Antrim football heading in the right direction

Ulster U-20 Championship  quarter-final
Derry v Antrim
Friday, Owenbeg, 8pm

By Shaun Casey

WIN, lose or draw on Friday evening, Antrim football is on an upward trajectory. Niall Jackman, the Antrim u-20 manager, praised the input that Tyrone All-Ireland winners Enda McGinley and Steven O’Neill have had in the county.

“The buzz that the senior set up has created, the link and the involvement that they’ve had directly with our u-20s, the lines of communication have been great,” said Jackman, who also manages Derry side Castledawson.

“Enda and Stevie have both been pretty hands-on and communicating well with a handful of players.

“We’ve been sending five or six boys up every other week to train with the seniors and expose them to that environment and give them an idea of what’s expected.

“That in itself all creates a really good buzz for the boys, and it shows the other lads that maybe aren’t in that group of five or six what’s possible with a bit of hard work.”

The Leo Murphy Cup didn’t go as planned for the Saffrons but despite not picking up a win, Jackman took the positives from the competition.

“In terms of results obviously, we haven’t won a game in the Leo Murphy Cup. I suppose it’s up to other people to decide whether we were expected to or not.

“The main thing for me is that we’re working with a really good, competitive group that have been competitive in all of those games even though the scoreboard may have said otherwise.

“I’m very happy with the way they’re shaping up going into this game. Nobody’s really expecting much from us, hopefully in a few years’ time that’ll be different for Antrim footballers, and we can start to move away from that perennial underdog tag.”

They face the mammoth challenge of Paddy Bradley’s Derry side on Friday evening, which will include a host of All-Ireland winning minors.

Antrim aren’t just going out to make up the numbers and Jackman insists his side are excited about going up against “one of the top three counties at this level in the country.”

“Going up against Derry, regardless of how the result pans out, if you can put a good performance in, if you can go home that night and be content that you’ve given everything and tested yourself against, to my mind, one of the top three counties at this level in the country.

“That’s far more beneficial to you and that will stand to these boys. These five or six that are looking to make the step-up next year.

“That’s our goal, the u-20s is about producing three or four players at least to get up to intercounty senior level next year.

“Playing the likes of Derry and the quality they have, that’ll be a great baptism of fire for these boys at provincial championship football.

“We’re all looking forward to it, there’s certainly no fear, there’s probably excitement in playing Derry.

“There won’t be much expected against an outfit like Derry that have so many All-Ireland minor winners from two years ago but we’re adamant that we’re going to go in and give it a good go.”

READ MORE – Interview with former Antrim defender Kevin O’Boyle – Click here…

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