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Ulster bosses desperate for a timely boost

By John Campbell

The All-Ireland football qualifiers may be regarded as a safety net of sorts but there is certainly no escape from the oven-like championship pressures.

For three Ulster managers in particular — Frank Dawson (Antrim), Peter Canavan (Fermanagh) and Paul Grimley (Armagh) — their teams’ involvement in the competition this weekend could yet have serious repercussions for their personal stock.

And while Derry boss Brian McIver and his Tyrone counterpart Mickey Harte can perhaps breathe a little easier, any Oak Leaf slip-up against Sligo, particularly now that PJ McCloskey is available again, would be viewed as nothing short of catastrophic while a third successive competitive defeat for the Red Hands by lowly Offaly is simply unthinkable.

For Dawson, Canavan and Grimley, though, this could prove a defining weekend for them and their teams.

With Antrim’s hurling stock currently at a particularly low ebb Dawson’s football squad get the opportunity to reclaim a ration of credibility for the county when they oppose Aidan O’Rourke’s ambitious Louth outfit at Drogheda on Saturday.

Against Monaghan in the Ulster Championship, Antrim’s feeble second-half offering triggered depression and this is now accompanied by apprehension as Louth loom large on the horizon.

Quite simply, the Saffrons can’t afford to lose this one.

Dawson is clinging to the hope that Kevin Niblock might be available to pull the strings in his attack and may yet amend his defence with a view to keeping a Wee County attack in which Brian White and Shane Lennon have been revealing predatory skills of late in check.

Louth’s 10-point drubbing of Laois was followed by a surprise reverse against Wexford in front of a full house at Drogheda and now manager O’Rourke, an All-Ireland medal winner with Armagh in 2002, is taking every precaution to ensure that lightning does not strike twice at the same venue within a month.

Fermanagh boss Canavan can also expect little solace at Cusack Park, Mullingar where a Westmeath side still hurting following their chastening experience against Dublin in the Leinster championship will be lying in wait.

Canavan’s morose bearing following his team’s eclipse by Cavan in the Ulster Championship confirmed his displeasure at his side’s performance and Westmeath’s lively strike force comprising Dennis Glennon and Dessie Dolan are likely to do little to improve the Tyrone legend’s outlook.

Fermanagh will need to carry greater penetration and show a more marked ability to protect possession if they are to extend their summer itinerary.

Armagh’s well-chronicled defensive frailties against Cavan have been a source of embarrassment to Paul Grimley for the past month but he views Sunday’s clash with Wicklow at the Athletic Grounds as redemption day.

Should this indeed prove the case, then the orchard county will begin to see a shaft of light appear at the end of what is currently a long, dark tunnel.

Capitulation to Wicklow, whose grit and resilience were in evidence in a valiant display against Meath, would serve to set the Orchard county back still further.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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