With less than a month to go before the start of the Ulster senior football championship there could hardly be a more contrasting build-up for the two teams who will launch the series.
Donegal will host Antrim in Ballybofey on May 15 but while Jim McGuinness’s side will further hone their competitive edge by taking on Laois in next Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division Two final at Croke Park, Antrim are not only coming to terms with relegation to Division Three but are burdened by major injury worries.
C J McGourty is due to undergo surgery for his hip problem ten days before the game and will be a non-starter while key defender Andrew McClean and midfield ace Michael McCann are both rated at no more than 50/50 to play any part in the contest.
In addition, dynamic wing-back Tony Scullion is still recovering from the serious leg injury he sustained at work.
But on a more encouraging note Kevin Niblock and skipper Kevin O’Boyle expect to be fit for the MacCumhaill Park showdown while Kevin McGourty will return from suspension to augment the Antrim attack. It is also expected that Aaron Douglas will be available again after serving a one-month ban.
Yet although confronted by problems, Antrim manager Liam Bradley remains philosophical.
He said: “Obviously we would have anxieties about some players at this point in time but we will see how things go.
“Every manager wants to be able to put his best team out at this time of the year and I am no exception to that. We had big injury problems during the closing stages of the league.
“I would be hoping that the fans will be treated to good quality football during the championship. If referees don’t start to let the game flow a bit then this is going to affect crowds.
“People don’t want to pay good money to watch the sort of pernickety stuff we have been witnessing lately. Frees are being blown far too often.”
Bradley’s views have been endorsed by other managers although Tyrone’s Mickey Harte still takes issue with the fact that frees were NOT blown when his side faced Laois in their concluding league game.
The Red Hands were denied two blatant late frees that, had they been awarded, might well have proved their passport into Sunday’s divisional final.
But Harte is today much more concerned with the injuries that experienced duo Joe McMahon and Enda McGinley picked up in club matches at the weekend.
His Armagh counterpart Paddy O’Rourke will welcome Ciaran McKeever back for the game against Down for which he now has enhanced midfield options.