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Antrim's new year celebration cut short

By John Campbell

New Year celebrations have been severely curtailed for the Antrim football squad.

With Sunday's Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup opener against St Mary's looming, manager Frank Fitzsimmons is cracking the whip as he bids to oversee a vibrant start to the new campaign.

The Saffrons will train at the Lamh Dhearg club at 11 o'clock this morning, which means that time had to be called early on last night's festivities.

"The management are very keen to see the team make a good start to 2015 and they want everyone to be on their toes," states spokesman Sean Fleming.

"After we play St Mary's we have to face Armagh and Tyrone so it can be quickly seen that we are in a very difficult group.

"Tyrone are looking to win the McKenna trophy for the fourth time on the trot and Armagh will be keen to build on their impressive championship form of last year so we know what we are facing into."

No fewer than nine Antrim players will be turning out for their university teams in the competition which means that manager Fitzsimmons will be introducing a raft of Under-21 talent.

Among those talented stars conspicuous by their absence from the Saffrons' line-up will be the quartet of Niall McKeever, Ronan McGraday, Ryan Murray and Niall Delargy.

Ironically, Antrim will come into direct confrontation with two of their other university players on Sunday.

Paddy McBride and Matt Fitzpatrick will be in the St Mary's side which gives Saffrons boss Fitzsimmons the opportunity to assess their ability in the colours of Antrim's opposition.

"A number of our good players are not available to us for the McKenna Cup but the management see this as an opportunity to open the door for other players to step through," said spokesman Fleming.

"We would like to think that by the end of the month of January we will know where we are at in terms of getting a settled team together.

"It's more about performances at this time of the year and obviously our main focus will be on getting out of Division Four of the league."

Belfast Telegraph

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