FOLLOWING one of the best Antrim Club Championships in many years, county manager Daren Gleeson says the door is open for new players to join his squad as they get ready to resume the inter-county season next month.
The Saffrons are due to face Kerry in the Division 2A final on the weekend of October 17/18 with promotion back into the top flight at stake, while the Joe McDonagh Cup campaign is due to being a week later.
It seems a lifetime ago when Gleeson’s charges were getting set to take on the Kingdom at Croke Park before lockdown measures forced the game to be postponed on the Thursday before, so it has been a long wait for Antrim’s players to get their opportunity to take to the field for what is their biggest game to date having went through their previous fixtures unbeaten.
It is fair to say that no member of the panel did themselves a disservice throughout a gripping club campaign at all levels, but with a tight schedule ahead and players involved in other squads, Gleeson says the door is not closed to players who have shone over the past two months.
“Like most inter-county mangers, you are looking at it that this season is going to run into next so you will be looking to have depth to the squad,” said the Tipperary native after Sunday’s Senior final in Ballycastle.
“There have been a few lads have put their hand up, but as I said from the start, the panel is open-ended and it will be that way throughout the competitions.
“If you have a comfort zone, people will sit on it. We said from the start of the year and the players were told that it’s open-ended, so we might bring in a couple.
“Some of our panel is playing in an U20 Championship when we are playing in the League final, so we will have to look for that bit of depth.”
There have been some injuries over the course of the past seven weeks, most notably a dislocated elbow sustained by Domnhall Nugent for St John’s in their extra-time defeat to Loughgiel in the semi-final.
However, Gleeson accepts such knocks are par for the course and with a number of players still involved in football action this week, he accepts it will be a few weeks before his squad is fully back together and will add some new faces if required.
“We have four or five big injuries coming back in from the club championship, but that’s part of it - you could get those injuries in training,” he stressed.
“We have a couple of the Dunloy guys playing football this weekend so we won’t have access to them for two weeks. Conor McCann is the captain of the team and he’s playing (football) for Creggan so you have to be fair and not just wheel Conor back in on the Tuesday after then county final. You are going to have to give them that little break.
“The window is narrow so if lads aren’t ready to come back in, you will have to look elsewhere.”
Gleeson has been impressed with what he’s seen from the club games and not just at senior level that has grabbed the headlines outside the county.
Tír na nÓg’s Intermediate success highlighted the quality in a club that had been without that title before, whilst St Paul’s made up for last year’s Junior final loss at the weekend with county star Stephen Rooney pivotal to that win.
“The five or six main senior teams, we seem to focus on them a lot, but there is talent throughout,” Gleeson added.
“There is talent throughout the Intermediate grade, the two teams who were knocked out in the (Senior) group stages have players there too.
“There was a county member (Rooney) playing in the Junior final there yesterday so I think there is depth in Antrim and we have to cast the net wide. It just can’t be a narrow look at the Loughgiels, Cushendalls, Dunloys, Rossa and St John’s in the city - there are lots of players everywhere.”
There had been some doubt whether the inter-county season would be scrapped and such scouting for 2020 would be in vain, but on Saturday the GAA confirmed the inter-county season will take place having been given assurances of financial help from the Irish government.
With county teams now permitted to resume training, Gleeson said he is happy to gather his players back together who are available at present to refamiliarise them with the system that had served them so well at the beginning of the year and make and hopefully pick up where they left off when they face Kerry next month.
“It’s been uncertain, so it’s great to get the confirmation that it’s going to go ahead,” he agreed.
“For the players, wondering what their winter is going to look like, as-well-as the management and backroom team, we can drive ahead with the plans we would have laid out.
“Every club has their own way of going about their business so we just have to get the lads back into the Antrim mode of what we’re trying to shape. Looking at the club games, all the county players have been really good and I’ve been happy with them throughout the levels.
“There are guys playing with Junior clubs, Intermediate clubs and Senior clubs who have all seemed to be going well. I’m just really looking forward to getting back in as a group to restart what we had going.”