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Young Saffrons in great shape for bid to topple champions

By Declan Bogue

It's a tall order ahead of Antrim Under-21s tonight as they prepare to face Ulster champions Monaghan in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship at The Dub, Queen's University's grounds (throw-in 8pm).

However, manager Sean McGoldrick is familiar with his charges, having been the county minor manager in 2014 when they beat Fermanagh in the first round of the Championship before losing to eventual Ulster champions Donegal.

"It's going to be a big task for us, but the good thing about it is that we're playing in Antrim, we've got it up at Queen's, so hopefully that's going to stand to us," stated the St Theresa's clubman at the launch of the tournament.

McGoldrick, who is assisted by Gerard McNulty, can call on a raft of senior players from the squad led by Frankie Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams, a sign of how Antrim are building for the future.

Captain of the Under-21s Conor Small, Domhnall Nugent, Ruairi McCann, Odhran Eastwood and Ruairi Scott are among their more seasoned players and McGoldrick believes there is significant talent within the group.

"A lot of them played in the McKenna Cup, and four or five of them got game time in the last National League game against Louth. They're a very talented bunch," he stated.

"We have actually been training with the seniors, so our preparation is going well."

Last year, Monaghan beat Tyrone in a thrilling final in the Athletic Grounds and have continuity with former Tyrone player Ciaran 'Dinky' McBride remaining as manager.

That Oriel outfit has fed a number of players to Malachy O'Rourke's senior team with Ryan McAnespie and Conor McCarthy already some way to being established names, but added to by the likes of Barry McGinn - who hit six points in that final - Dessie Ward and James Mealiff.

"We know how difficult it's going to be," acknowledges McGoldrick.

"Monaghan are the champions, and even if there's a big turnaround in players, they're still going to have up to a dozen boys from last year involved.

"We know what we're up against, but hopefully we can perform on the night, and that's the only thing we can control."

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