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Antrim manager Liam Bradley puts his faith in Ricky Johnston

By John Campbell

Antrim manager Liam Bradley believes he has unearthed a defensive jewel in rookie full-back Ricky Johnston.

The 20-year-old giant is due to come under the microscope in the Power NI McKenna Cup competition and Bradley is of the opinion that he can fill the void left by Andrew McLean who is no longer in the squad.

The latter has been troubled by more than his share of injuries of late and is unlikely to feature for the county this year.

Instead, the spotlight will fall on Johnston whom many in Antrim see as a defender of real quality.

Certainly county team liaison officer Tony McCollum shares Bradley's optimism that Johnston can make the No 3 shirt his own.

"He has been knocking on the door for a little while now. Andrew has been hit by injuries and has been unable to get a decent run for his club St Gall's or for the county but he has been a tremendous servant to both sides. Now Ricky will get the chance to show what he can do in what is a key position," explains McCollum.

Indeed, at this point in time Johnston appears to be the only player who can feel confident of his inclusion in the full-back line.

Both corner-backs Colin Brady and Kevin O'Boyle - they have each captained Antrim in the recent past - will be unavailable for the January competition.

However, with Willie McSorley and Chris Kerr ready to do battle for the goalkeeping berth and Tony Scullion, Justin Crozier and James Loughrey likely to form the half-back line, manager Bradley is not short on experience at the back.

"We are not too badly off for defenders but our priority in the McKenna Cup will be to find forwards who can take the scoring burden off Paddy Cunningham ," stresses Bradley (pictured).

"He has tended to carry us in this respect.

"If we can come up with a couple of forwards who take scores from play, then the McKenna Cup will certainly have served its purpose for us.

Cunningham, another player who has served a spell as Antrim skipper, is a noted marksman both from play and frees although Bradley feels that his team relies rather too heavily on scores coming from placed balls.

Michael Magill, Mark Dougan, Kevin Marron, Conal Kelly, Michael Armstrong, Brian Neeson and Sean Finch are among the players to whom Bradley will look for encouragement in terms of augmenting his scoring armoury.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed that at least some of these guys can come good in terms of getting scores for us states the Saffrons manager. If we can solve our scoring problem in the McKenna Cup, then this would give us great heart for when the National League comes around."

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