Paddy Cunningham hoping to edge Antrim into Division Three
IT is a fallacy to say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks - just ask Antrim veteran Paddy Cunningham.
In what will be his final season of a distinguished county career with the Saffrons, the Lámh Dhearg attacker is relishing working with Tyrone legend Stephen O’Neill, who is part of Enda McGinley’s management team this season.
On Sunday, Antrim will be hoping to secure promotion to Division Three at the expense of Waterford when the counties clash at Dungarvan’s Fraher Field.
Despite recently turning 36, Cunningham remains one of Antrim’s best finishers, but is now regarded as an impact sub, rather than an automatic starter.
That hasn’t stopped him influencing the outcomes of Antrim’s Division Four North ties.
Wins over Louth, Sligo and Leitrim were by the minimum and Cunningham came off the bench to score a point in each game with his injury-time effort sealing a dramatic 3-13 to 3-12 win over the Yeats County in Corrigan Park last month.
Ryan Murray and Tomás McCann hit the stoppage-time winners against Louth and Leitrim respectively and Cunningham insists O’Neill has helped install a renewed belief within the squad.
“It is one thing I’ve seen this year, these lads have a never-say-die attitude. They keep plugging away to the final whistle,” said Cunningham.
“If it goes to the down to the last kick again on Sunday, we have to be prepared for that eventuality.
“I’m playing a different role this year than what I’m used to. I’ve started pretty much every year since I’ve played county.
“The lads came in at the start of the year and asked me to play a different role. It was probably a challenge psychology to go from being a starter to being a sub.
“At the end of the day, we are all there to help the team and do whatever we can with the game-time you get."
He added: “Stephen O’Neill has come in as forwards coach and I’ve huge admiration for him and I was lucky enough to play against him.
“He has it honed into us that our influence on the game in the last 10 or 15 minutes can be huge.
“Enda (McGinley) and Stephen would always encourage the boys to take the shot, provided you are shooting from the right area and we aren’t as reliant on one or two boys to take the scores – loads of different players are stepping up to the mark.”
Sunday’s tie could well prove to be Cunningham’s penultimate appearance in the Antrim jersey ahead of their Ulster SFC meeting with Armagh on Sunday, July 4 in the Athletic Grounds.
The Division Four final won’t be played this season with Sunday’s winners promoted to Division Three along with either Carlow or Louth, who meet at Dr Cullen Park on Saturday.
The Division Two final also won’t proceed this year due to the close proximity to the various provincial Championships and there is a chance that none of the four League finals will be played this season.
As they’ve only had one home game this term, Waterford have been given home advantage for this weekend’s promotion play-off.
While Cunningham says a neutral venue would be been preferable, he has no issues with the Déise having home advantage, but he feels the League finals should have been played.
“That’s probably the most disappointing thing for the four teams in the semi-final – there won’t be a Division Four final,” said Cunningham.
“The League finals are held in Croke Park and that’s always a special occasion for any squad, for everyone involved as well as their families and the fans.
“At the end of the day, promotion is the big aim and it has been since the start of the year.
“In an ideal world, Sunday’s game would have been in a neutral venue, maybe at a halfway point.
“After what happened last year in terms of them (Waterford) refusing to travel up North, we accommodated them by agreeing to play the game in Haggardstown.
“I suppose they are just taking advantage of the rules and the fact that they’ve only one home game. For us, it is dealt with and we’ve known for over a week that we have to go to Dungarvan, and we're happy with that"