When Antrim slipped out of the All Ireland Football Qualifiers last year at the hands of eventual champions Kerry, they were accorded a sympathy vote having lost to red-hot favourites Tyrone in the Ulster final just six days earlier.
But sympathy may be in rather short supply should Liam Bradley’s side fail to hurdle Kildare when the sides meet in tomorrow night’s first round Qualifier replay at Casement Park, Belfast (7.00).
No one is more aware than Bradley that the Saffrons will now be expected to maximise their home advantage having held Kildare to a draw last Saturday in Newbridge.
“We cannot afford to let Kildare off the hook this time,” observes Bradley.
“I thought during last weekend’s game that one team might win and then the other team might win it so I suppose a draw was a fair result overall.
“But Kildare missed chances and so did we. You would have to think that the team which makes the least mistakes will win tomorrow night.”
Antrim indeed are not the only team that currently find themselves under pressure to deliver.
Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney saw his side make a tame exit from the Leinster Championship before shooting a high percentage of wides against Antrim that were to prove costly in the end. Now McGeeney is seeking a big improvement from his forwards in particular as he strives to regain more security in his post.
“I was proud of the way my players stood up last Saturday because it was a hugely emotional occasion following the death of Dermot Earley senior,” said McGeeney. “The players were questioned before the game about their mental strength and character and afterwards you couldn’t question these elements.”
The poignancy of last Saturday’s contest will be replaced by rather more passion tomorrow when the Antrim defence will apply itself to the task of trying to curb John Doyle, Ronan Sweeney, James Kavanagh and Eamon Callaghan in particular in the visitors’ attack.
But the home front line with Kevin Niblock, Kevin McGourty and Paddy Cunningham there to call the shots also hope to make a big impact. Schoolteacher Cunningham gave a master-class in free-taking in the drawn game by scoring nine points but manager Bradley wants to see more scores coming from play, though.
“I feel we have players in there who are capable of taking scores,” he said. “Obviously we would be hoping that our midfield will channel out possession that will put us in attacking positions but Kildare will be out to make the next round.”