NAOMH Éanna defender James McAuley has issued a rallying cry to his teammates ahead of the resumption of club action and has urged them to put a disappointing 2019 campaign behind them.
The Glengormley men came into last year’s campaign on the back of a memorable 2018 season which saw them annex the Antrim and Ulster Intermediate Football titles before falling short against Kerry side Kilcummin in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park.
The extended campaign left them with little down time and they struggled to replicate their fine form from the previous season. As injuries and absentees continued to grow, Naomh Éanna found themselves in a relegation battle to perverse their Division One status.
They managed to retain their place in the top-flight, but they bowed out of the Championship with a first round loss to Aghagallon.
With the squad now a year old and wiser, McAuley believes the are ready to put their best foot forward and make their mark on the Senior Championship.
“I think we have a point to prove ourselves,” said McAuley.
“We probably let ourselves down last year after our All-Ireland run. We came into the new season within three or four weeks after the All-Ireland Intermediate final and we were carrying injuries and people needed a break.
“We will just be focusing on ourselves and trying to get ourselves right and hopefully we can get a bit of a run again.
“I think we always feel like we have something to prove at Senior level because, before last year, it had been something like 10 years since St Enda’s played at that level.
“We have no God-given right to win, but we are a confident, young team. We want to prove that we can be among the top two or three clubs in Antrim.”
At different periods of last season, Frank Fitzsimons was without the likes of Eoin Nagle, Odhran Eastwood, Ethan Gibson, Joe Maskey and Kristian Healy.
The club’s hurlers went on to emulate the achievements of the footballers by winning the Antrim and Ulster Intermediate titles meaning both senior teams will be playing in Division One in the leagues and at Senior level for the Championship.
While that might put an added burden on the club’s dual players like Maskey, McAuley is hoping that everyone is available and raring to go later this month.
“Touch wood, I think we will have a full panel to pick from this year as well as a couple of young lads coming through, who had been impressing in pre-season,” said McAuley.
“It seems like we are back and, hopefully, this break has given people the chance to clear up any injuries.
“It will be good to get back to training and maybe give the Championship a rattle this year.”
Naomh Éanna’s chances of progression in the Senior Championship have, arguably, been boosted by the redraw and the new format which was necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Originally, Fitzsimons’s charge were due to face his native Lámh Dhearg, last year’s beaten county finalists.
However, they will now take on St Gall’s and old foes Gort na Móna in group four of the Senior Championship on a home and away basis with the top two progressing to the quarter-finals.
Furthermore, the top two in group four would avoid Lámh Dhearg (group two) and current county champions Cargin (group three) until at least the semi-final stages.
Yet, McAuley insists the Hightown men will have their work cut out for them, adding that the Gorts had the edge on them last season while St Gall’s will be keen to make their mark under new boss Paddy Murray.
“It is a difficult draw, there’s no two ways about it,” added the Antrim defender.
“Gort na Móna beat us twice in the league last year. There has always been a great competitive edge to those games shall we say after we beat them in the Intermediate final two years’ ago. Playing them home and away won’t be easy.
“You’d be a fool to underestimate St Gall’s. They’ll be keen to prove themselves with a new manager coming in. We’ll take each game as it comes and, hopefully, we can do enough to make it through to the quarter-finals.”