No pressure on promoted Antrim shoulders: Boss Enda McGinley
BOSS Enda McGinley insists the Antrim footballers are getting a “free crack” at Armagh ahead of Sunday’s Ulster Championship showdown with the pressure off saffron shoulders following their successful promotion push from Division Four earlier this month.
Antrim ended their three-year residence in the basement thanks to four straight wins over Louth, Sligo, Leitrim and Waterford in McGinley’s first season in charge.
With mission very much accomplished in the county in 2021, Antrim have nothing to lose as they travel to face Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh side who navigated the pitfalls of Division One well to maintain their hard-won status.
But there is a greater sense of expectation in the Orchard County that they can finally give the Anglo-Celt Cup a proper rattle this year having not tasted provincial success since 2008, guided back then by Mullaghbawn man Peter McDonnell – which incidentally was the same season McGeeney had ended his playing days with Armagh and taken the managerial reins in Kildare.
After three one-point wins in the group stages of Division Four, Antrim sealed promotion to Division Three with an impressive seven-point win away to Waterford just over a fortnight ago.
“Have we an awful lot to lose?” muses McGinley. “Probably not. So it’s a free crack, a free measurement stick against one of the form teams in the country.
“To a large extent, absolutely the pressure is off. There wasn’t a big pressure on having to definitely get promotion this year. Obviously promotion was the overall aim.
“You were hoping it would come in year one or year two but with the COVID League, the tough northern section and everything else that went with it, it wasn’t a definite expectation but the fact that it happened was brilliant.
“So that does release a certain amount of pressure. The pressure that exists now is you’re going out to play and do yourselves justice, to give a game to Armagh and to come off the pitch with credit.
“On the Ulster Championship stage there is pressure that comes with that and you want to enjoy it. That’s why we play football and in games like that, and that’s the pressure you actually enjoy.”
Injury-wise, the landscape is looking better than it has done in a while, according to Tyrone's three-time All-Ireland winner.
Antrim’s totemic midfielder Michael McCann tore a calf muscle three days before the opening League game against Louth and has been sidelined ever since.
While the player himself is doubtful about his prospects of making this Sunday’s Championship clash, his manager is slightly more optimistic and feels the experienced Mark Sweeney and free-taker Ryan Murray will also be “close”, while Conor Murray and James McAuley are nursing knocks from the Waterford game on June 13.
“You’re putting on sticking plasters and keeping some going but at the minute we’re not too bad in terms of injuries,” McGinley acknowledged.
“We’re certainly better than what we were three or four weeks ago.”
Armagh finally scaled Division One for the first time in Geezer’s reign last autumn following the resumption of the 2020 National Leagues and the side performed well across their games against Monaghan, Tyrone and Donegal – even though they only avoided the drop by defeating Roscommon last time out.
“It’s a very impressive body of work at this stage," McGinley said of Armagh's recent history.
"I suppose in the early years it was maybe a two steps forward, one step back progress - some of them were quite unlucky, some of them were self-inflicted – through all of that Kieran McGeeney seems to have engendered a massive resilience in them.
"They were really, really solid in their Division One games and the fact that they had those upsets over the years and took really harsh lessons at times, and maybe could've got promoted earlier or gained longer Championship runs and been unlucky not to at other times, they have now emerged from that development process. They are probably one of the teams you can see pushing on for Ulster. Obviously we want to upset the applecart against a team that seem to be coming into their own."