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Antrim victory would be step towards Bradley reproducing previous successes

BY Declan Bogue

Returning to the scene of previous triumphs is normally best avoided, so sporting wisdom dictates.

And what else could Liam Bradley's first spell with Antrim – who face Fermanagh in Brewster Park tomorrow – be seen as at this remove, other than a glowing triumph?

Leave aside the wobble of his third season with the Saffrons, when it all went a bit flat for players and management together.

What you are left with are a sequence of tonics for the self-esteem of those involved in the advancement of Antrim football.

Winning promotion from Division Four was secured in 2009, but they metaphorically 'took a dive' in the final against Sligo. Bradley, aware that John Joe Doherty was present and giving analysis live on TG4 , did not give the-then Donegal manager a sniff of his future tactical approach to their future Championship opponents.

Then there was the pre-Championship press evening, which was only attended by a couple of reporters. Bradley told his players that the media, and by extension everyone else, did not respect them and they would have to get respect for themselves. Others would insist that the evening was barely publicised and deliberately kept under wraps.

Either way Antrim won the game, then the Ulster semi-final against Cavan and made it to an Ulster final. They became a feared side as Kerry just slipped out of their jaws in a qualifier in Tullamore.

Further progress was made in 2010 with promotion to Division Two. The momentum stalled somewhat in 2011, but 2012 still brought another big-game scalp, this time Galway away in the qualifiers.

While his return was unexpected, this year's league campaign was tepid.

Bradley has regularly been bullish about the prospects of his teams, and proclaimed at the outset of the Division Four campaign: "We want to get out of Division Four. That will be our priority. Teams can only challenge themselves by playing at a decent level and we know the importance of gaining promotion."

Four defeats in their first five matches soon had him re-adjusting his views. They wrote off their league campaign, before Bradley made a bold move in banishing CJ McGourty from his panel, which triggered walk-outs from his St Gall's clubmates Michael Pollock and Chris Kerr.

But the Glenullin man has always favoured a bold approach.

In assessing their chances, he said: "The work and effort these guys have put in the last five weeks has been colossal and Fermanagh are no world beaters.

"It's a game Fermanagh know they can win, but it's a game we know we can win.

"Let's be realistic, we were in Division Four, Fermanagh were in Division Three and playing a higher grade of football.

"When the draw was made at the start of the year who did everyone want? The Saffrons. And Antrim would've been looking to get Fermanagh."

Those comments ran midweek in one of the local newspapers in Fermanagh and although players and management like to maintain the facade that they read nothing in the papers in the lead-up to games, it is only that; a facade.

The line about not being world-beaters is sure to prick at the pride of the Fermanagh panel. Pound-for-pound, there is nothing to really choose between the two teams as sets of footballers, as evidenced by last year's draw in the National League.

But there is something foreign to the GAA about making such pronouncements. Perhaps that is part of Bradley's plan to unsettle Fermanagh, along with a couple of curious inclusions in the team named during the week. Whatever the masterplan is, we are only hours away from seeing it.

* PETE McGrath has named his Fermanagh team to face Antrim in the first round of the Ulster Championship tomorrow.

Barry Owens has been selected to start at full-forward. Alongside him, Sean Quigley has taken a spot in the corner.

FERMANAGH (USFC v Antrim): C Snow; J Woods, L Cullen, C Cullen; D McCusker, R McCluskey, T McElroy; E Donnelly (Capt), R O'Callaghan; E Maguire, R Jones, P McCusker; S Quigley, B Owens, T Corrigan

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