When Antrim and Sligo cross swords in the National Football League Division Three final at Croke Park tomorrow (7.00), it will be very much in the nature of a deciding rubber.
Exactly 12 months ago the teams met in the Division Four final when the Yeats County triumphed but earlier this year the Saffrons came out on top in a league meeting at Casement Park.
While Antrim manager Liam Bradley is keen to see his side collect the silverware on offer on this occasion he is even more focussed on seeing a high level performance as the countdown begins in earnest to the Ulster Championship opener against Tyrone.
“We lost to Wexford the last day and while we were maybe a bit disappointed we would be much more annoyed if we were to lose tomorrow. All teams that get to Croke Park want to play to their maximum potential and we are no different. It’s important that we find our rhythm and that we sustain this for the Ulster Championship,” asserts Bradley.
With Michael Magill having recovered from injury and Brendan Herron and Michael McCann again bolstering the midfield, Antrim aim to play an expansive game employing their pace and penetration up front where Paddy Cunningham, James Loughrey and Tómas McCann in particular have been in fine form.
Loughrey has made a seamless transformation from wing-back to wing-forward and has had a pronounced influence on Antrim’s progress to date. Skipper Colin Brady, back in the squad after leading St Gall’s to their historic All Ireland Club title coup, will help underpin a defence in which Tony Scullion and Justin Crozier have been consistent performers to date.
Sligo manager Kevin Walsh, the former Galway All Ireland winner, is keeping his fingers crossed that
Adrian Marren, Eamonn O’Hara and Colm McGee will be available. All three are just coming back from injuries and Walsh admits that their experience could prove invaluable.
“We need players like these for an occasion like this. We have been getting some consistency lately after losing a couple of early games in the league and we would want to keep our momentum going for the Championship,” says Walsh.
Sligo are due to meet Mayo in the Connacht Championship.