ANTRIM’S loss to Armagh came as no surprise. The Orchardmen were red-hot favourites going into the game and there was a glum familiarity to the script at the Athletic Grounds as the game ended in a nine-point win for the home side.
The result wasn’t a shock but perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the defeat for the Saffrons is that they failed to show any evidence that they are closing the gap between themselves and Ulster’s elite counties.
Andy McEntee’s side was full of individual effort but there was little sign of the cohesive gameplan needed to turn over a side that had played Division One football for three seasons.
“We are disappointed but there is also an element of: ‘Look lads, we didn’t turn up’,” said Aghagallon clubman Ruairi McCann after the 0-20 to 1-8 defeat.
“To beat Armagh we knew we were going to have to be at the top of our game and hope they had an off-day. We weren’t at our best but we have to look back at it, learn and move on.”
Full-forward McCann managed Antrim’s first point of the game. It came after a series of wides and Armagh already have five points on the board by then.
“We finished stronger than we started but when you give a team like Armagh an eight-point (the Orchardmen led 9-1 late in the first half) lead it’s very hard to come back from,” added McCann.
“We played well for about 15-20 minutes and we looked decent but again the lead was too big when we did start playing.
“We probably had 10 missed shots between wides and dropping short in the first half. Even though we played poorly, if a few of them had have gone over then, when we got the goal, the game would have been a lot tighter. Again, Armagh had just too big of a lead when we started playing and we have to learn from that.
“You could tell Armagh have been training for years as the same team and that they’ve been playing at a high standard in the League. That stands to them and they’re a tough team to beat.”
To have any chance of causing an upset, Antrim had to take every chance that came their way. Conor Stewart did score a fine goal but Adam Loughran blazed another chance wide and McCann himself had two decent goal chances.
“Their ’keeper (Ethan) Rafferty is a big lad,” he explained.
“Most goalies I come up against in the League, I have a bit of a physical advantage but the fact that he’s played outfield definitely stands to him. He’s hard to beat in those aerial duels.
“I got a hand to both of them. The second one was probably the best opportunity but Jemar (Hall) cleared it. It was going towards the goal and Rafferty was on the floor – I went to fist it into the net but Jemar got there first.
“It would have been a good time to get a goal because we could have put the pressure on but it didn’t happen.”
Next for Antrim is the Tailteann Cup which begins next month. Manager McEntee has given his players this week off before they begin their preparations for a crack at the second tier competition which was won by Westmeath last year.
“The Tailteann Cup is still new to us all but we’ll give it a go and see where we end up,” said McCann.