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Fitzsimons lays plans to keep the season alive

By John Campbell

Published 16/06/2015

Win or bust: Frank Fitzsimons’ Antrim will see their season end early if they lose to Laois in the All-Ireland Qualifiers
Win or bust: Frank Fitzsimons’ Antrim will see their season end early if they lose to Laois in the All-Ireland Qualifiers

The threat of having their interest in two major championships terminated before June is out now hangs over Antrim.

And that's why a concerted effort is being made to embellish preparations for Saturday's crucial Round 1A football qualifier against Laois.

With the county's hurlers having already made a tame exit from the Leinster Championship - they have, of course, automatic entry to the Ulster final - the fear is that the curtain could now come down prematurely on the Saffrons' football year.

Manager Frank Fitzsimons is coming to terms with the fact that Niall McKeever will be unavailable for the rest of the year having, in fact, only made fleeting appearances to date this term because of injury.

In addition, Fitzsimons has to plan to combat the formidable Laois midfield pairing of Brendan Quigley and John O'Loughlin without the suspended Sean McVeigh, who would have offered him options in the central area.

Skipper Justin Crozier, along with several of the more seasoned players in the Antrim squad, have already pledged to pull out all the stops to keep their county on the championship radar.

With Kieran McGourty back in the team, his brother C J likely to start against Laois after impressing as a substitute against Fermanagh, Michael Pollock and Mark Sweeney providing experience up front and long-serving Tony Scullion issuing a rallying-call, Antrim have no intention of surrendering meekly.

"This will be a third game in a fortnight for Laois and it remains to see how their stamina will be," points out Scullion.

"We will concentrate on getting our own game-plan right. This is a big, big game for us, a tough one by any standards, but we have to be up for it. We want to stay in the Qualifiers for as long as we can.

"The loss of Niall McKeever obviously is a disappointment, but we have players who are capable of stepping up to the plate. There are boys very proud to wear the Antrim jersey and I just hope that we can do ourselves justice against Laois."

The fact that the match is at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise adds to Antrim's burden, but Scullion encapsulates his team's spirit when he adds: "It doesn't matter where you to play, what matters is how you play. We will be playing from the heart on Saturday, believe me."

Like other counties, Antrim experience a drain of youthful talent particularly when players see that their prospects of figuring in championship sides are not bright but manager Fitzsimons and his backroom team have been working overtime to massage morale.

Fitzsimons has been unstinting in assessing potential opponents - he travelled to the Kildare v Laois replay on Saturday in Tullamore and was at the Athletic Grounds for the Armagh v Donegal match on Sunday.

"I will work night and day if it means gaining information that can be beneficial to Antrim," says Fitzsimons.

"Like other counties, we lose players to injury, suspension and travel, but we have to cope with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

"A win over Laois would give our season a whole new complexion and I am confident that my players can rise to the occasion."

Belfast Telegraph

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