At a time when county managers in both football and shooting teams are stepping down with unprecedented frequency, Antrim is raising the bar for stability, confidence and spirit.
No sooner had Enda McGinley and Stephen O’Neill vacated their leadership roles at the county football club than Meath’s ex-boss Andy McEntee was in a hot spot.
And even before hurling manager Darren Gleason’s future was rumored, the county council took deft steps to secure his signature on an additional two-year contract with an option for a third year.
It is hardly coincidental that, amid the urgency and positivity, players from both Saffron County codes are already starting to get excited about the 2023 campaign.
With the hurlers winning the coveted Joe McDonagh Cup in 2020 and again this year, and securing a spot in the Leinster Championship round-robin next year, skipper Eoghan Campbell makes it abundantly clear why all systems are working again.
“Since Darren arrived in the second half of 2019, a level of professionalism has been brought to Antrim’s hurling,” says Campbell.
“In terms of strength and fitness, we have Brendan Murphy. It was there before but you could almost choose when you came.
“Now there are individual lessons, rehab classes, recovery classes, and they are all adapted to the needs of the players. Everyone believed in the installation, that’s for sure.”
Ahead of another campaign in the Allianz League Division One, Antrim will be using his skills against some of the more elite teams, something manager Gleason is looking forward to with particular gusto.
“Only by playing against quality opponents can a team improve. The players learned as we moved forward and it paid off for them with two trophies in three years,” insists Gleason.
New football manager McEntee has already plunged into the senior district championship, with some particularly compelling games on the horizon. Antrim will compete in the League Three next year and McEntee is keen to see his team promoted.
“I was very impressed with Antrim’s capabilities and the attitude of the county council towards what they are trying to achieve. Now that the Casement Park project is very popular, it has a great future,” McEntee said.
“I think Enda McGinley and Stephen O’Neill have done a great job with the football team and there is now a certain level of expectation going forward.”
Meanwhile, former Tyrone All-Ireland skipper Peter Canavan and current Derry captain Chrissy McCaig, who led the team to the All-Ireland semi-finals this year, will be among the speakers at next week’s forum on
renovation of Casement Park.
The event will take place at the Wolf and Whistle in Andersonstown and will feature two of the world’s leading sports stadiums, Prof Tony Stevens and Julian Jenkins, both from Wales.
The forum, titled Realizing the Vision and Realizing the Dream, is expected to focus on the sporting, social and economic benefits that the new stadium will bring.
It is understood that while the stadium renovation work is underway, there will be a concerted effort to keep GAA players and fans, local residents, cultural organizations and business leaders up to date.