Antrim secure promotion in heady days of 2010

 Just a few weeks ago Antrim supporters were looking forward to a trip to Wicklow for a National Football league game. Not a fixture that would normally have seen the Saffron followers travel in great numbers to the Garden County but this one was different.

The long suffering Antrim supporters had seen their dreams of promotion from division 4 shattered a number of times in recent years but a superb win on day five of this year’s league campaign brought about a confidence that this year we would get the job done.

There have been many false dawns before of course but that victory over previously unbeaten Limerick at Portglenone and more importantly, the manner of the victory was the reason for the new feel good factor.

A win away to Wicklow would have seen Lenny Harbinson’s side with one foot in division 3 and with just one more game after that, at home to Waterford it was looking good for the Saffrons.

Covid-19 put Antrim’s promotion hopes on temporary hold and what will happen if or when the leagues resume is open to much speculation and at present we have much more urgent and compelling matters to think about as we deal with this terrible pandemic.

Harbison and Frank Fitzsimmons before him, have done a good job in difficult circumstances in rebuilding an Antrim side who have been starved of success since those heady days of 2009 and 2010 where Antrim reached an Ulster Championship final and gained promotion to division 2.

Today we are going to look back at that memorable 2010 NFL campaign which saw ‘Baker’ Bradley’s side beat Sligo at Casement Park in their opening game and go on to top the division 3 table before losing to the Yates County in the league final at Croke Park.

Paddy Cunningham has been recalled to the Antrim panel this year as was Michael and Thomas McCann and all three were prominent in the 2010 campaign. Cunningham scored 1-5 in that opening game against Sligo on February 7th while Michael McCann weighed in with three points as the Saffrons prevailed 1-12 to 0-14 winners against a very good Sligo team.

Antrim Scorers v Sligo:

P Cunningham 1-5 (1-0 pen, 2f); M McCann 0-3 (1f); D O’Hagan, C Close, M Magill, G O’Boyle 0-1 each.  

It was away to Breffni Park on day two and Antrim proved much too good for a Cavan side who had suffered defeat to them in the 2009 Ulster semi-final and this win proved even more emphatic than the championship win in Clones. Cunningham matched his 1-5 from day one with 0-8 while Thomas McCann impressed with 1-3 with his Cargin colleagues, Michael Magill 1-0, Michael McCann and Tony Scullion completing the scoring.

Antrim scorers v Cavan:

P Cunningham 0-8 (4f), T McCann 1-3, M Magill 1-0, M McCann, T Scullion 0-1 each  

Antrim had certainly hit the ground running and when Fermanagh visited on March 6th they had no answer to a slick moving Saffron side who continued to impress as they remained top of the division, Paddy Cunningham continued to find the target, both from play and frees and added 0-7 to bring his tally to 1-20 in three games with the Cargin contingent again to the fore and James Loughery and Conor Murray getting their name on the score-sheet.

Antrim Scorers v Fermanagh:

P Cunningham 0-7 (0-4f), M Magill, T McCann 0-2 each, G O’Boyle, C Close, J Loughrey, K O’Boyle, C Murray 0-1 each  

The Saffrons appeared to be facing their toughest test since round 1 when they made the long journey to Hyde Park to face Roscommon on day four of the league and so it proved to be but Baker’s men prevailed in a tight encounter running out 0-14 to 0-12 winners. Again the irrepressible Cunningham led the way with 0-9 as expectations of promotion to division 2 grew.

Antrim Scorers v Roscommon:

P Cunningham 0-9 (0-5f), M McCann, K Close 0-2 each, M Magill, J Crozier, J Loughery 0-1 each

Those promotion hopes took their first setback when they hit the road again for another away fixture against Offaly and despite a Paddy Cunningham goal from the penalty spot it was the Leinster side who prevailed by the narrowest of margins, 1-8 to 1-7.

Antrim Scorers v Offaly:

P Cunningham 1-6 (1-0 pen, 0-3f), B Herron, C Close 0-1 each

It was back to Casement on day six with Antrim determined to get back to winning was following their setback against Offaly when the ‘Wee’ county visited. Louth had been going well in the league and a win in Belfast would have kept them very much in the promotion race but they came up against an Antrim side who’s pride had been wounded in Offaly.

Cunningham’s fine vein of scoring continued with another 1-6 and a goal from Justin Crozier propelled Antrim to a convincing 2-14 to 2-6 win over a Louth side who battled hard but were well beaten in the end.

Antrim Scorers v Louth:

P Cunningham 1-6 (5f), M McCann 0-3, J Crozier 1-0, G O’Boyle, T McCann 0-2 each, K Niblock 0-1  

Antrim’s final game in the 2010 saw them travel to Wexford with nothing less than a massive defeat guaranteeing them a place in the 2010 division 3 final. Despite a determined performance by a Ciaran Lyng led Wexford, the visitors kept in touch right to the final whistle before losing their second game of the campaign 1-11 to 0-12 but still topped the table on score difference to join Sligo in the league final.

Antrim Scorers v Wexford:

P Cunningham 0-4 (0-3f), M McCann, B Herron 0-2 each, T O’Neill, J Loughrey, G O’Boyle, T McCann 0-1 each

Antrim75026–915–70+2410Advanced to final and promoted to Division 2 for 2011
Fermanagh71064–617–86–342Relegated to Division 4 for 2011

Sligo gained revenge for that opening day defeat in Belfast when they defeated Antrim in that 2010 league final in Croke Park but promotion to division 2 had been secured and the future of Antrim football looked bright.

Things have slipped since then with a lot of that very good Antrim side stepping away from duty and today the Saffrons play their football in division 4. Antrim have come close to a promotion place over the last number of years and hopefully when we get over the Coronavirus they can regain the momentum that was very much with them prior to the postponement of the leagues and gain that much needed promotion to division 3.

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