Cunningham out to recapture winning ways
Paddy Cunningham is hoping that Antrim can rekindle the spirit of '09 when they meet Monaghan in the Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final at Casement Park on Sunday.
It was four years ago that the Saffrons reached the provincial decider with Cunningham as skipper only to lose out to a well-drilled Tyrone, before exiting the qualifiers to Kerry six days later.
"We had a good bond within that side and I'm hoping that we can adopt the same approach on Sunday. This is a new-look Antrim team, a neat mix of youth and experience, and I would like to think that we can give a good account of ourselves," says Cunningham.
He again emerged as the team's top scorer in the recent Allianz League campaign, but is anxious to see as many players as possible get on the scoresheet on Sunday.
"I wouldn't mind if I didn't get a point, as long as Antrim win," insists Cunningham. "We want to try and get into the Ulster semi-final if we can."
A 28-year-old schoolteacher, he thrives on championship football and believes "a special atmosphere" will prevail at Casement.
"I think Monaghan will come to us full of confidence after getting promotion in the league, but we will be ready for them. If the fans get behind us, there will be a special atmosphere and that can help to lift players. We have to be able to respond to the demands of the occasion," maintains Lamh Dhearg clubman Cunningham.
Last year, Antrim lost the corresponding game to Monaghan 1-12 to 1-9 before beating London and then surprising Galway in the second round of the qualifiers, when Deaghlan O'Hagan, fired over the winning point.
But their good work was undone when they slipped up against Tipperary in the next round.
"That was a real setback," recalls Cunningham. "A number of our followers travelled to the game, and we felt we let them down."
Cunningham is named at centre-half-forward in a side that boasts added scoring power now that Michael Pollock, Kevin Niblock and Brendan Herron are included.
While it remains to be seen precisely how manager Frank Dawson sets out his side, the indications are that Cunningham and Niblock in particular will be given roles close to the Monaghan posts in the hope that their finishing skills can blossom.
Herron is likely to be deployed as a third midfielder with Pollock, a fine ball-carrier, used as a link between defence and attack.
Mark Sweeney seems certain to be stationed as a sweeper to curb the threat posed by Mongahan's Paul Finlay and Conor McManus while Owen Duffy and Kieran Hughes could also ask questions of the home defence.