National Football League Division four
Antrim v Wexford
Sunday, Glenavy, 2pm
Ricky Johnston believes that Antrim can build upon their defence this season, and he hopes that he can be at the centre of that project.
Johnston has been a regular at full back for the county, and while he would prefer to be playing further out the field, he accepts that number three is where he’s most likely to be this year.
“Last year we barely conceded any goals. We’ll be hoping to continue that this year.
“Full back is where I have tended to play, though I would like to play further out the field.
“I think our defence is well set up.”
The lads playing alongside him this year will be familiar to those who were there last year. Patrick Gallagher will be in the corner, Declan Lynch at wing back, Niall Delargy on the other wing, and Peter Healy possibly at centre half back. Naomh Eanna’s James McAuley featured in the half back line as well. He could be another option.
“The likes of Decky Lynch, Peter Healy have been around the Antrim team for a while. They have a lot of experience. We have a good structure there and good experience.
“Peter Healy is one of the younger players but he has a lot of experience. And he has played Sigerson as well so that will help him.”
Preparations for the league ‘have been going well’ according to Johnston.
As well as the McKenna Cup, their prep has seen them play a few friendlies as Lenny Harbinson tries to get all his players enough game time to have them ready for the league campaign.
“I feel like we are ready to hit the ground running,” Johnston said.
“I feel that it is good that the first game is at home.
“We know the importance of getting the first win.”
The importance was made clearly last year when Antrim lost their league opener against Derry. That result knocked the Saffrons significantly and by the time they recovered their league run was over.
“It was frustrating because Derry went on to win six from six and that meant that they got promoted.
“It was frustrating as we knew that we could beat Derry. Maybe some decisions went against us.
“Everything fell apart for us after those first two defeats. After the Derry game the heads just dropped.
“We have put a big emphasis on the league. We are not thinking about anything after it.
“We have learned from last year. A lot of boys have learned from that.”
Johnston said that the Antrim lads learnt some important lessons during the McKenna Cup.
“It was good for us to test ourselves against that calibre of team, in a good competition. We got a good win against Fermanagh. And we played well for a period against Down. It gave us a good idea of where we are. And an idea of how we can play against those different styles.
“Those games showed us how good we can be.
“There was plenty to take away from it.”
Johnston said that the approach taken in the McKenna Cup was to test out players.
Lenny Harbinson ran his bench during the competition so that everyone could get game time.
Players such as Marc Jordan, Ciaran Garland and Ben Rice made their debuts against Fermanagh, and they provide some support for the squad.
“It will be good to see how the newer players will help us going forward.”
Their first game is against Wexford, Paul Galvin’s team. Johnston expects it to be difficult.
“It is going to be a massive challenge.
“It is good that we have it at home. We went to Wexford last year and it was a struggle.”