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Loughrey aims high to ensure Saffrons reach next level

By Declan Bogue

As if they hadn’t enough excitement and drama for one night, Antrim’s James Loughrey, Kevin Niblock and Mark Sweeney decided to round off the evening by watching ‘Spiderman’ in the cinema.

“Sweeney picked well for once!” joked his St. Brigid’s clubmate Loughrey, before acknowledging how draining their late, late show against Galway was; “There wasn’t much talk out of us going home.”

That win over the Tribesmen put Antrim into the last 16 teams in this All-Ireland series, and they were presented with another big opportunity to progress, when they were matched with Tipperary (Saturday, 3pm). The two sides already met this season in Semple Stadium, the Saffrons coming home with the points on a scoreline of 1-13 to 0-13.

“We have played them there already this year,” recounts Loughrey, “and we were lucky to get out with a win. We were lucky, very, very relieved to be leaving the place with a win. I think they had lost a couple of games before that so were on a bit of a downer as well.

“They have a new manager (Peter Creedon) in, and I would say they will be raring to go, having beaten Wexford.”

Modesty prevents Loughrey from adding that Antrim were full value for their win that evening, with a spell either side of the half-time break bringing seven consecutive points that laid the foundation of their win.

Neither does he mention the 1-1 that he scored.

Make no mistake, Antrim have a brilliant chance of winning this game, and then meeting the losers of the Ulster final, a game normally staged at Croke Park.

It would represent another step in the development of the county under Liam Bradley, who have endured enough hard-luck stories to last them.

“When you have had the luck we have had in the qualifiers;” explains Loughrey, “Kerry down in Tullamore, and then the Kildare match, the Down match last year, we know what it’s like to be beaten in the qualifiers but as a group we felt that, especially in the Kildare match in Newbridge when it went to extra-time and we drew with them, we felt that it was one that definitely got away so we know how it feels to be on the wrong side of things.

“We are just relieved to be sitting in on a Saturday night, looking forward to the draw.”

Another big tie of the weekend features the two combatants in the ‘Team of the Decade’ debate of the noughties. Mickey Harte (left) and his Tyrone men travel to Kil

larney to meet Kerry in a mouthwatering fixture.

The sides haven’t met in a competitive fixture since March 27, 2010 in Healy Park. On that Saturday night, Tyrone took advantage of the temporary rule that the ball had to go dead before the final whistle could be blown.

With waves of constant Tyrone pressure, Colm Cavanagh got his fist to the ball to score a goal and steal the points off the visitors. The nature of that game proved that anything can happen between these two sides, a point stated by veteran goalkeeper Pascal McConnell. “This fierce rivalry with

Tyrone and Kerry” he said, “I think that’s put to bed now when you see it’s quite a while since we played each other. It’s two years, but it seems a lifetime. Both teams have had changes, fellas moved on, fellas retired and stuff like that.

“[But] we have to be realistic about the thing, it’s a place in the next round that is at stake.”

Already, the bookmakers have installed Kerry as heavy favourites, on odds of 8/15.

But given how they struggled against Westmeath they need to significantly improve their performance.

McConnell acknowledges as much when he says, “Kerry have taken a lot of criticism for their performances this year, a lot of analysts have been on their back, about the football Kerry are capable of playing but they are just not doing that.

“Kerry always respond in a professional manner to criticism like that. They’ve done it time and time before and that’s why they are regarded as the top team in the country.”

As the winners of this game meets the loser of the Munster final in Clare, it will be virtually certain that Tyrone or Kerry will progress to the All-Ireland quarter-final, a stage that has proved a bridge too far for the Red Hands in recent years.

Kildare, fresh from their win over Cavan meet Limerick, while Leitrim will be hosting Justin McNulty’s Laois side, who put Monaghan to the sword.

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