“I said after we won the third U21 title that the next step had to be to compete in the Down Senior Championship. I didn’t think we’d maybe get to the final as quickly, but now we are in the final, let’s hope we can push on and actually win it.”
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.”
I THINK it’s fair to say that Celtic will be pretty content with how the last couple of weeks have gone. In the early part of any season, the priority is to get into a good rhythm as early as possible and it appears that, despite the stop-start nature of the campaign so far, the Bhoys are finally finding their groove. On the pitch they have managed to go some way in making up for the horror show in Champions League qualifying by comfortably winning their next two league games with something to spare. They have also managed a decent bit of transfer business both in and out of the club and in that respect the squad is already looking a lot stronger than it did a few weeks ago. Ireland international Shane Duffy has been on the club’s radar for most of the summer and it was a mixture of joy and relief when they finally got the deal over the line during the recent international break. The big Derry man is initially on loan at Celtic Park but if an agreement can be reached over the next 12 months which suits all parties, then I’m sure a more permanent arrangement will be forged. Duffy has a wealth of experience at the top-level of football and I’m sure he won’t have come cheap, but his capture shows that the board are taking the particular challenge that this year presents seriously. He will hopefully develop a strong understanding with whomever his defensive partner or partners turn out to be this year and as we have already seen, he will pose a serious threat at the other end of the pitch as well. Getting Shane in was important, but an equally shrewd bit of wheeling and dealing was needed in getting disgraced left back Bolingoli out the door. Turkish outfit Istanbul Basaksehir have taken the Belgian defender, again officially on a loan deal, but with an option to buy at the end of 12 months. That would be an outcome that would greatly benefit the Bhoys. Coming back after the international break, Celtic manager Neil Lennon will have been delighted that, firstly, some of his players got a bit more playing time in their legs but more importantly, they all came back relatively unscathed. Star forward Odsonne Edouard had missed two games through injury, including the defeat by Ferencvaros but he played, and scored, for the French U21s during the international hiatus. He came back fit enough to start against Ross County last weekend and he wasted no time in getting on the scoresheet for his club, calmly slotting a spot kick into the corner of the net after sending the goalkeeper the wrong way. That was enough to set the Hoops on their way to a very comprehensive 5-0 victory. On paper, teams like Ross County should never pose any real threat to Celtic but on their own patch anything can happen. All it takes is for a few Celts to have an off day, for the opposition to smother the game and stifle the Bhoys’ attack, or for the home goalkeeper to have an inspired game and suddenly three points become one, or even none. Even at this early stage of the campaign, every point is crucial so there is simply no room for complacency or a lack of preparation. With Shane Duffy seemingly the final piece in the jigsaw at Dingwall, Neil Lennon was able to revert to the 3-5-2 formation which brought them so much joy in the second half of last season. It could have been a risk doing this in Duffy’s first game after what he described as his “dream move” to Celtic Park but luckily the dream continued into his debut in a match where he contributed plenty. As a defender, his first priority is keeping it tight at the back and in helping the team to achieve a clean sheet he was successful in that endeavour. We know, however, that he can be a potent weapon up front from set-pieces and he put the icing on the cake of his own performance in the second period, rising highest to get on the end of Callum McGregor’s corner and plant a brilliant header into the County net. Hopefully this is just a taster of more to come from the big defender. Duffy was one of five different scorers in the match and the fact that all three strikers got on the scoresheet will also have given Lennon immense satisfaction. Ajeti scored yet again, his third in consecutive games in the Hoops. He is a proper livewire in and around the six yard box and if, as is claimed, he’s still not yet at full match fitness then we have a lot to look forward to. The fans have been crying out for someone good enough to partner Edouard and in Ajeti, the club may just have found him. David Turnbull, another new signing, also made his first appearance in a Celtic shirt against the Staggies. Turnbull had to endure the agony of an aborted move to Parkhead last summer and could have been forgiven for thinking his chance had gone. Neil Lennon promised him, though, that if he could overcome the injury that the failed medical uncovered last year then he would still be in the Celtic manager’s thoughts. To be fair to the lad, he didn’t let that setback get the better of him and after working hard to get back to fitness he is playing as well as ever. He started the season in great form for Motherwell and, after confirming his switch to the east end of Glasgow, will be hoping to continue in the same vein in Celtic colours.Celtic’s nearest rivals, Sevco, have also been doing what they have to do domestically to put the pressure on 10-in-a-row. They haven’t conceded in the league so far and are scoring goals, but for all the bravado surrounding their start to the season, Celtic could nevertheless be top of the league by this weekend if they overcome St Mirren on Wednesday night and Livingston this Saturday. The Ibrox team will have a chance to go back to the top but for Celtic it’s imperative that they put the pressure on and see if Gerrard’s men are up to it. They have had things pretty much their own way up to now but the Bhoys are now clicking into gear and should be firing on all cylinders come the first meeting of the two teams in around a month’s time. Tickety-Bhoy!
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship semi-final (AET)Carryduff 2-13 Ballyholland 1-15 CARRYDUFF will contest the Down Senior Football Championship final following a remarkable semi-final win over Ballyholland at Páirc Esler on Sunday.
Casement Social Club Antrim Junior Hurling Championship final
Antrim Intermediate Camogie Championship finalO'Donovan Rossa 0-7 Tír na nÓg 0-7
Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship FinalDunloy Cuchullains v Loughgiel Shamrocks (Ballycastle, Sunday, 2.45pm, live on TG4) THE Antrim Senior Hurling Championship reached a new level this year with the drama, quality and excitement reaching dizzying heights. Over the past five weeks, we have had the 'Group of Death', Naomh Éanna making their senior bow and not looking out of place, Rossa's resurgence and Ballycastle likewise, late levellers, late winners, Domhnall Nugent's 3-3 with a dislocated elbow, Liam Watson's comeback, Chrissy McMahon's heroics and two thrilling semi-finals - all in a series of games that will be remembered for a long time to come. That's all before we get to Sunday's final between the fiercest of rivals and North Antrim's 'Old Firm': Dunloy and Loughgiel. The only shame is that Covid-19 reduced the numbers who could attend, but the live streaming has been a Godsend and this Sunday, the TG4 cameras return to broadcast the final of what is easily one of the country's best club competitions. It could so easily have been a different 'Old Firm' final, with McMahon again being sprung from the bench to be Dunloy's hero over a Rossa team who have lit up this year's campaign. The young forward thumped over a leveller in the group game at Rossa Park and then the winner in Sunday's semi-final to keep the defending champions' bid for back-to-back titles on course and break Rossa hearts. St John's will be just as disappointed they aren't gearing up for this week's final having been pegged back late in their game against Loughgiel before running out of steam in extra-time with knocks and heavy legs taking their toll as the Shamrocks just had a bit more energy to get over the line. Belfast hurling proved it is far from dead and it seems only a matter of time before the Volunteer Cup returns to the city, but for 2020 it will remain north of Ballymena and another cracking contest beckons.
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship semi-final
Casement Social Club Antrim Junior Hurling Championship finalSt Paul’s v Rasharkin (Dunsilly, Saturday, 4.15pm)
Guinness Pro14 Final: Leinster v Ulster
Larkin Cassidy Solicitors Antrim Intermediate Football Championship, semi-final (AET)
SHANE Duffy says it is a “dream come true” to have sealed his move to Celtic.
THERE is a definite feeling among the Celtic support that this season hasn’t fully got off the ground yet.
Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship, semi-final (AET)Loughgiel Shamrocks 2-31 St John's 5-18
Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship, semi-finalDunloy Cuchullains 1-22 O'Donovan Rossa 2-18CHRISSY McMahon was against the hero for Dunloy against Rossa as he struck six minutes into stoppage time to settle an epic Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final at Dunsilly and break the hearts of Colly Murphy's men.