Kevin Madden: Down were there for the taking but Antrim’s problem run much deeper than the senior team

Ruthless Armagh put rest of Ulster on notice with dismantling of Fermanagh

Down vs Antrim    2  .jpg
Down vs Antrim 2 .jpg (seamus loughran)

Last weekend’s games all went according to script with the two in Ulster proving to be pretty disappointing affairs.

I couldn’t help but come away from the Antrim game thinking that a very out of sorts, misfiring, flat-looking Down were there for the taking.

You could say Antrim never looked like winning this game but then again the Saffrons butchered three decent goal chances at key times.

Defensively Antrim were strong and they very quickly negated any notion that Down would reap rewards from kicking early ball to their inside forwards.

Yet damage limitation was written all over the Antrim game-plan as they fielded a very inexperienced team which lacked the punch needed in attack to cause an upset.

It was difficult to know what Antrim’s offensive plan was but I suppose the losses of Ryan Murray, Ruari McCann (Aghagallon) and Adam Loughran had badly blunted their attack, leaving that area of the pitch devoid of inside target men that could win ball, take men on, and score.

Ryan McQuillan showed glimpses and took a lovely score off his left foot but I had also pondered given the lack of scoring options and physicality, should big Pat Shivers also have started and played in close to goal as a target man?

I thought Marc Jordan and Paddy McBride really took the fight to Down and the latter gave a very passionate interview on TV afterwards. The passion aside, Paddy’s interview gave an excellent tactical insight into why Antrim looked to be playing with no forwards up in the first half while playing with the wind:

“When they had the ball, they pushed a lot of men forward which dragged all of our forwards back. It would be nice to keep some men up to try and hit. But if you keep them up then you are risking them having an overload on you.”

My counter argument to that would be; had Antrim gambled and left two men up would Down have been content to leave them unmarked in the knowledge that if an attack broke down, one kick pass could see the ball end up in the back of the net?

McBride went on to say they gambled more in the second half, started their press earlier and left forwards up, which worked.

Tactically Antrim played the second half the way they should have set up from the start. But instead they let Down dictate the terms of engagement.

The fact they had had the wind advantage, yet Down only had four kickouts the entire first half, was an illustration of the Mourne Men’s dominance and barring a monumental collapse, this game was over at half-time.

Antrim Manager Andy McEntee during Sunday’s Allianz Football League Roinn 3 game at Corrigan Park in Belfast
Andy McEntee has brought stability, consistency and commitment to the Saffron cause.

The easiest time to get a full press organised for the opposition kick-out is when you have a scoreable free or if there’s a delay in the game.

Antrim had three very good opportunities to put heat on the Down kickout but there didn’t seem to be any structure or proper intent to execute a full press.

In all my frustration with the first half performance, I still believe Andy McEntee is doing a good job in Antrim and no matter what players take the field, he has brought stability, consistency and commitment to the Saffron cause.

As recent weeks have shown, the root of our problems in Antrim do not lie with the senior team but what we are doing or not doing in the formative years leading up to U17 level.

I detest the whole development squad model that the GAA now operate but in reality if you aren’t on the bus, then you are going to be left behind. The 20+ point hammerings at U17 and U20 are a sad but true reflection of just how far ahead the likes of Derry and Tyrone are in terms of coaching, conditioning, infrastructure, investment and dare I say it mindset.

No offence to the Royals, but the game could have been played in Knock and they still wouldn’t have had a prayer of being within a dozen points of their old rivals.

—  Kevin Madden

Conor Laverty will be scratching his head at Down’s last two performances wondering where the required level of improvement is going to come from to compete with Armagh.

Two points from play was a poor return from the starting six forwards with some of the shot selection and finishing out of the bottom drawer. But often a team’s best performance comes after a poor one so I fully expect Down to be a different animal the next day out.

If you hail from Antrim or Down and are feeling a tad frustrated after the weekend, then spare a thought for your poor brethren from Fermanagh.

In a crazy 13 minutes, their Ulster Championship hopes went up in smoke as one calamity after another lead to goals that put their lights out by half-time.

As much as Kieran Donnelly’s men were the architects of their own downfall, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Armagh during that period as they hunted Fermanagh until they smelt blood.

The first goal was crafted by the brilliance of Rory Grugan but goal two and three were very Dublin-like in the manner they forced the turn over and ran the ball to the goal.

Speaking of which it was more of the same in Leinster as the Dubs steam rolled Meath in all too predictable fashion.

Ciaran Kilkenny very nobly pointed out afterwards that the game should have been played in Navan rather than the partially filled echo chamber that was Croke Park.

No offence to the Royals, but the game could have been played in Knock and they still wouldn’t have had a prayer of being within a dozen points of their old rivals.