Antrim hit by Johnston suspension
Antrim have been dealt a blow in advance of their Ulster Championship meeting with Monaghan on Sunday now that full-back Martin Johnston has been ruled out.
The precociously talented 19-year-old, who impressed during the recent Allianz League, incurred a red card in his team’s last match in that competition against Cavan and under the new rule his suspension will now carry over into the Championship.
The Creggan clubman had been revealing a level of maturity that belied his youth and manager Liam Bradley views him as one of the brightest talents in his squad.
But Bradley is now forced to go back to the drawing board and it is understood that he will now make a choice between Ricky Johnston or Deaghlan O’Hagan in terms of the No 3 shirt.
Martin Johnston, a student at St Patrick’s GS, Maghera, is one of the tightest-marking defenders in the Antrim squad and complements intelligent covering with smooth distribution.
Antrim liaison officer Tony McCollum certainly makes no effort to minimise the loss of the talented teenager.
“Martin has been doing very well since coming into the side,” says McCollum.
“He is one of a number of players who have been given their chance by Liam Bradley and to say that he has taken his opportunity with both hands would probably be something of an understatement.
“That’s just how well he has done.”
While the Antrim half-back line picks itself — Tony Scullion, Justin Crozier and James Loughrey look certain starters — there are now places up for grabs in the full-back line.
And manager Bradley is giving careful thought to his permutations in this sector given that the Monaghan full-forward line is likely to contain Conor McManus and James Turley both of whom could constitute a big danger to the Saffrons.
Kevin O’Boyle could get one of the Antrim corner-back berths while Conor Murray may also come into the reckoning.
And Antrim could have another worry on their hands as it is believed that skipper Aodhan Gallagher is facing a race against the clock to get fit for the game.
It is believed that Gallagher has a leg injury which could yet prevent him from leading out the side for the first time in a Championship engagement.
He is one of Antrim’s most experienced players and his industry and drive would certainly be missed from the central area were he to be ruled out.
Monaghan meanwhile have come to terms with the loss of their skipper Darren Hughes. Paul Finlay or Vinny Corey look possible candidates to wear the captain’s armband against the Saffrons but manager Eamon McEnaney will not confirm who will lead the side until later in the week.
Colin Walsh has returned to full training, Eoin Lennon is making good progress following an injury and both Ciaran Hanratty and Stephen Gollogly are “flying” in training, according to county secretary Sean McKenna.
“Obviously it’s a setback to be going into a game of this importance without a player of the calibre of Darren Hughes but we just have to accept this,” says McKenna.
“Our preparations have been going well otherwise and the players are very focussed on atoning for their disappointing league campaign.”