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Saffrons should pause to reflect on their achievement

By Declan Bogue

Without a win all year, Antrim finally came good against Offaly on Sunday to preserve Division 1B status.

With the game played in Ballycastle, it got a decent crowd with something at stake. A win was secured seven days after Antrim manager Kevin Ryan fielded a shadow side in their dead-rubber encounter and were eaten alive.

Afterwards, Offaly manager Brian Whelehan was the picture of devastation, giving off about his players rolling over.

Eaten bread being as soon forgotten as it is, all eyes now turn to Antrim's first game in the qualifying series for the Leinster Championship. It's as if the win over Offaly never happened.

While Antrim hurling sides have never had a fear-factor of Offaly, it cannot be said that they had a particularly good record against them. Since the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final, wins have been far and few between, the last one springing to memory being in the Walsh Cup several seasons ago.

For now, Ryan and his players should recognise the scale of their achievement, and how a season that on the face of it brought no league wins, proved to be a huge success in gaining experience.

Elsewhere, this Sunday brings the final league fixtures and a number of tasty conundrums.

Armagh are in grave danger of relegation to Division Three. It seems unlikely that they will beat Donegal -- even at home -- and therefore they have to hope Down can manage to steady their form to beat a relegation-threatened Laois.

Monaghan should account for Galway, therefore leaving the Division Two final a repeat of last year's Ulster final.

If Laois should win they would leap-frog both Armagh and Galway, leaving them stranded on five points. But because Galway beat Armagh in their league meeting, that would send the Orchard County down.

Barring a freak result, Derry are already home for the league semi-finals. The game that is sure to cause most of a stir is Dublin's visit to Healy Park. End-of season fixtures are treated by Tyrone as a family fun day with balloons and an emphasis on enhancing the matchday for children.

Last year this worked exceptionally well. Their league semi-final place was guaranteed before we sat back and watched Kerry produce mesmerising football.

Afterwards, children and Tyrone players mingled freely. On Monday, the trailers around the entrances to Omagh were advertising this weekend's fixture, urging a big support.

Dublin in Omagh with something at stake. Yeah sure it's the league, but what a game to wrap things up.

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