Antrim in Championship mode for crucial Allianz Football League semi-final with Waterford
Allianz Football League Division Four semi-final: Waterford v Antrim (Sunday, 12.15pm, Fraher Field, Dungarvan, live on GAAGO)
IT is a semi-final without a final berth at stake. A promotion play-off not played at a neutral venue. Throw in is at 12.15pm and Waterford have home advantage despite refusing to travel to Antrim last October for a League game.
Yet, none of that will matter if Antrim finally clinch promotion at the expense of Waterford when the counties meet in Dungarvan tomorrow.
For the last three successive campaigns, Antrim have finished in third place in Division Four.
When they last met Waterford at Haggardstown near Dundalk, a seven-point win for the Saffrons wasn’t enough to escape the basement division as Limerick held firm against Sligo to take their place in Division Three alongside Wicklow.
The damage had already been done for Antrim following their harrowing 25-loss to the Garden County in Aughrim a week earlier.
Now, after three nail-biting injury-time victories over Louth, Sligo and Leitrim, Antrim’s fate is firmly in their own hands.
Of course, the same is true for Waterford, who could be promoted on the back of just two wins in Division Four and Paddy McBride knows Antrim cannot afford to take the challenge of the Déise lightly.
“The big thing for them (Waterford) is that, usually in Division Four, you have to win nearly every match to get promoted,” said McBride.
“They haven’t been able to do that, but now they have a chance to promotion after one win (against Wexford). It is a massive opportunity for them as well.
“You’d be expecting them to give a big lift to try and win a one-off game to win promotion.
“It will be a tough game and we have to be on form in order to take care of business.
“I know we beat Waterford last year, but we can’t be thinking we have the right to beat anybody.
“We’ve won three games, but only just so we haven’t earned the right to fancy ourselves against any team. We have to treat this like a genuine Championship game.”
Antrim boss Enda McGinley will be hoping his men aren’t replying on another injury-time winner this weekend in Fraher Field.
The winners of Sunday’s battle will be promoted to Division Three along with either Carlow or Louth, who met at Dr Cullen Park on today (4pm).
The former Tyrone star may be forced to alter his starting team if Sunday’s game comes too soon for Ryan Murray.
The Lámh Dhearg attacker tweaked his hamstring and was taken off as a precaution 13 minutes into the one-point win over Leitrim in Corrigan Park just under a fortnight ago.
Waterford also have a new manager since October’s clash between the counties with Shane Ronayne succeeding Ger Walsh.
The Déise lost their home game against Carlow, but defeated Wexford 2-13 to 0-18 in Wexford Park thanks to a second half penalty from Darragh Corcoran and a further goal from full-back Brian Looby.
With home advantage, Waterford won’t fear playing Antrim and, as 6/1 outsiders, they’ll relish the prospect of upsetting the odds.
A physically-imposing Waterford side will also hope to dominate the middle third, but Antrim’s new-look midfield has impressed this season.
Debutant Conor Stewart has been sensational alongside Niall McKeever, who is back after a spell away from the county squad.
Antrim will be hoping to shore up their defence after letting an 11-point lead slip against Leitrim and they can do real damage on the counter-attack.
St Enda’s attacker Odhran Eastwood has been in fine form this season and the likes of the Murray siblings, Conor and Ryan, as well as Paddy McBride and Ruairi McCann are all capable of chipping in with the vital scores.
With Paddy Cunningham, Tomás McCann, Eoghan McCabe and Adam Loughran in reserve, among others, Antrim should prove too strong for Waterford and seal promotion with a few points to spare.