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Niall O'Neill also called into panel as Karl Stewart considers invite

Sean Kelly and Mark Sweeney return for Antrim

By David Mohan

ANTRIM’S preparations for the Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final against Monaghan have been given a massive boost with the return of Sean Kelly and Mark Sweeney to the county panel.

St Galls’ Niall O’Neill has joined the panel while Karl Stewart may also return to county colours as Frank Dawson tries to resurrect the county’s fortunes after a dismal League campaign that culminated in relegation to Division Four.

Stewart, who began the year in Kevin Ryan’s hurling squad, had been forced to step back from inter-county action due to work commitments and this may also impede the equally-talented footballer’s prospects of representing the county with the big ball this summer, although he has been invited to join.

O’Neill follows in the footsteps of older brother Terry as a senior inter-county footballer having established himself as a mainstay of the St Gall’s senior team in the last year.

“It was a good year for me last year, apart from the Ulster semi-final against Kilcoo obviously,” O’Neill told the Andersonstown News.

“But I got asked there at the weekend so I have taken the chance.”

O’Neill joins six St Gall’s clubmates on the Antrim panel, with Karl Stewart also considering joining up.

“It’s a good thing for myself going onto the team to have people beside me that play week-in, week-out,” said O’Neill.

“Playing with the players on the county team, will help improve my own game so I’m delighted to get the chance to prove myself.”

The return of Kelly from a three-year hiatus and Sweeney – who moved to Dublin at the end of last year – will act as a massive lift to Antrim fans.

He is regarded as perhaps the best all-round footballer in the county and would be a huge addition to the set-up considering Antrim’s struggles in defence this year, especially since the apparent withdrawal of Cargin’s Tony Scullion from the panel last week.

St Gall’s captain Kelly made his inter-county Championship debut in 2001 and was a central figure in the Antrim defence until he opted for a year out in 2009.

Kelly returned the following year, but announced his retirement from the inter-county scene  after the All-Ireland Qualifiers defeat  to Kildare.

The return of Sweeney, while not as surprising, is no less welcome. His loss to the team throughout the League was strongly felt given his willingness and ability to secure breaking ball and protect the full-back line.

The former St Brigid’s star’s move to Dublin, where he is taking the gruelling Chartered Accountancy exams, saw him play club football in the capital.

On taking the reins as Antrim manager, Frank Dawson said that he would certainly consider Sweeney for Antrim duty should circumstances allow.

Sweeney took part in Antrim trials before Christmas but because of the distances involved as well as work and exam commitments, he was unable to throw hit lot in with Antrim in the early part of the season.

However, it is believed that his return is now imminent, which will also greatly improve Antrim’s chances of turning their season around.

As we go to press, there has been no official confirmation of the Championship panel but it in a statement Antrim PRO Brendan Mulgrew indicated that the management team have not limited their search for talent.

Indeed, Frank Dawson attended several all-county league matches on Sunday, including St Gall’s v St Paul’s.

“While the final squad is not finalised, Frank and his team are assessing all of the talent available within the county,” said Mulgrew.

“The work towards the Championship match against Monaghan is well under way. All of the squad and management deserve the full support of all Antrim Gaels.”

 

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