter-finals no matter what happens as they’ve been pitted in the four-team group alongside Tyrone, Armagh and this weekend’s opponents Cavan.
The Breffni County will also take heart from their performance against reigning champions Tyrone last weekend, losing by only a single point.
Antrim manager Higgins is happy to emphasise that his side are underdogs, but it wouldn’t be the shock of the century if they claim another positive result.
“Cavan are a strong, physical team and in a sense it concerns us that they gave Tyrone such a good game. They’re definitely going to be favourites but at the same time we’re on an upwards trajectory. We have lads coming back from injury, we had a good training camp in Donegal before Easter and did well to get a draw away to Armagh.
“We can see that our defence is starting to settle and our forwards are starting to click. While we’re underdogs on paper, I do feel we’re on an upwards trajectory so you never know what will happen [against Cavan].”
Antrim aren’t renowned as an underage force in the province but Higgins, who has been involved in managing development squads for years before taking the minor team, can call upon a strong squad of players, exemplified by the impact of their substitutes against Armagh.
“The Armagh game was the first time all year we were able to pick from a panel of 24. We struggled badly with injuries in the Ulster League but we’re starting to get lads coming back.
“Some of the injuries have been freakish, we’d four lads with broken fingers, so that wasn’t from too much of a load on the players, it was just coincidence. There were admittedly a few with muscle injuries, possibly because they’d too much on between schools, club and county football.
“But our panel is starting to strengthen and the lads that came on did very well against Armagh. They’re very good players who were unlucky not to start, so we knew they’d bring something to the table in the second half.”
He continued: “Ultimately the draw was probably a fair result. Armagh missed lots of chances but at the same time our lads were putting them under a lot of pressure and they were forced into taking shots outside of the scoring zone.
“They didn’t create any goal chances which was pleasing for us. We created three, the best we got out of it was a point, and if we’d scored a goal from any of those opportunities there’s a good chance we’d have won the game. But on the whole a draw was a fair result I think, we were pleased and showed good resilience to get the draw.”