Buoyant Antrim won't choke at Croke: Gearoid Adams
Everything appears to be coming up roses for Antrim at present. Not only has the team secured a place in Division Three of the Allianz Football League next term but an injury list that had threatened to unhinge their surge down the home straight in the competition has suddenly been dramatically curtailed.
Now joint managers Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams are facing into Sunday’s last scheduled league game against Louth at Corrigan Park and the Division Four final against the same opponents in Croke Park on April 23 in upbeat mood.
“We’re confident but certainly not arrogant,” insists Adams, “To tell you the truth we honestly thought that we were going to be without players like Kevin Niblock and Niall McKeever against Wicklow at the weekend but we got about 20 minutes out of Kevin near the end and Niall played at full-back and did very well. Maybe our luck is turning and if it is, we will embrace that enthusiastically.”
When McKeever came through a late fitness test on Friday night, Adams sensed that the force might be with Antrim.
“That’s the way things turned out. Not many teams clinch promotion by winning against Wicklow in Aughrim but we were happy to do just that,” he smiles.
“It was a very happy journey home. A number of these players have given great service to Antrim and I feel there is now more that they can achieve.”
“It’s not often that an Antrim team gets the chance to play at Croke Park and we aim to make the most of our opportunity when we go there next month.
“We have a number of boys who have been unable to force their way into the side lately because of the consistency of other lads but they will get an outing against Louth next Sunday.
“Don’t get me wrong, we aim to win the game and we will be looking to the starting 15 to deliver impressively. We have won six games on the bounce and when you get a winning habit you want to cling to it, that’s for sure.”
In sharp contrast, Down are suddenly confronted by Everest-high odds as they bid to avoid the ultimate shattering experience in Division One of the Allianz Football League.
Should the Mournemen lose to Mayo on Sunday, this would mean that they will have gone through the competition without garnering a solitary point.
And manager Eamonn Burns and his players cannot expect the slightest shred of sentiment when they head west on Sunday.
Mayo have won just two games to date but such is the tight nature of Division One that a third win could actually see them clinch a place in the semi-finals.
With manager Stephen Roachford having been under pressure of late as his side shipped defeats to Donegal and Kerry before beating Roscommon on Sunday, he will be particularly keen to see Down put to the sword.
Down boss Burns, whose side fell to Cork on Sunday, has been forced to do without several players this year and former county boss James McCartan stresses that the haemorrhage of talent from the squad has rendered the task of remaining in the top flight more than difficult.
“This makes it very hard for the management team. The squad is starting to haemorrhage players who are becoming frustrated and that’s a bad sign. On the up side, there is always that the possibility that the team can get one championship win and if they can manage that, a lot of what has happened in the league will be forgotten about,” insists McCartan.
“Their season can be turned round if this should come about. I think that’s what Down have to turn their focus on now. They have a very difficult game in the Ulster Championship against Monaghan, we all recognise that, but if they can go to Clones and get a win in a match in which they will be very much up against it, then I think that all will be forgiven.”
Down fans were relieved to see Mark Poland introduced as a substitute against Cork while David McKibben and Paul Devlin were also given game time.
For now, though, manager Burns has a massive task on his hands against Mayo.
Belfast Telegraph Digital