Antrim cannot afford to go back to Division Four

Is part of the Saffrons’ problem that they don’t see themselves as too good to go down?

Antrim’s Niall Burns  and Offaly’s Kevin McDermott during Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division 3 match at Corrigan Park in Belfast.
Antrim's league campaign began with wins over Offaly and Limerick but they've lost four on the bounce since. Defeat to Wicklow on Sunday would most likely send Andy McEntee's men back to Division Four.
Allianz Football League Division Three: Antrim v Wicklow (Sunday, 2pm, Corrigan Park)

HAVING spent seven out of eight years there prior to their most recent promotion, Antrim simply cannot afford to go back to Division Four.

The bottom tier of Gaelic football is the ultimate rat race. Just look at the entanglement of what Wexford, Longford and Leitrim are all facing on Saturday.

Traditionally, the Saffrons have never gone down wearing heavyweight status. Others down there view them as an equal, not a superior. Is part of Antrim’s problem that they don’t see themselves as too good to go down?

You look at their two league campaigns under Andy McEntee and their Tailteann Cup campaign last summer all together and it’s impossible to be in any way definitive about where they’re at.

In last year’s league, they were genuinely unlucky against both Down and Fermanagh. If those two games swing their way, they’re going to Longford on the final day knowing victory sends them up.

The bare numbers are much less flattering. Of their 13 league games under McEntee, they’ve won four and lost nine.

The manner of the aforementioned defeats to their Ulster rivals last spring left a very different sense and they had a mighty crack at the Tailteann Cup, falling just that little bit short of eventual winners Meath in the semi-final.

This spring, they’ve been besieged by injuries, but so is everyone.

Oisin McConville’s scoring goalkeeper Mark Jackson is in no hurry home from the NFL gig. He lost Mark Kenny and John Paul Hurley before a ball was kicked, has been without his championship full-back Paul McLoughlin from last year. That’s just how it is.

Antrim’s league campaign has been a bit more deflating this time around. Having started so well with back-to-back wins over Limerick and Offaly, they were well off it against Down and then travelled to Markievicz Park a month ago hoping that a win would propel them right into the mix for promotion.

Three more defeats later, they’re going into the final day needing to win to stay up.

Performance-wise, Antrim have still been superior to Wicklow in the league. They’ve tested, without ever really threatening, promotion hopefuls Westmeath and Clare in their last two outings.

That’s more of an indication of where they are at, but league tables have never told a lie yet.

Lose on Sunday and it’s probable that Antrim will go back to Division Four.

They just cannot allow that to happen.