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Staying power key for Antrim

By Declan Bogue

The main concern for Antrim now, quite apart from picking their way through a performance that tied itself up in knots, is to prevent players leaving the panel before the qualifiers.

This is one of the main concerns of teams that lose in the Championship and was brought into sharp focus when four Armagh players recently headed stateside after they were put out of the Ulster Championship by Cavan.

"We spoke to the players in the last couple of weeks," revealed the beaten manager, Frank Dawson, after the game.

"We stressed to them what we are building for. We stressed that we wanted everybody committed to see this year out. But these boys are amateur, they have lives.

"We hope they see what we are doing here, we hope they are enjoying what we are doing, and we hope they do stick around.

"All counties suffer from it but we want to create good, positive noises around Antrim football and Antrim county."

Getting positive feedback will be almost impossible without delivering a couple of victories first, but Dawson lives in the real world and knows that as much as anyone else.

Antrim were expected to be beaten here alright, but by a much wider margin than five points.

When he first came into the job, Dawson stated his intent was to play attacking football. That aim ended with a relegation and a porous defence throughout the league.

What they served up here was much more in keeping with the realities of modern football, so was he ambitious in initially trying to develop a blanket attack?

"It was ambitious but you only learn these things when you get in and you play gamesand you see if the system which I favour, will work.

"There is no point me having a system if I don't have the players to play it, so you have to cut your cloth accordingly. We did change."

It addressed the holes at the back, and Dawson says it is probably the way to go for his side once they regroup.

"I would be hoping that people would be giving our boys due credit for the way we played the game they did, because they were due to be beaten by 30 points today."

The loss of Kevin Niblock through injury completely ended Antrim hopes here.

"Kevin is a great leader of a line, he is a great ball-winner," said Dawson (pictured). "I had to drag him off the team.

He was coming out for the second half but it wouldn't have been fair to him.

"He already had his man on a yellow card so things were really, really looking up for us. that was a big factor for us."

Malachy O'Rourke preserved his record of never losing on the first day out in Ulster; a trend he started in his three years in charge of Fermanagh and continued here in Casement Park.

Yet there were aspects of the performance that he will wince over when he runs the tape back.

"I know all the boys would be frustrated as well because we worked hard and we came up here looking to produce a good performance and we didn't do that.

"We knew we were going to have to be patient, knew that we mightn't have a great performance but as long as we got through to the next round that was all we wanted to do.

"I know we haven't scared anyone in Ulster anyway."

It was that old unquantifiable factor – having a man sent off – that changed everything as Monaghan pulled clear of the hosts here.

"It wasn't until the sending-off that we injected a wee bit of urgency into our play and I suppose if we had have taken our chances we would have won more comfortably," added O'Rourke.

"We would be disappointed, it wasn't what we set out to do today and we will have to go back and work hard over the next few weeks and see what we can produce for the semi-final."

While O'Rourke is off to an Ulster derby semi-final against either Cavan or Fermanagh, more soul-searching is on the menu in Antrim, according to Dawson.

"One of the things we stressed to the players; we were going to go one of two ways.

"We were going to be in an Ulster semi-final or we were going to be in the qualifiers.

"We told them we aren't just building a team for the Championship, we are building a team to get us out of division four next year.

"It's a very young side. That will stand by them today.

"Anybody who is in the qualifiers, they won't want to play us."

Belfast Telegraph


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