Belfast Telegraph

Battling Antrim deserve more credit rather than insults

By Declan Bogue

Put yourself in the shoes of a young Antrim footballer this week.

On Sunday, your team played a very deliberate gameplan against Monaghan and you lost by five points, 0-11 to 0-6.

Had the scoreline been something like 3-11 to 1-12, your performance would have been praised and the critics would have suggested that if you could tighten the defence a little, you would be a team to look out for in the backdoor.

Antrim played to a plan and for long periods it worked exceptionally well. Consider Monaghan's forward line of Chris McGuinness, Paul Finlay, Conor McManus and Kieran Hughes.

Then imagine Tommy Freeman and Jack McCarron coming off the bench to run at you in the final minutes.

It's a frightening prospect.

Yet the Antrim rearguard restricted that offence to a mere 11 points. Monaghan may have shot 17 wides, but that was a by-product of not having the time to steady yourself, or else shooting under pressure.

Up top, their most important ball winner was Kevin Niblock and when he went off injured at half-time, Antrim's chances of making the game competitive to the end went with him.

Still, there were only five points in it at the end. Something to build on? Grounds for some kind of optimism?

Instead, your game was the only fixture in Ulster that wasn't televised live.

On the sofa down in Dublin, Pat Spillane and Kevin McStay giggled at your attempts to play football. Spillane laughed at you. Laughed!

Never mind that you might have put your body through the wringer at training. That you abstained from the kind of food that Pat can enjoy at will, that you barred the drink for months on end so that you could be the best you could be.

Newspapers produce freshly-minted phrases to insult you. Website chat rooms? Don't even go there.

When you flick on your Facebook or Twitter, your senses are assaulted by images of your cousins and mates in Sydney, Melbourne, New York or San Francisco, sitting in shorts enjoying a barbecue and some frothy ones. The glow on their faces speaks of a life of enjoyment, while you are at home, expending energy in a not-so glorious cause.

A call comes through from somebody connected with a club in Chicago or New York or Boston. A job. Some cash. An apartment for the summer.

And all you have to do is train and play with their club.

Some lads will have their head turned. Some already have and have left for the USA.

Somehow, this is suddenly the fault of a Frank Dawson, or a Brian McIver or a Paul Grimley. It is said that the players weren't "buying in" to what you laid out, even though they dedicated their life for the previous eight months to it.

News articles will appear, knives will be sharpened before opinion pieces are written.

But ask yourself this. If you were in their position and offered the same at their age, would you have gone?

I know I would have.

Belfast Telegraph


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