Eastwood keeps his cool to steer Antrim into Division Three after win over Waterford
THE temperature in Dungarvan was in excess of 20 degrees Celsius for the duration of the game, but Odhran Eastwood was coolness personified in Fraher Field when it mattered most.
Antrim booked a place in Division Three for next season with a 1-15 to 0-11 win over Waterford in Sunday's Division Four semi-final with Eastwood scoring the game's only goal.
Quite how he was the only player to find the net beggars belief such was the sheer volume of goal chances created by both teams.
Waterford goalkeeper Paudie Hunt made a stunning save at full stretch to deny Marc Jordan in the second half while Conor Murray also missed three goal chances for the Saffrons.
Antrim's Luke Mullholland made a smart stop to deny Darragh Corcoran early on while full-forward Dylan Guiry hit the post in the first half.
However, when Eastwood got his chance inside the last 10 minutes, he made no mistake. Following good work from Niall McKeever and Adam Loughran in the build-up, Eastwood shuffled his way around Hunt before clipping the ball into the net to finally put the game beyond Waterford's reach.
It also meant Antrim weren't relying on an injury-time winner having defeated Louth, Sligo and Leitrim by one point in their Division Four North campaign and Eastwood believes those tight tussles stood to Enda McGinley's men.
“I know in some of the games we were kicking ourselves for letting the likes of Leitrim and Louth back into it when we were on top,” said Eastwood.
“I think maybe those games stood to us. Even when we went seven points up in the early stages today (against Waterford), you know it won't last and you have to be ready for the periods when teams come back at you.
“Waterford hit a few purple patches and that happens and you have to deal with it. I don't think we ever panicked and we are well used to it.
“When the goal went in, it gave us a bit of breathing room - you could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
He added: “It was tough in the heat, but it is probably ideal for a forward more than anything. It is great conditions for football, but you need the water breaks!
“It was hectic at times when you are chasing back. We've done enough work by ourselves throughout lockdown and since we've came back. You have to trust that the work is in the bank and you have it in the legs. It was tough, but we were able to deal with it.”
The Saffrons now turn their attentions to their Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final clash with Armagh at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, July 4.
Kieran McGeeney's men retained their top-flight status with an impressive 1-17 to 0-11 win over Roscommon in their relegation play-off in Armagh on Sunday afternoon.
The Orchard County will be strong favourites to progress to a provincial semi-final against either Monaghan or Fermanagh and Eastwood feels Antrim will relish being underdogs for next month's Championship tie.
“You almost have to take the season in stages now,” said the St Enda's attacker.
“Our main goal was to get out of Division Four and it has been for the last few years. We've got that monkey off our back now.
“Armagh have been playing very well in Division One this year. There probably isn't going to be a lot of pressure on us going into the Championship.
“We've a good run of results behind us now and we'll try and ride that wave and put in a performance and see what happens. It is going to be a huge challenge for us, but it is one we're looking forward to.”