James McGrail in action against Antrim in 2016
As Leitrim head north next Sunday for the opening round of the Allianz League Division 4, the signs are clear that Antrim are going all out for promotion if the forthright comments of their players are anything to go by.
Brendan Guckian’s team take on Antrim in Corrigan Park, Belfast next Sunday at 2pm and instead of the usual downplaying of chances, Antrim’s players are talking up their squad over the last week.
Antrim full-back Patrick Gallagher, speaking to the Irish News, believes that the Saffrons are more than capable of booking a quick return to Division 3 - "There are some brilliant young players in the squad. Peter Healy was brilliant, Conor Hamill had a really good year, Ruairi McCann came in for the first time and they are solid county footballers now. They held their own in Division 3 and hopefully they can do that in Division 4.
"Coming in and seeing the new set-up, I'd be definitely optimistic. Hopefully we can get back up where we should be and beyond. There's a Croke Park appearance if you get promoted. That was a big plus two years ago when we got promoted and played Louth at Croke Park. So there's plenty of motivation there."
And his forward colleague Matthew Fitzpatrick is another confident of promotion when he spoke to the Irish News - “Our main goal is to win Division 4. We need to get out of Division 4 but we're there for a reason. The way the year has been going and the way we're continuing to improve, we hope we can get out of the the division and then we can look forward to Down in the Ulster championship."
And the Antrim forward believes the impact of new manager Lenny Harbinson will play a crucial role - “Lenny's set-up is very professional and his backroom team are very good. Lenny wants us to be thinking footballers to improve every time we go out. If we can win 65 or 70 percent of our kick-outs that could be the difference in games.
"When you get relegated by a single score as we did last year, winning an extra three kick-outs per match could be the difference in winning a match. Lenny is such a deep thinker, that's the way he would be approaching things - you relieve pressure by winning your kick-outs and controlling the game. So I'm optimistic about this season."