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Saffrons laying foundations for 2016: Sweeney

By Declan Bogue

Published 05/01/2016

Bright future: Mark Sweeney is predicting a big year
Bright future: Mark Sweeney is predicting a big year

The handful of Antrim fans that made their way down the Glenshane Pass to catch their heavy defeat to Derry in the opening round of the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup should not be too downbeat, according to wing-forward Mark Sweeney.

The former St Brigid's man, who now plays his club football with St Jude's in Dublin where he works, may not be able to get up the road in time to feature in their match at Queen's (8pm, Queen's Playing Fields) tomorrow night, but he is predicting a bright season ahead for the Saffron footballers.

"Our target is Carlow at the end of the month," he said, looking ahead to the first game of Antrim's campaign in Division Four of the National League.

"It's a new team we have out there. A lot of boys were making their debut or playing in different positions.

"We are not going to be happy, being defeated like that. But that's really our first run-out, playing football together under the new management and with all the new players."

Those who filed off the team bus beforehand would inspire a quiet belief in Antrim, while treating Sunday as an off-day. Antrim had the look of a team in the middle of a heavy training load with little ballwork done.

Still, they had Kevin O'Boyle, Conor Burke, Brian Neeson, Michael McCann and Kevin Niblock back in starting berths, all players who are considered leaders. Add in Tomás McCann, who came off the bench to score two clinking goals, and you can see that the Saffrons have their playing staff sorted.

On the sidelines, Joe Quinn is already making his presence felt as the 'runner' delivering on-pitch instructions. And there is no mistaking the presence of Gearoid Adams as joint-manager, with Brian Magee close by.

"Training has been brilliant, but we have just been laying the foundations for this year," explained Sweeney.

"We have done a lot of gym work, there has been a lot of hard running and you can tell on a pitch like that, there are heavy legs from a lot of tough sessions."

They have not been playing many challenge matches, but Sweeney maintains that the in-house games have been sharper than this time last year.

"The ball wasn't sticking at all, but we will get there. We have talked about what we need to do, but we haven't actually been out on the pitch as much as we would have liked to," he admitted.

He warns, however, that they need a result tomorrow night against his alma mater of Queen's.

"There are a lot of boys who just need gametime, get the ball in the hand, myself included. It's another step towards Carlow, where we will get a performance," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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