Allianz NHL Division 2A: Ciaran Johnston won't lose his focus in promotion push
Antrim centre-back Ciaran Johnston wasn't surprised to find the Saffrons behind at half-time against neighbours Derry on Sunday, and declared that every game in Division 2A is going to be a test.
His side fought back to see off the Oak Leafs 1-21 to 2-12 and of the league curtain-raisers screened on Saturday night, he said: "I watched a few of the games and even the top teams looked a bit scrappy coming out.
"No doubt Derry have the same intentions as ourselves and are trying to push hard this year to go as far as they can get. They pushed us hard in the first-half, but in the second I think we scored something like 1-15 and could have had a lot more which is good. It's promising."
The St John's man is taking nothing for granted, even though Antrim are favourites to win promotion.
"We are in the position we are in because we have got there and it's where we deserve to be," he declared. "We are under no illusions and don't go into any game thinking we deserve to win. We just take every game as it comes and see where that will get us.
"Kerry were the template for that last year and look where that got them. Their attitude was right, everything was right and they rightly deserved their position (in 1B). That's something we have to do in every single game, to hope that giving it 100 per cent will be good enough."
Antrim play their first home league game of the campaign this weekend in Ballycastle with Kildare the visitors. The Lilywhites have seldom met Antrim in competitive action, but Johnston's knowledge may be used this week by manager PJ O'Mullan jnr.
"I know them from watching them a couple of times because my father (Michael) takes Down and has played them a couple of times over the last few years," he said. "They are extremely athletic and tough, so going up to Ballycastle next week they will be fancying their chances and rightly so."
Despite lining out at midfield under Kevin Ryan, O'Mullan has been playing Johnston at centre-back.
Johnston commented: "It's sort of my natural position. I would naturally be a centre-half back from an early age. I'm really enjoying it. You feel like you're at home here."
While he is enjoying a return to the position that allows his striking and distribution game to flourish, Johnston states that there is a freshness and optimism to the camp after the period of Ryan, which felt like ever-decreasing circles.
"I suppose last year, everything we tried to do went against us, but that can happen to any team," he added.
"But now with new management, there are a few extra boys in there like 'Winker' (Liam Watson), Saul McCaughan, Kevin McKernan and that, so that has given us a new lease of life. .
"But to get out of this league, every game is a big one for us and Kildare will be the same next week."