ANTRIM football boss Liam Bradley is lapping up an unexpected bonus as he lays his plans for the 2014 season.
While Bradley has already recalled a number of experienced players who have not been sampling county action of late, he now finds that a platoon of younger players could yet edge their way into his squad.
It was after attending the stirring u21 championship football final between Portglenone and Lamh Dhearg on Sunday that Bradley received confirmation that Antrim is nurturing a seam of youthful talent.
"It was a terrific game and a number of players certainly caught the eye. This certainly provides further optimism going forward. It is important that players have the right attitude and approach and I think we saw evidence of this on Sunday," observes Bradley.
Portglenone trailed favourites Lamh Dhearg by eight points at one stage (0-10 to 0-2) but ended up winning the match by 3-7 to 0-13.
"This I think reflects the kind of spirit and commitment that there is at this level and that has to auger well for the future," he maintains.
Antrim will meet Cavan in their Dr McKenna Cup opener on Sunday, January 5, by which time Bradley hopes to have assembled a side that encompasses youth and experience and which will prove capable not only of making an impact in the early season competition but of creating an impact in the Allianz League.
"Getting out of Division Four is our priority," insists Bradley. "Antrim have too many good players on an individual basis to be languishing there. I think if we can get off on the right foot then progress can be made."
Bradley will not hesitate to give younger players an opportunity to show their skills although with Niall McKeever, Mark Sweeney, Michael McCann, Tony Scullion and Tómas McCann back in the frame the Saffrons would appear to be better equipped for the challenges that lie ahead.
"It's good to have this ration of experience available to me, but the door must remain open all the same," adds Bradley.
Meanwhile, Antrim officials are still weighing up their options as to the choice of a venue or venues at which inter-county football matches will be hosted in 2014 given that Casement Park is undergoing refurbishment.
County PRO Brendan Mulgrew explains: "We have been approached by a number of clubs who are keen to host league games and we are looking at logistical and infrastructure issues in relation to individual grounds.
"Certain criteria must be met and we have to be careful in this connection. The Ulster Council will of course decide where our McKenna Cup fixtures will be played and we will have to be guided by them in this connection."