Friday 22 September 2017

Antrim 'better than 2009 side'

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

A year on from "the worst game of football I ever watched", Antrim selector Tony McCollum is upbeat about his side's chances against Monaghan as they step back into the heat of Ulster championship battle.

The Saffrons' 1-10 to 0-7 defeat to Donegal in Ballybofey in the 2011 provincial opener was met with widespread derision, with pundits unloading both barrels at the two sides after a dismal encounter.

McCollum likened it to "a game of U-12 football. You had everyone bar about four players at either end all running around after the ball. It wasn't pretty, that's for sure."

But now, he reckons Antrim can pull off what would constitute a mild surprise against Monaghan.

"Going to Clones doesn't bother our lads at all -- they're well used to playing there and I actually think we have a better team now than we had in 2009," he says.

That's a brave statement considering Antrim's halcyon summer three years ago when they caused such a sensation by beating Donegal in Ballybofey and knocking out Cavan to reach their first Ulster final in over 30 years.

That was Liam Bradley's first year in charge but McCollum is adamant that this year's model is a better one.

"We're more balanced, the players are better skill-wise and their upper body strength is better too," he insists.

The physical strength is attributed to the involvement of former Irish rugby international Andy Ward, who came in as strength and conditioning coach last winter.

And McCollum feels the arrival of former Antrim star Gearoid Adams (son of Sinn Fein TD Gerry) as a selector has improved the team's defence.

"Defensively we needed to tighten up and getting Gearoid in as a selector has been a huge help.

"He was a brilliant wing-back for the county in his day, really knows the game inside out and the players have huge respect for him," he says.

With Thomas McCann, Paddy Cunningham, newcomer Brian 'Bam' Neeson, Michael Magill and James Loughrey in their ranks they have good attacking options, scoring 11 goals in the league, but they need to score more points from play.

A significant loss tomorrow is towering teenage defender Marty Johnson, who is serving a one match ban after getting sent off in the last round of the league.

McCollum, though, feels that Antrim are in good shape, and he is looking forward to playing unfamiliar foes.

"The last time we played Monaghan was three years ago, in a challenge game," he recalls. "It's hard to remember when we last played them in a competitive game, but that only makes this even more interesting."

Irish Independent

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