ANTRIM captain Colin Brady believes that the disappointment his team suffered in losing three finals over the course of the past year will provide an added spur to help them overcome Tyrone when the teams renew their Ulster Championship rivalry at Casement Park on Sunday.
In losing last year’s National League Division Four final to Sligo and surrendering to the Red Hands in the Ulster Championship decider, the Saffrons discovered that completing the final leg of any demanding sporting journey can be a major challenge.
Then when they were again forced to bow the knee to Sligo once more in last month’s Division Three final at Croke Park — a third defeat in their last four competitive matches — Antrim’s staying power was being questioned.
But Brady, who led St Gall’s to county, Ulster and All Ireland Club titles, is adamant that the county team has now absorbed sharp lessons in terms of what it takes to win the matches that really matter.
“”We have been on a learning curve recently — let’s face it we are still a relatively young team — and have been acquiring experience,” asserts Brady.
“I think Sligo caught us on the hop this year again and they deserved to beat us.
“We now have to improve and the place for us to show that improvement is in this first round match against Tyrone on Sunday.
“We have built any success that we have had of late through the National League but now it is important that we transfer this onto the Championship stage. We have generally tended to do all right but then fade when Championship comes round. We showed last year that we could stop this trend but now the pressure is on us to show that this was not just a one season wonder.”
Antrim’s recent league defeats by Wexford and Offaly along with that divisional setback against Sligo have hinted at deficiencies within the side but with midfielder Brendan Herron fit again and competition for places having been stepped up, Brady is in no doubt that it will be a much different Antrim side that will take the field against Mickey Harte’s men.
“We have been playing against better sides this year and despite our recent losses we had a winning mentality for the greater part of the league,” said Brady.
“I have no doubt that this will stand to us and I think that the strength in depth we have now is a bonus.
“We got out of Division Three at the first time of asking and we are now embarking on a Championship campaign with our opening game against the title-holders. That’s another big demand on us but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
He is convinced that the taste of success which Liam Bradley’s side enjoyed in the Ulster Championship last year has whetted appetites for an even bigger slice of glory this time.
“We beat Donegal and Cavan to reach the Ulster final last year and in the process we saw for ourselves what this can breed within a county and what it can lead to,” he said. “Our destiny is in our own hands against Tyrone now and we have a real hunger and desire to do even better than we did last year.”