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Boss Bradley sets Antrim challenge

By John Campbell

At the outset of the Championship season not too many people would have predicted that teams such as Armagh and Derry might find themselves consigned to oblivion while Antrim, having ploughed a largely undistinguished course in Division Three, would still remain in the race.

But far from being satisfied with his team’s win over London last weekend, Saffrons’ boss Liam Bradley has now hurled out a challenge to his team to go as far as they possibly can in the qualifiers.

“I think we have a great chance of making real progress now that we will be playing Galway at home on Saturday week. I believe that this Antrim side can make a big statement in that match and help to bring real pride back into the county,” observes Bradley.

In a week in which his son Paddy has called into serious question aspects of Derry’s structures and overall approach following their qualifier defeat to Longford, Bradley snr is staying firmly focussed on taking Antrim to new heights.

Indeed, the gauntlet has been thrown down to the Saffrons following the demise of their hurling brethren in that horrendously one-sided All Ireland qualifier against Limerick at the weekend when they lost by 8-26 to 1-15.

The hurlers, who meet Derry in the Ulster final on Sunday at Casement Park, have a lot of ground to make up but it’s Bradley’s side that now has a golden opportunity to restore county pride.

“We made things very hard for ourselves against London but we have a chance to show our true form against Galway, a side that many people believe could still prove dark horses in the All-Ireland series,” points out Bradley.

And he is leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to ensure that his team, which will include Kevin Niblock (pictured) to who returned to action against London, will be fine tuned for the showdown with Alan Mulholland’s men.

On Tuesday night a number of Antrim’s fringe players were in action against a shadow Down side in a challenge match which offered Bradley the chance to further assess his reserve talent.

Liaison officer Tony McCollum revealed afterwards that while Antrim have no injury worries for the Galway game, a number of peripheral players will come into the frame for selection.

“There is strong competition for places now and the boys know that they will be required to make every effort to restore Antrim pride. Galway were certainly caught out by Sligo in the Connacht semi-final and it is clear that they are hurting following that defeat. They will come to us very anxious to get their campaign back on track again but we will be ready for them,” insists McCollum.

Tuesday night’s challenge game also gave Down boss James McCartan the chance to assess the fitness of Benny Coulter who looked surprisingly sharp even though he is only coming back from injury.

Coulter is particularly keen to face Donegal in the forthcoming Ulster final having spent over a decade in the side without a championship honour of any description to show for his efforts.

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