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All-Ireland Football Championship: Antrim return to their bad old ways

Antrim 0-09 Kildare 1-15

By John Campbell

It's back to a more traditional bout of soul-searching for Antrim now that a Championship campaign which initially promised much has delivered precisely nothing.

The heady optimism sparked by last summer’s provincial progress and further fuelled by a second successive promotion in the National League is today replaced by the grim realisation that there is still a long and potentially torturous route to be travelled before significant Championship credibility can be achieved.

A competent but far from inspired Kildare side, projecting a sadistic streak when it came to the art of finishing, succeeded in driving the Saffrons backwards literally and metaphorically in this Casement Park All Ireland qualifier which further highlighted the savage turn the fortunes of Liam Bradley’s side have taken.

The inescapable fact is that in their last seven competitive matches Antrim have won one, drawn one and lost five — a statistic that dwarfs their early surge to prominence in the league and which provides sobering evidence that when big questions are asked of their players, definitive answers tend to be in short supply.

But if the players themselves were unable to make a big statement out on the park, manager Bradley did not have to struggle for words in assessing an Antrim performance that owed as much to self-harm as it did to opposition efficiency.

“This was nowhere near good enough,” fumed Bradley. “In fact, it was shambolic. We had boys who were unable to step up to the mark. When the chips are down you need players to take responsibility — we did not have that. This is an old Antrim failing and it has surfaced again. I have completed two years in this job and we do not appear to be making any great headway in the Championship.

“The blunt truth is Kildare blew us away in the second half. We should have been ahead at half-way but we took wrong options in the first half and chances were lost.”

Ahead by 1-4 to 0-5 at the break after John Doyle’s 21st minute goal had given them a cushion, Kildare, profiting from the midfield ascendancy of Daryl Flynn

and Dermot Earley, blitzed their hosts in the second period, Doyle finishing with an impressive 1-6 and seven other players also getting on the scoresheet.

In contrast Antrim, disjointed and aimless after the break with their forwards in particular culpable of poor execution when it came to shooting, were again over-reliant on Paddy Cunningham whose six points from frees formed the bulk of the total, meaning that only three scores came from play.

This represented no more than token resistance to a Kildare side whose manager Kieran McGeeney epitomised both relief and caution at the finish.

“It’s encouraging to have got over this hurdle — we were good but far from great. Last week’s drawn match was emotionally charged because of the death of Dermot Earley senior but we were more focused this time.

“Now we must meet Leitrim and although they are in Division Four, we have seen so far that divisional standings do not count for a great deal in the Championship.

“We have some players still to come back from injury and this should help strengthen our squad,” said McGeeney.

ANTRIM: S McGreevy; A Healy, C Brady, J Crozier; T Scullion, K O’Boyle, J Loughrey; B Herron (0-1), S Kelly; K McGourty, K Niblock, T McCann; P Cunningham (0-7, 0-6 frees), M McCann, K Brady (0-1). Sub: M Magill for Healy.

KILDARE: S McCormack; P Kelly, H McGrillan, A MacLochlainn; M O’Flaherty (0-1), E Bolton, B Flanagan; D Flynn (0-1), D Earley (0-1); J Kavanagh, P O’Neill, E O’Doherty (0-1); J Doyle (1-6, 0-2 frees), R Sweeney (0-1), E O’ Callaghan (0-3). Subs: D White for MacLochlainn, K Cribben (0-1) for O’Flaherty, G White for Sweeney, M Foley for Flanagan, K Donnelly for Earley.

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

Belfast Telegraph

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