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Danny Hughes: Antrim's plight is a sorry one

Tyrone's Richie Donnelly gets away from Antrim's James McAuley during last weekend's one-sided Ulster SFC quarter-final. While Antrim battled bravely, they were always going to be outgunned by the might of their opponents Picture by Seamus Loughran

OUTSIDE of managing my own county there are two others I could see as attractive propositions – hypothetically speaking, of course.

Cork is one of them. Having over 300 clubs comes with its advantages and disadvantages, but the truth is that their relegation to Division Three is a shocking indictment on how far the county has fallen since 2010.

Successive management teams have not worked out for one reason or another.

The Rebel county has always been somewhat complicated from a political perspective. It is no different when it comes to their county hurling and footballing squads either.

There were player strikes and internal in-fighting which appeared to be largely played out in the local and national media.

It appeared from the outside that, during such unrest, the players at the very least showed enough desire to actually start a fight and show they were serious.

The current apathy towards Cork football on and off the field points to a deeper malaise within the county. More than any other county, the Rebels need an outside manager who will galvanise and create a blueprint for success.

Should Jim McGuinness decide that soccer management is harder than it looks, Cork should look no further and give him a call.

Elsewhere, I also view the Antrim job as an attractive proposition in hypothetical terms.

It would be easy to ridicule the players for their performance on Saturday against Tyrone.

The Red Hands are potentially an All-Ireland contender – at the end of the day you don’t get to an All-Ireland final by fortune alone.

I thought that, despite the scoreline at half-time, Antrim showed admirable spirit throughout the game.

When the industrious Paddy McBride bore down on goal in the first half and was subsequently fouled by Tyrone’s Ben McDonnell just outside the penalty area, you just knew it was never going to be their day.

Antrim needed goals to stay in this match against such a formidable opponent.

Boss Lenny Harbinson might have thought it was a good idea to galvanise an already fragile squad – one that missed out on promotion from Division Four – with a visit to Casement Park.

Yet that wouldn't have helped in my opinion.

It is a depressingly abject site at the minute and it would only make me, as a player, feel even more like the forgotten man in GAA terms.

Casement Park should never have been closed until they were ready to begin the rebuild. That was a serious mistake.

As an Antrim player committed to a life which revolves around the inter-county season, you would naturally question why no player representatives from the two best and most successful football clubs in the county at present are not on the panel never mind the team.

As a county player you want the best players in the county playing for the team. Why? Because it is about winning at that level, it is all about success.

Now, success is very different in Antrim when compared to the likes of Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone of this world. Realistic success for Antrim could be playing in Division Two on a consistent basis. It is competing with Down, Armagh and Fermanagh. It would also be the odd Ulster final appearance.

Are the GAA to blame here? Yes, they are. And they should be ashamed of their inaction to date. Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, 21 years have passed. Should the decision-makers take the time to come up from the lavish surroundings of Croke Park, they will find Casement Park looks a lot worse now than it did then.

The Ulster Council should also feel embarrassed. Their historical epicentre has been Armagh and, whether this is tied into the fact that Armagh happens to be the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland I’m not sure, but Belfast really should have been that body’s natural home.

From afar, the Antrim County Board have also made mistakes aplenty.

Closing their own ground and allowing it to deteriorate into what we see today is the very definition of insanity.

Lacking full planning permission and a clear plan and way forward within a concrete timeframe

appears to be foolish in the extreme. The Gaels of Antrim have been damaged in all of this.

Meanwhile, on the field, there is no doubt that Antrim have very committed players and real potential. Tactically, I think they got it wrong from the start last weekend.

The designated sweeper wasn’t sweeping. Tyrone could run the ball or opt to kick it directly to Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane, both of whom caused countless problems during the first half.

The two key positions on any team in the modern game are the roles of sweeper and goalkeeper.

If either doesn’t seem to know what they are doing, both roles become totally ineffective.

Donegal will sweep in front of Tyrone’s key players in two weeks’ time, so it is hard to imagine anything else being as effective in a clash with Tyrone.

Additionally, Antrim had kicked the majority, if not all, of their kick-outs long. Again, this appeared to be very naïve.

Some re-starts were secured by the players in saffron and, from those, decent attacking play was launched.

However, this tactic would appear to be completely self-defeating given that Tyrone had Colm Cavanagh, Richie Donnelly and Tiernan McCann around the middle of the field willing to launch attack after attack.

By half-time, Mickey Harte could start to run his bench and rest key players.

Tyrone were ruthless. This was a mature and professional demolition job and, on the basis of the latter League games and the way in which they dispatched Antrim, Tyrone are gaining ground on Dublin and the other contenders, perhaps even more than I thought possible.

Donegal will provide the Red Hands’ first major test and, if they are to compete into August, it’s maybe a good thing to get asked that question sooner than later.

I think Tyrone will win because they have a better all-round team, with Donegal still appearing to be overly-reliant on Michael Murphy.

Fermanagh were a good test for Donegal and stuck it to them for the entirety. It’s awful stuff to partake in as a player but, then again, can Donegal blame them? After all, they invented that wheel. Both teams, however, should make the Super 8s.

Antrim, though, are at rock bottom. As far as I know, there is only one way you can go from there...

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