Dawson brings back optimism to Antrim
When Frank Dawson took over the Antrim managerial reins from Liam Bradley towards the end of last year, he inherited a squad that was low on morale and very much in transition.
Dawson, invariably his own man throughout an eventful career in club management up until then, decided he would affix his own imprimatur to the Saffrons set-up.
And so began a process that saw some familiar faces depart, a posse of former players resurrect their county careers and an influx of talented youngsters anxious to cement the theory that a new era is about to dawn.
While the exit of James Loughrey, Aodhan Gallagher and Mark Sweeney initially stripped Dawson of three established first-choice players, the re-emergence of Paul Doherty, Kevin Niblock, Sean McVeigh, Paddy Cunningham and John Finucane offered him a welcome ration of experience tailored to help sustain a promotion drive.
Now that this battery of seasoned campaigners have been merged with exciting young guns such as Ryan Murray, Sean Finch and Niall Delargey a wave of cautious optimism has engulfed the Antrim squad.
That optimism will become even more pronounced if Dawson's side can get the better of Fermanagh in tomorrow's hugely important Division Three encounter at Casement Park.
Victory over Cavan and a defeat to Sligo form Antrim's modest itinerary to date but Dawson is convinced that, with the backing of what he hopes will be a large local following, a win against Peter Canavan's unbeaten side will fire his side into the promotion frame.
"This is a big test of character for us because we have to show that we are better than we looked against Sligo," says Dawson. "We need to get points when we are at home if we are to have any chance of going up. We have a better balance to the team now and the players have been working very hard in training."
John Finucane returned to the goalkeeping position against Sligo after a lengthy absence while Kevin Niblock won an inter-provincial championship medal with Ulster last weekend and, although Sean McVeigh has been injured recently, his return from London has provided Antrim with much-needed midfield bulk.
With Tómas McCann having recovered from injury, Dawson (pictured) will have additional fire-power at his disposal.
The Cargin flyer's pace will complement that of the rapidly maturing Ryan Murray thus giving Antrim penetration down the flanks.
Fermanagh manager Peter Canavan, meanwhile, recognises that his team's unbeaten stint in the league to date will come under considerable threat at Casement Park.
"While we are pleased to have four points to our credit, we know that it is going to be much more difficult from here on in. Getting points on the road in the league is never easy, no matter what division you are in, so the pressure will be on," says Canavan.
Ryan Jones is currently in outstanding form at midfield while Marty O'Brien is impressive at the back with Sean Quigley and Paul Ward proving their worth as regular marksmen in attack.