Antrim will battle on with renewed spirit
Antrim have circled the wagons in a determined bid to ensure a strong focus on the forthcoming Ulster senior football Championship clash against Fermanagh following the loss of three players from their squad.
In the wake of what was a disappointing campaign in Division Four of the Allianz League, the Saffrons had immediately turned their attention to the provincial flagship competition, anxious to regain both credibility and the faith of their supporters.
Ironically, the defection of goalkeeper Chris Kerr and Michael Pollock following the axing of scoring ace C J McGourty appears to have triggered renewed spirit within the squad.
A source close to the team revealed yesterday that Tuesday night's training session was "one of the best" for some time, and has set the tone for what will be a concerted Championship build-up with the emphasis very much on overcoming a Fermanagh side that only recently lost their own scorer-in-chief in Seamus Quigley.
It is understood that the management and players held a meeting following the training session at which a fresh bond of unity was kindled.
"It would seem that the players are buying into the belief that despite recent setbacks on and off the field, Antrim can still give a decent account of themselves in the Championship," said the source.
"Obviously there have been problems, but then every team has problems to some degree so there is nothing new there.
"The training session on Tuesday was one of the best for some time with a lot of hard work undertaken. There is still much work to be done but there is a more positive attitude now."
It is understood that since McGourty's axing from the squad, some of his St Gall's club colleagues who are also members of the Antrim panel have been making representations to the management on his behalf.
The departure of Pollock and Kerr, who walked out in sympathy with McGourty, is not entirely unexpected.
Kerr was replaced in goal by Under-21 custodian Ronan Hanna for the last two Allianz League games against London and Clare and now the latter could be in pole position to face Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship quarter-final.
Pollock has been one of Antrim's more consistent players this term, his ball-winning ability and distribution key components of his all-round game and he would undoubtedly be a loss to the attack.
But it is certainly not all doom and gloom within Antrim. Long-serving forward Paddy Cunningham is thought to be making good progress from the hamstring injury which has kept him out of action lately, while Tomas McCann has already returned to action, hitting top form and giving Antrim a major bonus ahead of the Championship.
In addition, Brendan Neeson has been making a big impression in attack and looks a certain starter in the Ulster Championship.
Neeson hit the high spots by scoring 1-7 against London and was also prominent against Tipperary, if a little more subdued against Clare.
Although he will be up against much more formidable opposition in the Ulster Championship, his marksmanship is such that there is considerable cause for optimism within the Saffrons ranks.
Brothers Ricky and Martin Johnston, along with Justin Crozier and veteran Tony Scullion, will help to bolster the defence while Sean McVeigh looks certain to fill a midfield berth now that he is not expected to serve a protracted ban following the red card he incurred while playing for All Saints against Cargin in the O'Cahan Cup quarter-final.
Antrim officials are anxious to see the county cast in what one described as "a good light" following the revelations of the squad defections and the adverse publicity surrounding the Casement Park social club.
"We seem to be involved only in bad news stories and that's very disappointing," remarked one official. "There is a lot of very good work going on at grassroots within the county as a whole and this never gets a mention.
"Obviously we recognise that our county football and hurling teams are our flagship sides and there is a big focus on them. We want to go forward in a positive vein and see if we can get a bit of Championship success, hopefully in both codes. This would help to show Antrim in a good light."