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Antrim have the goods to pull off a shock against Down

By Declan Bogue

A couple of years back, the great, good, mediocre and jaded of the GAA press corps descended upon the training ground of an Ulster county to gather up their quotes ahead of a Championship game.

In the round-table discussion with the manager, he made light of recent injury scares. Reports circulating estimated the list perhaps a dozen strong, the panel decimated by a freakish run of ailments and knocks.

He did his best to convince us that the next day we would see them, they would bring fire and brimstone. We left the interview convinced a cracker was in store.

Only when we retreated to the comfort of accessible Wifi to file our reports for the evening, we had a clear and unblemished view of the training field. A tiny group of players ran through a number of drills before settling on a game of seven-a-side. We had been duped. The team were subsequently hammered in their game.

A manager's job is to convince his players that they are in with a serious shout. Without belief, they would have nothing.

As a result, team press nights are awash with optimism. Players are full of smiles and radiate positivity, kitted out in fresh boots and in increasingly lurid training kit.

So it was in Randalstown last night, though manager Lenny Harbinson had already made his way to Dunsilly to prepare for a training session.

Antrim players are usually a cheery bunch anyway, not the type to outwardly appear uncertain of themselves.

The thought gripped though that in this Championship, they could have a serious chance in their quarter-final against Down.

Last year's Ulster finalists got there in a fashion nobody had expected. After narrowly avoiding relegation for the second year running, they beat a fancied Armagh side, before producing - let's face it - something of a rare shock in Ulster when they beat Monaghan in the semi-final.

They might have been expected to push on from there. However, the loss of Aidan Carr and Mark Poland to retirement, with Jerome Johnston being absent for the league campaign, saw them slide into the third tier, despite accruing more points in this campaign than last.

Down's progress is hard to gauge but there does not seem to be a pile of positivity around the place in Eamonn Burns' third year.

A rare Saturday night Championship game in Newry - 10 days from now - might just be the type of thing that gets them up for it, and the impact that former Antrim joint-manager Gearoid Adams can have as Down selector now could be decisive.

But this game, should Antrim bring the appetite for it, is set up for a shock.

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