Win in Aughrim vital for Antrim’s promotion hopes

Allianz Football League Division 4

Wicklow v Antrim

(Aughrim 12-30 Saturday)

Antrim travel to Wicklow this weekend knowing that anything less than a win will probably not be enough if they are to keep their hopes of promotion from division 4 alive but confident that they can come away from Aughrim with the necessary win.

Antrim’s promotion chances received a major boost when they defeated league leaders Limerick away back at the start of March and they will be hoping for a repeat of that performance when they travel to Aughrim on Saturday with throw in scheduled for 12-30.

Manager Lenny Harbison stated at the start of the season that promotion from division 4 was his primary ambition this season and that ambition is very muck within the Saffron’s reach as they make the long journey to Wicklow for the penultimate game in their league campaign.

It has been a mixed season for the Antrim footballers. They started with a good win over visitors Wexford in Glenavy and an away win in Ruislip on day two augured well for this season’s campaign but a one point defeat to Sligo at Markievicz Park in round 3 threw a spanner in the works.

The visit of Carlow in round four offered Antrim an opportunity to get their division 4 promotion bid back on track. The visitors had defeated Wicklow on day one but had struggled for results after that, losing to Wexford and Limerick.

The visitors arrived at Glenavy knowing that only a win would do and when they went 1-3 to 0-0 ahead after 15 minutes it wasn’t looking good for the home side. The introduction of Odhran Eastwood at half-time and Michael McCann during the second half saw Antrim get their game together and they pushed hard for the win in the second half but had to settle for a draw in the end.

Going into the Limerick game in Portglenone last day out, Antrim trailed league leaders Limerick by three points. Anything less than a win and it was good bye to promotion for another season but the Saffrons produced their best performance of the season and indeed for a number of seasons to comprehensively defeat previously unbeaten Limerick.

Two weeks earlier in that game against Carlow the introduction of Odhran Eastwood at half time proved an inspired substitution and it was no surprise when the St. Enda’s ‘Pocket Rocket’ was handed a starting birth against the league leaders.

Eastwood was outstanding, leading the Limerick defence a merry dance with his speed and movement and ended top scorer with 2-3 in a man of the match performance. The game also saw Paddy McBride produce his best performance of the season with the St. John’s man contributing 0-7 and looking more like his old self.

As I write this preview there is a sense of De Ja Vue. As I was preparing for the trip to Wicklow away back in March the news came through of a nationwide lockdown due to Covid-19 with all GAA fixture postponed until further notice.

A difficult time for everyone but the resumption of club fixtures and a great football and hurling championship in Antrim followed and we at the Saffron Gael were back doing what we love doing, bringing you previews and reports of all the games within the county.

Just how the lockdown will affect Antrim’s prospects this weekend remains to be seen. Momentum can be everything in sport and Antrim footballers certainly had the momentum going into that game against Wicklow so there is a sense that some of that momentum may have gone.

Against that the Antrim championship has provided the opportunity for Antrim manager, Lenny Harbison to take a look at his present panel and he has taken the opportunity of adding a number of players to his panel.

The experienced Kevin O’Boyle, Ryan Murray, Mark Sweeney and Patrick McCormick have returned to the Antrim fold but whether any of them will get a starting birth in Aughrim remains to be seen.

Two players who will have benefited from the shutdown and subsequent club championship are Cargin pair, Michael McCann and his brother Tomas. Michael came back into the Antrim fold after a couple of years in exile and played a part as a substitute in the games against Carlow and Limerick while Tomas was recovering from injury at the time but was around the panel.

Both players have been in great form during their club’s run to a three in a row championship success and would certainly add impetuous to the Antrim effort if called upon. Another player who has impressed during the club championship is Creggan keeper, Oisin Kerr so Lenny Harbison and his management team will have plenty to mull over before making their final selection for Saturday.

Antrtim will have been boosted by the announcement this week that the Casement Park development has been given approval and with their hurlers involved in a league final the following day (Sunday) against Kerry this could turn out to be a memorable weekend for Saffron Gaels.

Saturdays line-out is unlikely to show too many changes to the one who started against Limerick. The defence has pretty much picked itself throughout the league with Eastwood’s St. Enda’s colleagues Peter Healey and James McAuley turning in consistent performances all year and forming a solid half-back line with team captain Declan Lynch.

At mid-field Colum Duffin was outstanding against the Treaty men and has formed a hard working mid-field partnership with Marc Jordan while Conor Murray has been consistently good in attack and with Niall Delargy has been an ever present.

Paddy Cunningham is another player who has returned to the Antrim panel this year after a number of years in exile but after starting in the opening three games he has had to settle for a place on the bench but is another who could influence the outcome if called upon

                                                   WHAT ABOUT WICKLOW?

As we have seen, there is no such thing as an easy game in division 4 and Wicklow have mixed good performances with bad this year but are more than capable on their day. They lost to Carlow on day one, beat Waterford on day two and then raised a few eyebrows when they beat Sligo by five points at Sunday’s venue.

On day four Wicklow travelled to Limerick and were hammered by the league leaders who scored 5-10 against them but a week later they made the journey to London where they hit five goals themselves.

Wicklow’s best performances seem to have been at home and significantly they are one of three sides on six points, one behind Antrim with Wexford and Sligo the others hoping for an Antrim slip up.

Both Wexford and Sligo face difficult games when they travel to Limerick and Carlow respectively but for now Antrim will be concentrating on the Wicklow game and letting the other results take care of themselves.

The Saffrons need to produce another high intensity performance like the one they turned in against Limerick. They moved the ball with pace and always seemed to have an option when attacking while they dropped back effectively as a unit when defending and the Treaty men couldn’t cope with that intensity.

A win in Aughrim would set Antrim up nicely for their final game of the league campaign at home to Waterford and if results were to go well elsewhere could earn them promotion but for now all thoughts must be concentrated on Saturday’s visit to Wicklow.

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