Antrim football manager Liam Bradley has been left to contemplate the imminent two-month close season with mixed emotions after the county’s huge progress in both the National League and Championship this year.
Last night, Tomas McCann from the Cargin club, so impressive on the Championship stage in particular, left for Down Under to begin a three-week trial period with the Richmond club as a prelude to a possible career in Australian Rules Football.
McCann, who played for UUJ in their 0-13 to 0-5 victory over St Mary’s University College in the Ryan Cup yesterday before dashing to the airport, scored Antrim’s all-important goal in their Ulster Championship opener against Donegal that effectively ignited the Saffrons’ most encouraging campaign for decades.
UUJ joint manager Barney McAleenan said: “It is a measure of the commitment of Tomas to UUJ that he turned out for us in this important match immediately prior to flying to the other side of the world.”
With Portglenone clubman Niall McKeever embarking on a two-year contract in the AFL - he was given a send-off by his club and county colleagues at the week-end — Antrim could now potentially lose two of their most exciting assets.
The Saffrons won promotion from Division Four of the National League earlier in the year - they lost the Divisional final to Sligo though — before storming into the Ulster final in which they were beaten by Tyrone. They then exited the All Ireland Qualifiers at the hands of eventual Sam Maguire Cup winners Kerry.
In rather marked contrast to the challenges that await McCann and McKeever, Antrim utility player Kevin Niblock is preparing to undergo surgery on an ankle injury. Niblock was employed mostly as a substitute by manager Bradley during Antrim’s championship odyssey and, having initially suffered an injury in one ankle, he now finds himself going under the knife because of an ongoing problem with the other.
Niblock will be an absentee from the St Galls team that will meet Armagh champions Pearse Og in the quarter-final of the Ulster Club Championship on Sunday at Casement Park, Belfast. He hopes to be challenging for a place in the Antrim side early in the New Year, though.
Saffrons Antrim boss Bradley has already urged his players to hit the ground running in 2010 and is keen to see the side make a bold bid to climb into Division Two of the National League before preparing to face Tyrone in the quarter-finals of the Ulster Championship in what will be a repeat of this year’s decider.
Meanwhile, Down hurling manager Jim McKernan is hoping that Ireland can make a significant breakthrough by overcoming Scotland in the annual Shinty International at Inverness at the week-end. McKernan is part of the Ireland management team and with six Ulster players in the squad, he feels the match will prove another stepping stone for them.
Elsewhere, Antrim are still seeking out a new hurling manager, although the indications are Dinny Cahill could return. County board officials are remaining tight-lipped on this issue. Cahill previously served a term as Saffrons boss and it is understood that he would relish a return north.