Antrim captain Paddy Cunningham scored 11 points in this year’s Ulster football final against Tyrone yet still finished up on the losing side.
But any personal disappointment that Cunningham felt was erased to a large extent by the progress which his team achieved.
Promotion into Division Three of the National League, a championship surge that ignited the All Ireland campaign overall and the emergence of a clutch of quality players propelled the Saffrons into the national spotlight — and that’s precisely where Cunningham wants the side to remain in 2010.
Having played for UUJ for the past three years in the McKenna Cup, he will now line up with Antrim in the competition next month and is relishing the return to action.
“I played for Antrim in the McKenna Cup in my debut season with the county but since then I have been involved with UUJ.
“But now it’s back with Antrim again and we are looking forward to reproducing the form that we showed for the greater part of this year,” reveals Lamh Dhearg clubman Cunningham.
Now a teacher at St Mary’s CBS on the Glen Road, Cunningam has matured into one of the best forwards in the province but insists that manager Liam Bradley’s team ethic has underpinned Antrim’s buoyancy over the past number of months.
“Liam has always insisted that he wants the team to be playing a certain way,” Cunningham said.
“He certainly does not put the emphasis on any particular individual but prefers to work with us as a unit.
“During this year the versatility of some players became apparent and that’s all because Liam felt it would be for the good of the team as a whole,” points out Cunningham.
With Justin Crozier and James Loughrey also due to line out for Antrim — they have played for Queen’s in the McKenna Cup in recent seasons — the Saffrons will take a raft of experience into the competition.
Cunningham believes, too, that Bradley’s selection options are such that he may be able to offset the loss of his St Gall’s contingent who will be preparing for their All Ireland Club semi-final against Corofin.
“Obviously there are a number of very good players missing be
cause of this but I have no doubt that there is a depth of talent in this Antrim squad that can come to the surface,” he said.
“We were able to bring on boys from the bench this year who did an excellent job for us and they and others are likely to get a big chance now.”
Cunningham’s quiet authority as Antrim captain underpinned the team’s attitude this year — now he’s hoping to continue in the role and bring his county even more success.