NFL Division 4
Sligo v Antrim
Marcievicz Park 2-00
Antrim make the trip to Marcievicz Park this Sunday buoyed by an excellent victory over Wexford on Sunday past at Glenavy and hoping to get one over a Sligo team who have been something of a nemesis over the years.
The Saffrons lost to Sligo two years ago at the same venue in the All Ireland play-offs and over the years the Connaught side have been something of a bogey side. The sides met in the NFL Division 4 finals in 2009 and 2011 with the Connaught side emerging victorious on both occasions.
Sligo played their football in division 3 last year but endured a disappointing campaign but they put 18 months of disappointment behind them with an impressive 5-9 to 0-11 win over London last Sunday to get their division 4 campaign off to a winning start.
Paddy O’Connor and Pat Hughes each scored two goals, while Darragh Cummins also saw the green flag raised.
Red Óg Murphy turned his back on a career in Aussie Rules last year and made his first league appearance for Sligo, scoring two points in his starting role.
In a blustery McGovern Park, the Yeats men raced into a 3-03 to 0-03 advantage at the break thanks to Cummins and O’Connor, while goalkeeper Aidan Devaney’s 45 was another highlight of the half as he produced a fine display.
The second period was a non-event as error-strewn London improved slightly, but two goals in 60 seconds from Hughes added gloss to the victory with the margin between the sides 13 points in the end.
An excellent result on paper but just how good London were remains to be seen and the Saffrons are likely to provide a much stiffer test for the home side on Sunday and if they can produce anything like their performance against Wexford then I believe they can come away with what could be a season defining win.
Manager Lenny Harbinson, in his third season in charge has been forced to reshuffle his pack again owing to retirements and defections to soccer but has never the less a strong panel at his disposal and most of those on duty this Sunday have at least a couple of seasons under their belts.
New to the Antrim line-up is keeper Oisin Kerr but the Creggan man had a fine National League debut last Sunday, pulling off one spectacular second half save while Meath native Mark Gardiner had a solid debut at left back and looks like a good find for the Antrim management.
Paddy Cunningham returned to the Antrim side after six years away from the Saffron setup and adds valuable experience and knowhow and his free talking and leadership qualities could be important to Antrim’s promotion chances this season.
There was another impressive debutant in Marc Jordan of Lamh Dhearg while Aghagallon pair, Eunan Walsh and Ruairi McCann were amongst Antrim’s outstanding performers, sharing Antrim’s three goals between them.
McCann has turned the promise he has shown at club level over a number of years into county form this year and has proved to be a great target man for his county over their two McKenna Cup games and again on Sunday’s league opener while Walsh covered every inch of the Glenavy pitch in a man of the match performance.
There is plenty of experience in the Antrim ranks to complement the new comers however with Ricky Johnston, Paddy Gallagher, Declan Lynch, Colum Duffin, Paddy McBride, Conor Murray and Niall Delargy having seen plenty of action in the Antrim colours over recent years while Tomas McCann will offer further experience if he has overcome a recent injury.
Both sides will have taken confidence from their respective victories on day one and Sunday’s round 2 encounter could be close but Antrim looked fit, organised and inventive at Glenavy and if they can curtail the scoring threat of O’Connor and Hughes then they should gain the win that would set them up for a strong promotion push.
Antrim team to play Sligo: Oisin Kerr, Paddy Gallagher, Ricky Johnston, Mark Gardiner, Declan Lynch James McAuley, Peter Healey, Colum Duffin, Marc Jordan, Eunan Walsh, Paddy McBride, Niall Delargy, Paddy Cunningham, Ruairi McCann, Conor Murray.