Antrim aim to begin promotion push with Carlow win
Division Four: Carlow v Antrim (tomorrow, Netwatch Cullen Park, 2pm)
ANTRIM begin their NFL Division Four campaign tomorrow in a clash against Carlow that could go right down to the wire, and Gearoid Adams is anxious to get off to the best possible start against one of their main challengers for a promotion berth.
Adams joined Antrim’s backroom in October and has already made his mark in cajoling a number of key players back to the fold, including Michael and Tomas McCann, Kevin Niblock, Brian Neeson and Kevin O’Boyle.
Joint-managers Frank Fitzsimons and Adams have made no bones about their desperation to escape the bottom division, and their task has been made simpler as well with the return of players from injury and college duties.
Adams said: “We’ve got Carlow away and Wexford at home in our first two rounds. Last year Antrim only got one point from the first two matches and we were playing catch-up for the rest of the League. If we beat Carlow away it’s a massive start for us.
“Since we got the Dr McKenna Cup over we’ve had a couple of good challenge matches against Armagh and Down.
“Most of our injuries have cleared up – a couple of our players have played Sigerson for Queen’s and they’ve all been given a clean bill of health so we’re going to the Carlow game almost at full capacity.
“The St Mary’s match was called off which is another blessing but Paddy McBride is touch and go.”
Meanwhile, Central Council’s recent proposal to demote Division Four sides who fail to reach their provincial final from the All-Ireland race has been met with widespread disapproval – and a keen sense of déjà vu from those who remember the now-defunct Tommy Murphy Cup.
Adams – who has hazy memories of winning a similarly themed ‘B’ Championship with the Saffrons in 1999 – is unequivocal in his opposition to the proposal, which goes before Congress next month and requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
Adams said: “I totally, totally disagree with it. I would rather have a day out against the likes of Kerry or Tyrone or Dublin that playing in a second-tier, second-class competition.
“An excellent Donegal side got a hiding against Mayo a couple of years ago – these things happen and I’d rather go out against the big guns than playing the same teams over and over again if we’re stuck in Division Four, which hopefully we’ll not be.”
“I can remember the Tommy Murphy Cup, just after I retired, and the likes of Kevin Brady who was a brilliant player lifting the cup [in 2008] and it was great but he’d agree with me that he’d have preferred to have won an Ulster title or gone further in the backdoor than we did.”
“We have to get ourselves out of our current situation and create a team that gets out of Division Four and pushes through the Leagues.”
During the early rounds of their League campaign, Antrim’s college contingent will juggle their inter-county commitments with the Sigerson Cup. Adams believes the GAA should focus its attentions on creating a more sensible fixtures calendar.
“At the minute, Matthew Fitzpatrick is playing U21 for St John’s, St Mary’s in the Sigerson and he’s playing for Antrim, so there are three competitions going at once.
“James Morgan can’t play for ‘the Ranch’ because he’s playing for Cross – rather than creating a second-tier championship the GAA should sort their calendar out.
“We’ve got brilliant competitions and brilliant teams but it is those young guys who are getting pulled over the place and it’s not good for them.”
As for that All-Ireland ‘B’ title he won as an Antrim defender in 1999, he says it served as a little more than a morale-booster at the time.
“We beat Fermanagh in the final and had a nice run. They’d some great players, but it was basically as a precursor to the League.
“It’s no big deal to me and I can remember the match very vaguely. We played it in Casement and Anto Finnegan and Joe Quinn had great games but I mainly remember it for the bit of encouragement we got from it.
“We beat Down in the Championship six months later so it was nice as a so-called weaker county to beat one of the bigger teams. The Ulster Championship is about that – anybody can beat anybody on their day.”