Antrim manager Liam Bradley may have completed preparations for yesterday’s Championship clash with Tyrone against the backdrop of a cushion of optimism in balmy weather, but by the time referee Pat McEnaney sounded the final whistle a bitingly cold wind of reality had enveloped Casement Park.
There may be considerable mileage on Tyrone’s collective clock, but the craft, cohesion and inner belief amassed in negotiating what has been a long road together ultimately proved their passport into the semi-finals — a fact acknowledged by Saffrons boss Liam Bradley.
Yet he had praise for his players — and a brickbat for referee Pat McEnaney.
“I thought there were two or three very questionable decisions that went against us and they undoubtedly had an influence on the outcome of the game,” said Bradley.
“There was one in particular that when Pat looks at it again he might want to reflect on it.”
But he admitted that his side had shown Tyrone too much respect in the first-half and that the concession of two goals had left them with too much to do.
“Yet we still managed to clean them out at midfield and had we got a rub of the green in the closing stages anything could have happened,” he added.
“But you have to take your medicine. We will now look forward to the qualifiers and we would hope to get a favourable draw — if there is such a thing,” said Bradley with a wry smile.
Antrim goal-scorer Kevin Niblock offered the view that the second-half recovery had come too late, but felt that the substitutes had helped to re-invigorate the team.
“We maybe stood off Tyrone a bit early on and that did not help us,” said Niblock who won an All Ireland Club medal with St Gall’s.
“They played a spare man in defence in the first-half and that threw us a bit, but when we went man-to-man with them we performed much better.
“While I was happy to get the goal it maybe came a bit too late. There was more than a touch of déjà vu in relation to last year’s result and we are all gutted. There is no other word for it.”