Antrim need to hold up their end and hope for a Carlow favour
Allianz National Football League Division Four: Limerick v Antrim (tomorrow, 1pm, Newcastlewest)
BY the time the final whistle sounds in Newcastlewest, it could all be over for Antrim regardless of whether they win or lose.
Things will be drawing to a close in Carlow town around the same time and if Laois are celebrating a win in Dr Cullen Park then it will mean another year on the bottom rung for Lenny Harbinson’s men.
Anything else – provided Antrim win themselves – would keep it alive until the new final day, when they will travel to Portlaoise for what would then become a straight shootout for promotion.
And in the grand scheme of potential circumstances, Antrim may have caught a stroke of luck in the fact that Laois and Carlow are not all that fond of each other at the best of times.
Despite their promotion and the celebrations that have ensured, you can be sure that Turlough O’Brien’s men will not hand a gimme to their neighbours. That local pride is something for Antrim to cling to.
But the first thing the Saffrons need to do is look after themselves. If they don’t win in Limerick then there won’t be any need to look at what’s happening 125 miles east.
Since coming close to Munster titles at the tail end of the last decade, the Treatymen have fallen off the face of the footballing earth.
Since 2016 they’ve dropped like a stone, suffering relegation from Division Three with just a single point that year and showing no sign of climbing their way back up thus far.
When you’ve only ever won one provincial minor (1956) and one provincial under-21 title (2000), and haven’t seen a final in either code since 2001, and you’re in against heartlands of rugby and hurling, it’s hard to forge any other path.
Their confidence is at a low ebb. While they sit fourth in the table, those beneath them all have games in hand and Billy Lee’s side only secured their first win by hitting 1-1 in the dying minutes to squeeze Waterford out two weeks ago.
The return of Séamus O’Carroll in that game provided a welcome boost. The Cappagh man hit 1-3 and deftly set up top-scorer Jamie Lee (who has 1-15 to his name) for their other goal in a 2-10 to 2-9 win.
Theirs is an exceptionally young and physically light side, which a more robust Antrim side really should thrive against.
The Saffrons have been defending well all throughout the League but haven’t been able to make the most of the calibre of forwards at their disposal.
Stephen Beatty misses out through suspension after his red card in the defeat to Carlow last Sunday, though Niall McKeever and Patrick McBride are named to return to the starting XV.
Limerick had named an unchanged team for what became a postponed meeting with Wicklow and are unlikely to venture too far from the side that beat the Déise.
If Antrim do any less than win then they have no errand out of Division Four anyway. The favour from Carlow could well come and, if it does, Antrim will head for Portlaoise with a chance.
Antrim: C Kerr; P Healy, P Gallagher, N Delargy; K O’Boyle, M Sweeney, J Laverty; N McKeever, P McAleer; M Fitzpatrick, C Murray, P McBride; CJ McGourty, C Duffin, R Murray
Subs: A Hasson, P Branagan, O Eastwood, K Healy, R Johnston, R McCann, M McCarry, S Burke, D Lynch, C Lemon