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Saffron skipper McCann sets out 2020 vision

Antrim hurling captain Conor McCann (left) and football captain Declan Lynch (right) with William McCausland of fonaCAB and county chairman Ciaran McCavana at the launch of fonaCAB’s sponsorship of Antrim GAA for the next three years Antrim hurling captain Conor McCann (left) and football captain Declan Lynch (right) with William McCausland of fonaCAB and county chairman Ciaran McCavana at the launch of fonaCAB’s sponsorship of Antrim GAA for the next three years
By Paddy Tierney

ANTRIM hurling captain Conor McCann believes the Saffrons will go into the 2020 campaign with one of their strongest squads in several seasons.

New boss Darren Gleeson will take charge of Antrim for the first time in a competitive game when his side take on Meath in the first round of the Kehoe Cup on Sunday, December 1.

That game is likely to place in Trim and Antrim will be on the road again seven days later when they travel to Abbotstown to face Wicklow with the semi-finals and final of the pre-season competition pencilled in for the New Year.

Antrim are also set to field a team in the Conor McGurk tournament, hosted by Queen’s University, giving Gleeson the opportunity to run his eye over a wide range of players before selecting his squad for their Division 2A League campaign.

“It has come around really fast and it is hard to believe we’ve our first two games scheduled already,” stated McCann.

“I always think games are better. No matter how much training you do, I think the more games you play, the better.

“It is going to be a hectic couple of months for Darren (Gleeson) getting settled in.

“We are familiar enough with him and he is very good working with the players and he has a great knowledge of playing at that elite level. He brings a lot to the set-up and we are looking forward to getting started.”

While the former Tipperary All-Ireland winning goalkeeper has been involved with Antrim since the 2018 campaign, McCann feels his promotion to the managerial hotseat will bring about further improvement in the squad.

“He is a great trainer and he has a great understanding of hurling,” added McCann.

“He is an All-Star (2014) and he has two All-Ireland medals to his name. They aren’t handed out to you.

“We are only scratching the surface at the minute. Hopefully, over the next six months to a year, we’ll we operating at a much higher level than we have been over the last few seasons.”

While Gleeson has yet to confirm his backroom team, it is understood that Dunloy’s Gary O’Kane will be retained while former Loughgiel manager Johnny Campbell has again been linked to a role in the managerial set-up.

The new Antrim boss will also go into the new campaign with the majority of the county’s elite hurlers available following Dunloy’s Ulster Club SHC final defeat to Slaughtneil last weekend.

Last season, Cushendall and St Gall’s as well as Naomh Éanna’s footballers were involved in the All-Ireland club series, leaving former boss Neal Peden without several key players.

Naomh Éanna’s hurlers take on Dungannon at Celtic Park in their rescheduled Ulster Intermediate final on Sunday which could rule Joe Maskey out of inter-county action until the New Year while a few other players from the Glengormley outfit could be called up to the squad.

Yet, McCann feels Dunloy’s exit could benefit Antrim’s chances in 2020 with Gleeson having a full panel to work with right away.

“I’d say it is definitely going to be an advantage for the county team,” said McCann.

“It was unfortunate that Dunloy got beat. I think everyone in the team wanted to see them progress and go on in the All-Ireland series.

“That will benefit the team. I remember last season when we played Meath down in Trim, we were down six or seven starters because Cushendall were in the All-Ireland semi-final. That won’t be the case this season.

“The Dunloy lads will probably want a bit of a break so we won’t see them for a while. Hopefully, a good few of them come on board.”

One Dunloy player who won’t be involved for early part of the season is attacker Nigel Elliott after it emerged he is set to travel to Australia in the coming days.

It is unclear whether or not he plans to return in time to feature for Antrim in the Allianz Hurling League.

However, Gleeson has been boosted by the return of siblings Ciaran and Conor Johnston. Their St John’s teammate Domhnall Nugent is also back in the panel as is Rossa defender Gerard Walsh who has been joined by club-mate Aodhán O’Brien.

“We should have a really strong panel for this season,” added the Creggan star.

“I’m not aware of anyone stepping away from the panel so far. We’ll probably get a better idea in the coming weeks. It takes some guys longer than others to commit for the season.

“It is good to see the likes of Domhnall (Nugent) and Gerard (Walsh) and the two Johnstons (Ciaran and Conor).

“It should be as good a panel as we’ve had for the last three or four years and I think everyone is looking forward to getting the season started.”

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