Healy keen to keep the ball rolling

By Michael McMullan

THE glass is always half full with Antrim captain Peter Healy and the Naomh Éanna man looks towards the Saffrons’ 2024 with optimism.

Antrim began their McKenna Cup with a visit to Monaghan last night and the competition will give them a chance to finalise their preparations ahead of the league later this month.

Last season, Antrim missed a bag of goal chances in defeat to Offaly in week one. There were the games against Down and Fermanagh when it always seemed harder to lose than win given their performances. But they lost both.

After beating Cavan to ease any relegation fears, there was the realisation that it was a season when promotion wasn’t a million miles away.

“If you look at the year as a whole, we had a couple of good days and a couple of bad days,” said Healy as he took a glance over 2023 under new manager Andy McEntee.

“As a group, we have come on quite a lot in the last year under Andy. You saw in the league and Andy talked about inexperience, you saw that a lot in the league and the last day (in the Tailteann Cup) against Meath but we definitely got better over the year.

“We could’ve been there or thereabouts in the last game of the league if we’d won those games against Down and Fermanagh. That’s where we should’ve been.”

And that’s where Antrim aim to be this year, in the top two spots in the league, promoted and contesting a league final.

If it’s enough to take them into the race for Sam Maguire, that’s great. If not, then it will be time to throw their lot into another Tailteann Cup bid.

It’s about exposing themselves to the highest level possible. That’s what the McKenna Cup dealt them in the form of games against Monaghan and Fermanagh.

The McKenna Cup is good for that. It’s about trying to expose players to the highest level possible.

For Healy, it’s something the other provincial pre-season competitions don’t offer. The Ulster teams will have a quickfire run of games before the league prods up its head in late January.

“There is no prep like playing football and it is great for some of the new lads coming into the panel, and I suppose it is same for everyone, to get exposure to county football,” said Healy.

“Andy came in (last season) and we had only been together for a month or two and we struggled to shut up shop defensively and that showed.”

There has been the addition this year of former Tyrone All-Ireland winning defender Justin McMahon to the management team after acting as the team’s masseur last season.

“There is a bit of continuity in that everybody knows what to expect from Andy and he knows what to expect from us,” Healy said of having McEntee back at the helm.

“We are going into the league tweaking things compared to last year when it was an overhaul of everything we were doing.

“You could see towards the end of the Tailteann Cup last year, we were competing and probably should’ve beaten Meath that day.

“We were unlucky with a couple of injuries and then bad decisions in the second half.

“I think it shows we are right there and we are trying to tweak a few things and hopefully we can see that in the McKenna Cup and get stuck into the league and hopefully come out on the right side of it.”

Another addition to the Saffron camp has been their new gym at their Dunsilly training base.

All the county teams are using it and it saves the ducking and diving around different venues for strength and conditioning sessions.

“The facilities in general are fantastic,” Healy added. “Dunsilly is only open five years anyway and now we have a high performance gym.

“We are no longer looking at other counties and what they have.

“We have all of that in front of us now and it up to us. There are no excuses; it is on us to put a bit of work in over next couple of years.

“Andy is there and Enda McGinley had started it before him, there is a structure in place now and continuity year on year to build something in Antrim and hopefully we saw the start of it last year and we’ll see a lot more of it this year.”

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