By Shaun Casey
ANTRIM u-20 manager Niall Jackman says his role is to develop the young players coming through the Saffron County rather than demand immediate success, but that won’t derail their efforts in the Ulster Championship.
Jackman’s side travel to Ballybofey this evening to take on Donegal, with a semi-final spot against either Fermanagh or Derry up for grabs.
“I think on the current panel now we have 11 players that were involved last year,” said Jackman, now in his fourth year involved with the team.
“A good chunk of those lads will be in line to start against Donegal, so we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to carry a wee bit of consistency there which doesn’t always happen.
“That’s a plus and with that environment and mindset and the standards that these boys have set for themselves, it’s an easier transition for the lads that have come in from the county minors or a few boys that have stepped up into the panel.
“It’s more so a player led environment now as opposed to me or Aaron Douglas or Matthew Gribben setting the standards for them, they’re doing that themselves. Ultimately that’s what you want to create at u-20s.
“You want a seamless transition from u-20s to senior and you don’t want boys being completely shocked and surprised by the environment that they’re stepping up into. They need to carry that expectation of work and commitment and effort and attitude into that environment themselves.
“Ultimately silverware is one thing but that’s the primary aim. The primary aim is to develop senior inter-county footballers and we’re working hard to try and do that.”
Jackman says he has been working closely with senior manager Andy McEntee to develop the Antrim youngsters in the hope they can one day represent their county at senior level.
“Myself and Andy would have done a lot of scouting. When Andy came in, he was very on the ball, straight away we would have met up and went to the club championship games over the summer months.
“We had good discussions over players that were there already, players that we expect to come through, we would chat every few weeks on the phone as well about how certain players were doing.
“We have three lads up that are eligible for u-20 up with the senior panel so there’s regular dialogue there with Andy and he does keep an interest. I think Andy is set up to be here for at least three years so it’s within his interest to know what’s coming through.
“Ultimately that’s our role. Whether we like it or not, we’re human beings and we’re involved in the management of the team, you want to win. That’s the bottom line, you want to go out and beat Donegal and then you want to go out and beat either Fermanagh or Derry.”