Antrim can't let another early chance slip past
Allianz Football League Division Four: Antrim v Wexford (tomorrow, 2pm, Glenavy)
IF you’re looking upon Antrim football with a sympathetic eye, you couldn’t really go past how often their seasons have already been defined by the middle of February.
They’re realistic enough to recognise their chance of winning an Ulster title from their current position is very slim, and so all the eggs are thrown at the league.
Last winter, they trained like demons, five, six times a week, all of building up to their opening game at home to Derry. Big crowd in Corrigan Park, they were beaten by a last-minute point.
A week later they’re beaten by four down in Wexford and realistically, by February 3, it’s nearly a case of waiting for the year to be over.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the absence of a prize to focus on by the midway point of so many league campaigns has contributed to the lack of continuity in Antrim football.
It remains to be seen whether the tier two championship, the concept of which Lenny Harbinson is a fan, helps solve the problem. Antrim would rather solve it their own way, by taking a stand in the promotion shake-up.
Paul Galvin’s first league game in charge of Wexford will bring him into a world he’ll barely have known existed.
Glenavy is almost exactly 300 miles north-east of Fitzgerald Stadium, where he played beneath McGillicuddy’s Reeks when the lights of Croke Park weren’t shining off the number 10 on his back.
This will be like a different planet entirely, and if early reports are accurate then his first step into management has caused a wobble already.
He revealed last week that his decision to cut experienced duo Daithi Waters and Michael Furlong was based on their training performance and “years of footage”.
There was a scent of laying down a marker about it but Kevin O’Grady and Tiernan Rossiter went out the door behind them. And perhaps most significantly, so did Matty Forde, a legend in the county whose role in the management team would have given Galvin a valuable link to supporters.
They’re in exactly the same boat in terms of aspiration. They’ve punched below their weight in recent years, far below it when you consider they were contesting Leinster finals and the latter All-Ireland stages not a decade ago.
That was an unseasonal high, but this is an equally freak low. 2019 was arguably more chastening than the previous year, given how far off the mark they actually were in Division Four having been tipped to go straight back up.
Louth beat them in Leinster before Derry walloped them in the qualifiers. There are still names that jump out like Jonathan Bealin and Ben Brosnan, who will offer the scoring threat, but there’s so much for Galvin to do to get them back up the ladder.
They lost all three O’Byrne Cup games to Westmeath, Offaly and Laois, while Antrim had a good win over Fermanagh in the McKenna Cup before losing by seven to Down to go out in the group stage.
They hand league debuts to Meath native Mark Gardiner and goalkeeper Oisin Kerr, while Paddy Cunningham returns to the starting side along with Peter Healy, who was badly missed last year.
Far more than two points ride on this, and for Antrim it’s a serious opportunity to get out of the blocks and into the promotion race. The Saffrons by two.
Antrim: O Kerr; P Gallagher, R Johnston, M Gardiner; D Lynch, J McAuley, P Healy; C Duffin, M Jordan; E Walsh, P McBride, N Delargy; P Cunningham, R McCann, C Small
Subs: A Hasson, F Burke, O Eastwood, E Fyfe, C Garland, A Loughran, D McAleese, R McNulty, C Murray, E Nagle, B Rice