Review of the Year: Antrim

1 Story of progress for the ladies

THEY may not have returned to Croke Park, but the Antrim Ladies football story had another few chapters written this year.

After winning the junior title, the game continues to grow in the county and Emma Kelly steered them to promotion from Division Four with a comprehensive win over Leitrim.

On the championship front, the Saffrons were crowned Ulster Intermediate champions after 1-8 from attacking ace Órlaith Prenter shot them to victory over Tyrone on an impressive 2-18 to 1-13 scoreline.

In the All-Ireland series, Antrim also made significant progress at intermediate level. Wins over Longford and Westmeath were backed up by downing Monaghan in the quarter-finals.

It wasn’t to be in the last four when they came up short against Clare, who lost the final narrowly.

The u-16s won their grade at All-Ireland level so they’ll hope for some to step up over the next few seasons to help bolster their squad.

2 Something to build on

ANTRIM’S NFL season could well have turned into a promotion challenge from Division Three.

They squandered enough chances to win their opener against Offaly that left them on the back foot.

Andy McEntee and his troops were then left scratching their heads as to how they lost to Fermanagh and Down.

When Cavan came to Corrigan Park, Antrim eventually added victory to another impressive performance to ease any relegation worries.

Antrim embraced the Tailteann Cup and will have regrets from a few errors at key moments in a defeat to eventual winners Meath in the semi-final.

Going into the new season, the squad are physically in a better position with Andy McEntee adding Justin McMahon to his management team.

It will be interesting to see if they can get off the ground running at the start of the league.

3 Staying safe at the top

ONCE again Darren Gleeson kept Antrim in the top flight of the NHL and in the Liam McCarthy Cup ahead of the new season. They were a puck of the ball away from both Kilkenny and Dublin without having anything to show for their efforts in the opening two games.

Conal Cunning hit 1-10 at home to Laois to ensure top level hurling next year. If they are to progress, playing the top teams and experiencing a fast game is so important.

A draw with Dublin in the championship set them up for the Leinster campaign but they were unable to build on it despite pushing Wexford to the pin of their collar.

Westmeath’s unexpected win over Wexford left Antrim’s final game against the midlanders as a must win game which they pulled out the stops to avoid the drop to the Joe McDonagh Cup.

4 Missing faces for the hurlers

WHEN Darren Gleeson faces into the new season, he will have to plan without Neil McManus.

The Cushendall man, one of the county’s all-time greats, called time on his inter-county career after 17 seasons. He owes the county nothing.

If that wasn’t a big enough loss, the recent news of the exit of Joe Maskey, Domhnall Nugent and the Dunloy quartet of Eoin O’Neill, Keelan Molloy, Seaan and Ryan Elliott has left the Antrim squad seriously depleted.

That’s seven players from a squad that needed added to rather than having parts taken away.

In a way, it points to the commitment required at inter-county level that there can be no half measures. You are either in or you are out.

5 A busy club season across the board

LOUGHGIEL camogs backed up their dominance of the Antrim club scene by retaining their Ulster title after another battle with rivals Sleacht Néill.

Their season ended up in disappointing fashion with defeat to Kilkenny side Dicksboro. They were so close to an All-Ireland last year so they’ll have to get back on the horse again in 2024.

Their preparations weren’t helped by the controversial change of management with the county team that saw the highly popular Elaine Dowds fail to secure her post.

Cushendall were hurling champions and after being almost unstuck against Portaferry, Neil McManus pulled them back to win after extra-time.They continued their impressive hurling in the final against Sleacht Néill.

While it wasn’t a fairytale ending for Moneyglass ladies, they were back in another Ulster final after an excellent win over giants of the game Donaghmoyne.

Another notable mention must go to the Cargin senior footballers who keep on delivering. Seven titles in nine seasons is amazing in anybody’s book.

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