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Ulster Championship: Bradley cool as opener looms

By John Campbell

Antrim manager Liam Bradley may be facing a race against the clock but he is certainly showing no outward signs of pressure.

With his team’s Ulster Championship opener against Donegal just over two weeks away Bradley has reiterated his intention of making next weekend the deadline for players to prove their fitness to him.

And this could mean that a few high-profile members of his side could miss out on the biggest game of the year to date.

“We are taking things very carefully at the moment and the injured players are being closely assessed,” states Bradley.

Definitely out of the trip to MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey though is C J McGourty who has a hip problem, while right now there are grave doubts surrounding the involvement of Tony Scullion and skipper Kevin O’Boyle.

Scullion has just had the stitches removed from a nasty calf injury which he sustained at work while O’Boyle is still troubled by a pulled thigh muscle.

Cargin clubman O’Boyle has a special reason for hoping to be fit as this would be the first time for him to captain Antrim in an Ulster Championship tie.

It is expected that Kevin Niblock, Sean Burke and Kevin McGourty will be in the Saffrons’ frame for their meeting with a Donegal side still savouring last Sunday’s National League Division Two triumph over Laois.

Yet this achievement by Jim McGuinness’s side has certainly not bred any apprehension within the Antrim ranks according to their liaison officer Tony McCollum.

“Even though we have had injury worries lately there is a great spirit at our training sessions. I would have to say that the boys are enjoying the build-up to the game even though they are working very hard to get to peak fitness. The cut-off point for players who would hope to be fully fit for the game is still this weekend and after that we will assess our resources,” reveals McCollum.

Manager Bradley has been boosted by the fact that Michael McCann is now training again although his brother Tómas is still hampered by torn ligaments in his ankle.

“Tómas was at training on Tuesday night with his Moon Boot on. Like all the rest of the lads he is very keen to make the starting line-up against Donegal. We will just monitor the overall situation but we certainly won’t be taking risks with anyone,” confirms McCollum.

Donegal, who had Adrian Hanlon dismissed against Laois, have had their own share of injury problems lately. Paddy McGrath and Neil McGee were both missing from the full-back line against Justin McNulty’s side but Christy Toye could yet make the squad for the clash with Antrim.

Manager McGuinness, frustrated in the build-up to the Laois game because of the injuries, is now rather more philosophical as he ponders Antrim’s visit.

“I suppose every team has their problems right now but we are first into Ulster Championship action so there is really no worthwhile breathing space,” says McGuinness.

Donegal, though, have some little respite — Roscommon in contrast have none. They flew out to the US today to prepare for Sunday’s Connacht SFC game against New York just five days after losing to Longford in the Division Four National League final at Croke Park.

Belfast Telegraph

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