May the GAA Gods shine their light on Antrim tomorrow!

Writing previews this week has been a bit like doing the Lotto. I spent the early part of the week previewing Antrim Minor footballers Ulster Championship quarter-final against Monaghan in Toome only for Croke Park to pull the plug on juvenile fixtures the next day.

I was annoyed at the cancelation but my disappointment pales into insignificance when I think of the disappointment that must be felt by Paddy Kelly, his coaches and the Antrim Minor panel who have worked so hard to prepare for Saturday’s fixture.

If that wasn’t enough to send us all into a state of depression then the saga involving Antrim’s (is it-isn’t it?) Division 4 NFL meeting with Waterford takes the ridiculous right to another level.

First of all we had a statement from Waterford on Wednesday that said:

‘Waterford County Board have been unsuccessful in their request to have Saturday’s Division 4 football league fixture away to Antrim postponed.

Déise county board officials were also unsuccessful in their efforts to have the venue for the game – currently fixed for Portglenone just outside Ballymena – changed.

Local radio station WLR reported on Wednesday that a small number of Waterford panellists are reluctant to make the long journey north because of Covid concerns.

It remains to be seen if Waterford will consider awarding Antrim a walkover. Waterford currently lie seventh in Division 4 and are out of the reckoning for a top-two finish, meaning this fixture is of little use to them other than serving as another competitive outing ahead of their Munster quarter-final at home to Limerick on Saturday week. Antrim sit fifth in the Division 4 table, just one point behind the four teams above them’.

Later in the week we had a second statement, Issued on behalf of the Waterford Senior Football Players and Team Management in consultation with the Management Committee of Waterford County Board.

‘At the outset, we want to first of all acknowledge the efforts by all concerned in getting the inter county season up and running, which has been greatly welcomed by all our players here in Waterford, particularly given the unprecedented times we are currently living through. We have had a fantastic response from our players to date in terms of effort, compliance with public health guidelines and everyone was looking forward to getting back playing inter-county again.

Unfortunately, having weighed up all the options and having regard to the genuine concerns of our players, we had no choice but to concede our final league match versus Antrim this weekend. This is not a decision that we have taken lightly, particularly given the fact that our game versus London scheduled for last weekend also fell victim to the Covid-19 crisis, which puts us in a very vulnerable position going into the first round of the Championship versus Limerick on Saturday 31st October, given that they will have had the opportunity of having played 2 league games.

At the end of the day, our players come first as they have put everything on the line to date to make themselves available to play for their county and irrespective of the impact our decision may have on the final league standings, the management team felt obliged to respect their health and welfare concerns in not wanting to have to travel to Antrim this Saturday for a 2pm throw-in.

We wish to acknowledge that several options were considered and proposed but for varying reasons, were not a runner.

These included a request issued to Antrim to play the game at an alternative venue closer to Dublin with a view to reducing the travel time to the game and allay any concerns that players had with travelling to the North given the current Covid-19 situation there. Unfortunately, Antrim were not able to accede to this request but had agreed to look at an alternative venue within their own County that would be closer to Dublin, which we would like to acknowledge.

The decision was reached following the withdrawal of a number of the panel members due to:

The personal family circumstances of some of the players, leading to concerns and reservations within the playing group of traveling to the Belfast area. These personal circumstances must be respected. Further, the reservations of spending a night in a hotel, coupled with the risk associated with the general exposure relating to the 24-hour period.

The employers of several players and members of the team management stipulating that a 14-day isolation period would be required on returning from Northern Ireland.

Serious consideration was given to these two major factors along with the possibility of any incidence of Coronavirus transmission to any of our traveling playing group with a turnaround time of seven days to the Munster championship.

We would like to reiterate that Waterford were and are prepared to play our final League game against Antrim at a neutral venue in the Republic and we think that given the current circumstances, this is a reasonable request.

We ask that the wider GAA and media respect our decision which was taken in the best interests and welfare of our players and management.

Waffle on a massive scale but Antrim have decided to call Waterford’s bluff however so it’s down to Dundalk tomorrow for a game that should have been played at Kelly Park, Portglenone or at the alternative venue that was offered to Waterford, Davitt Park in Belfast.

So the venue changes but the scenario remains the same. If Antrim win they will be on 9 points. If we get a result in the Wexford v Wicklow game then the winners of that will be on 10, the losers on 8. A draw here would complicate matters with score difference coming into play. We then need Sligo to draw with or defeat Limerick at Markevicz Park so our fate certainly is not in our own hands.

Other results aside the bottom line is Antrim need to win their game and after last week’s awful result in Aughrim that certainly isn’t a given.

The wheels came of the Saffron wagon last Saturday as they shipped seven goals in a heavy defeat and just what that loss will have done to team confidence remains to be seen.

They have had this week to put matters right however and the behaviour of Waterford leading up to tomorrow’s game should act as further motivation if motivation is needed.

Antrim could have sat back, took the two points and looked on as results elsewhere unfolded but Lenny Harbison and his management team felt that playing the game was more important, firstly to repair the damage suffered against Wicklow while getting another game under their belts in the lead up to the Ulster championship.

Despite that Wicklow hammering I believe Antrim will have enough in the tank to beat Waterford tomorrow and put themselves into the promotion frame. The rest is down to the GAA Gods and after a week of uncertainty and confusion, they will surely look down favourably on the Saffrons tomorrow.

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