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Paddy Cunningham thriving with Antrim return

Perhaps it was just coincidence but when Paddy Cunningham quietly slipped into the shadows last summer Antrim’s football fortunes suddenly nose-dived.

The optimism fermented through All-Ireland qualifier victories over London and Galway suddenly evaporated when Tipperary proved their masters in the third round at Thurles.

The subsequent departure of manager Liam Bradley brought the curtain down on what had been a feisty four-year spell during which Antrim reached the Ulster final in 2009 only to fall to a more experienced Tyrone side.

Cunningham captained the team against the Red Hands before leading them out against Kerry in the All-Ireland qualifiers six days later when defeat again was their lot.

So when the 27-year-old schoolteacher took his leave of the squad last July, it was assumed in some quarters that his association with Antrim had come to a permanent end.

But Bradley’s successor Frank Dawson had other ideas. Cunningham found himself summoned to the county table again and was glad to answer the call.

On Sunday he showed that his scoring touch had not deserted him by landing four points in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup win over UUJ and now he’s set to become reacquainted with Tyrone.

“I am delighted to be back in the Antrim squad again and it’s great to be facing Tyrone,” says Cunningham, “Obviously I was very proud to lead my county against the Red Hands in the 2009 Ulster final and we stayed with them for two-thirds of that game.

“Now we are very strongly focused on next Sunday’s meeting with them and this will provide us with a real test of our ability.”

Manager Dawson concedes that the Saffrons will need to up their performance if they are to counter the power of Tyrone.

While reluctant to pinpoint any particular player as a marked boost, Dawson clearly has Cunningham among others in mind when he says: “There are a number of players back who have not been playing for Antrim lately and I’m delighted that they have made a fresh commitment.”

Belfast Telegraph