Antrim to call on Kelly after McVeigh's red
Antrim could be forgiven if their preparations for Sunday's important Division Three Allianz Football League clash with Sligo are underpinned by a sense of déjà vu.
Last year the Saffrons roared to victory in their first three matches in the competition only for their campaign to fall apart when this early surge was followed by three defeats.
When new manager Frank Dawson took over towards the end of last year, he pledged that promotion would be a prime target this term.
But Dawson could not have bargained for the early blow which Antrim have suffered now that midfield ace Sean McVeigh will not be available to face Sligo because of the red card he incurred in the win over Cavan at the weekend.
There was more than a touch of irony to his dismissal as he was Antrim's best player – his partnership with the experienced Michael McCann helping to largely nullify the threat posed by Cavan pair Gearoid McKiernan and David Givney.
McVeigh, who played his football with London last year, has settled down quickly in the Antrim side and Dawson views him as a central plank in his strategy.
The player himself was contrite following the off-the-ball incident which saw him suffer the ultimate sanction and is desperately keen to make amends when he returns.
"It's a real disappointment to me, but I just hope that the lads can get a couple of points against Sligo. That will give us a bit of comfort going into the two-week league break," says schoolteacher McVeigh.
"I just want to get back in there and do my bit."
While Dawson has cause to rue the loss of a player who has made a considerable impact since donning the saffron jersey, he can take comfort from the fact that Conal Kelly made an appearance as a substitute against Cavan and could prove a capable ally to McCann for the trip to Markievicz Park.
"We are fortunate that Conal is back to full fitness now and offers us an option," said Dawson.
"Obviously I was hopeful that we could avoid injuries and suspensions in the league, but you have to go with the hand which you are dealt."
He has received a further boost, too, now that Tómas McCann is almost back to full fitness.
The Cargin flyer has been conspicuous by his absence from the attack this year to date, but Dawson expects to have him back on board shortly.
Antrim PRO Brendan Mulgrew confirms that "the picture is far from black" in terms of selection.
"There was the possibility that Tómas might have been ready to face Cavan, but it was decided that he should be given a little longer to get ready," said Mulgrew.
"He would be a big addition to our attack because of his pace and scoring touch.
"Micheal Magill is also nearly ready to come back and his strength on the ball and ability to create opportunities for others could bolster our attack."
Defender Andrew McClean is also recovering from injury although Dawson may give a further vote of confidence to the rearguard unit that frustrated Cavan to a great extent on Sunday.
Dawson acknowledges that a brace of points in Sligo could set Antrim up for a promotion push, but he is treading cautiously.
"There can be a very fine line dividing promotion and relegation issues in the league," he said.