Antrim marksman Paddy Cunningham, who bagged ten points (nine frees) in Saturday’s draw with Kildare in the All Ireland Qualifiers first round tie at Newbridge, is hoping the ‘Saffron army’ will be out in force for this weekend’s Casement Park replay.
The west Belfast schoolteacher whose spectacular show of accuracy underpinned Antrim’s display against the Lily Whites believes the team’s followers can play a big part in plotting a course through to a second round meeting with Mickey Moran’s Leitrim.
“When we got to the Ulster final last year and then lost to Kerry in the Qualifiers the Antrim fans were magnificent,” he said.
“They got right behind us and I’m hoping that they will be out in force at to help us get past Kildare. We certainly would love to hear the Casement roar.
“We know that Kildare missed a lot of chances at Newbridge and it’s up to us to prevent them getting those kind of scoring chances this time round if we can.”
Manager Liam Bradley, who will concentrate on Antrim’s defence at tonight’s training session, acknowledges last Saturday could have gone either way.
And this time he is hoping to see a much healthier return of scores from open play. The Saffrons scored just six points from play in the drawn game.
“We need to put away our chances. Obviously you would like to get a goal or two if you could as we have seen in recent matches just how important these can be.
“When we were drawn against Kildare I think some people were doubting our ability to cope with them but I was always very much up for the game and the players certainly responded,” he said.
Meanwhile, his hurling counterpart Dinny Cahill is focussed on the home All Ireland Qualifier against Carlow. Cahill’s men had a 20-point winning margin over Down in Sunday’s Ulster final.
The Antrim manager is treating Carlow, surprise winners over Laois, with the utmost respect.
“They will have taken great encouragement from that win over Laois and will travel to us believing they can up their performance,” insists Cahill.
Although delighted with his players’ heroics last weekend, Carlow manager Kevin Ryan is wary of the the challenge he expects Antrim to pose.
“We stuck to our task against Laois and that pleased me. But Antrim will be a more difficult proposition because not only are they at home, they will be confident having got their hands on another Ulster title,” said Ryan.
An Antrim double in football and hurling next weekend certainly would be a massive shot in the arm for GAA in the county as a whole and secretary Frankie Quinn points out that followers of both codes can play their part.
“These are two very attractive games at this stage of the year and the hope is that our teams will be given all the encouragement they deserve,” Quinn said.