McEntee hopes that Saffrons in better place to push on in 2024

By Michael McMullan

ANTRIM manager Andy McEntee hopes his side can learn from last year and be physically in a better place to hit the ground running in 2024.

The Saffrons open their McKenna Cup with a trip to Castleblayney on Wednesday to take on Monaghan before hosting Fermanagh.

McEntee, now in his second season in charge, has been pleased with the input of former Tyrone All-Ireland winner Justin McMahon since he joined the management team this season, as revealed by Gaelic Life.

McMahon was the team’s masseur last season under Omagh clubmate Jason McAnulla who is the Antrim team physio.

“I got chatting to him and felt a guy with his experience can do more than rub legs,” McEntee said. “He has started working with the lads and it has been a good call. I admired him from a distance. He has come in and has got a great way with him and he has massive experience to share with the guys.”

McEntee referenced having a few sleepless nights after Antrim lost to Offaly in Division Three despite carving out goal chances. Their narrow defeats against Fermanagh and Down still linger as games they should’ve won.

There was also the Tailteann Cup clash with his native Meath when Antrim looked to have enough to stride for victory only for some costly errors.

“If we can learn from last year and be physically a little better prepared than this time last year we give ourselves every chance,” McEntee summed up of what he can take from his first season at the helm.

“I think with any team, it takes two or possibly three years to really get to know your players.

“To know what fellas will do in certain situations and know fellas you can really rely on in those situations.”

McEntee made the point of Antrim’s population and the need to tap into the players available. It’s about making the county’s football team an attractive team to row in behind.

“You could see with the crowd of people who got behind us when we got to Croke Park against Meath, people want a team to support. You can see the crowd they get at the hurling games,” he explained.

“They want to be able to support their Antrim team and we have got to give the type of performances that they want to be associated with.”

Antrim’s impressive performance to see off Cavan at Corrigan Park last season “saved their year” and gave an inkling of what can be achieved.

McEntee puts their performances against Down and Fermanagh in the same category only they were not able to see them out. Had they won both, Antrim would’ve been going to Longford on the final day with promotion in mind. On the flip side, a defeat to Cavan would’ve left it a relegation dog fight.

Even at a glance, the physique of the squad has changed and, going forward, their new gym at Dunsilly will only help further with the underage teams now making use of it.

“It is more the conditioning as much as anything else,” he added. “The pace of the game and the level of physicality, if you are not able for that, then forget about it.”

Niall Burns of St Gall’s and former Derry u-20 player Oran Downey – now playing with St Brigid’s – have joined the squad.

It adds to the five young guns McEntee took into the fold during last season. Oisin Doherty of Portglenone, Ryan McQuillan (Glenravel) and Cargin trio Eunan Quinn, Benen Kelly and Conhuir Johnston.

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