During a period in which county team managers in both football and hurling are abdicating their posts with unprecedented frequency, Antrim are raising the bar in terms of stability, confidence and spirit.
Scarcely had Enda McGinley and Stephen O’Neill vacated their managerial roles with the county football side than ex-Meath boss Andy McEntee was being ushered into the hotseat.
And even before speculation began to swirl in relation to the future of hurling manager Darren Gleeson, the county board moved smartly to secure his signature on a further two-year deal with the option of a third year.
It’s hardly coincidental that given this backdrop of urgency and positivity, players from both codes in the Saffron County are already beginning to get fired up for the 2023 campaign.
With the hurlers having won the coveted Joe McDonagh Cup in 2020 and again this year in addition to securing their place in the Leinster Championship round robin series next year, skipper Eoghan Campbell makes it abundantly clear just why it is all systems go again.
“Since Darren arrived in the latter part of 2019, there has been a level of professionalism brought to Antrim hurling,” maintained Campbell.
“From a strength and conditioning perspective, we have Brendan Murphy in with us. It was there before but you could nearly have picked and chosen when you went.
“Now there are individualised sessions, rehab sessions, recovery sessions and all are tailored for the players’ needs. Everyone has bought into the set-up, that’s for sure.”
With another campaign in Division One of the Allianz League beckoning, Antrim will be pitting their skills against some of the more elite sides, something which manager Gleeson is looking forward to with particular relish.
“It’s only by playing against quality opponents that a team can improve. The players have been learning as we have moved along and that has paid off for them with two trophies in three years,” insisted Gleeson.
New football manager McEntee has already immersed himself in the senior County Championship, in which there are some particularly attractive games on the horizon. Antrim will participate in Division Three of the League next year and McEntee is keen to see his team mount a drive for promotion.
“I have been hugely impressed with Antrim’s facilities and indeed with the attitude of the county board in relation to what they are trying to achieve. With the Casement Park project now very much in vogue, it makes for an exciting future,” stated McEntee.
“I think that Enda McGinley and Stephen O’Neill did a lot of heavy lifting with regard to the football team and now there is a level of expectation going forward.”
Meanwhile, former Tyrone All-Ireland-winning skipper Peter Canavan and current Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue, who led the team into the All-Ireland Semi-Finals this year, will be among the speakers at a forum next week in relation to the
redevelopment of Casement Park.
The event will take place at the ‘Wolf and Whistle’ in Andersonstown and will also feature two global authorities on sports stadia in Professor Tony Stephens and Julian Jenkins, both of whom are from Wales.
Entitled ‘Realising the Vision and Delivering the Dream’, the forum is expected to focus on the sporting, community and economic benefits the new-look stadium will bring.
It is understood that while the work of refurbishing the stadium is being undertaken, a concerted drive will be made to ensure that GAA players and supporters, local residents, cultural bodies and business leaders are kept abreast of developments.