Louth first up for Antrim in Division 4 North

Haggardstown familiar venue for Antrim

NFL Division 4 North

Louth v Antrim

Saturday 3-00pm

St. Geraldine’s GAC in Haggardstown won’t be too well known to Gaels outside of Louth but is never the less a familiar venue to the Antrim footballers who make their National League 2021 debut there this Sunday.

Last year the Co. Louth club came to Antrim’s aid when Waterford refused to travel to Portglenone for the final game of the league campaign, sighting Covid 19 concerns but a phone call to St. Geraldine’s chairman, Brian Cafferty set the wheels in motion.

St. Geraldine’s GFC, Haggardstown in Co. Louth proved to be an excellent venue as Antrim called Waterford’s bluff to set up a meeting with the Deise. Despite failing to gain promotion when other results went against the Saffrons, Lenny Harbision’s side gained a valuable run out to put the previous weekend’s mauling in Aughrim behind them.

Antrim were due to meet Waterford in their final NFL Division 4 fixture in Portglenone but the Leinster side raised objections during the week citing Corona virus concerns and objections to the distance they had to travel.

Antrim offered the alternative venue of Davitt’s in Belfast which would have taken 30 miles each way of the Waterford journey but they dug their heels in and refused to travel unless the game was played in the South.

A late call to the Louth club and their willingness to stage the game allowed the visitors from Leinster no more wriggle room and on Friday night the game was on again, providing Antrim with the opportunity to put the previous week’s heavy defeat to bed and restore some much needed confidence with the championship meeting with Monaghan or Cavan just two weeks away.

Where is Haggardstown? I hear you say and this scribe certainly hadn’t heard of it prior to the Waterford game but the welcome we received and the ground itself will last long in the memory. Their ground lies just 10 minutes-drive from the M1 in a lovely setting.

As we know Antrim recorded a confidence boosting win over the Deise and a useful run out before their Ulster championship opener so the journey was very worthwhile.

The game with Louth has been switched to St. Gerldine’s as work progresses on the redevelopment of the county ground in Droheda with both sides going into the league opener under new management teams.

Louth have appointed Mickey Harte as their manager with Gavin Devlin his assistant and it has been regarded as something of a scoop following the Errigal Ciaran man’s very successful 17years in charge of Tyrone and he will come face to face with former player and all Ireland treble winning player, Enda McGinley who has taken up the reins at Antrim and will have another Tyrone great as part of his management team, Steven O’Neill.

McGinley, in his first year in charge as a county manager was quick to dismiss the media coverage of the master and his pupil crossing swords as an ‘interesting story’ but insists that the real story will be played out on the field.

As a manager he is looking forward to the game and points out that Antrim have a fight on their hands to get out of division 4 and concedes to the fact that the Louth players will be giving it everything to impress their legendry manager.

With only four teams in Division 4 North, Sligo and Leitrim are the other sides, the margin for error is small and while the new Antrim management team probably wouldn’t admit it a draw would be a good result for the Saffrons while a win would set them up nicely.

Antrim face both Sligo and Leitrim at home but there will be no easy games in this division. McGinley said this week that he didn’t envisage any side going through the group unbeaten and it could come down to the last game or even score difference to decide the promotion issue.

Kevin O’Boyle and Colum Duffin have left the Antrim panel but Enda McGinley’s options have been boosted by the return of Justin Crozier, Niall McKeever, James Laverty and Paddy McCormick.

Kevin Rice and Ruairi McCann join their Creggan colleague Ricki Johnston in the panel while Pat Shivers, Conor Stewart, Luke Mulholland and Adam Loughran make the step up from the U20’s though Loughran saw some action with the seniors last year.

Ciaran Bradley is another promising young player who joins the setup for the first time and Eamon Fyfe is another exciting youngster who will be hoping for more game time this year. Paddy Cunningham, Michael McCann and Tomas McCann have thrown their hat in the ring for another season and their experience could be invaluable.

The majority of last year’s panel remain and this will be an important factor for the new management team as experience is an important factor at this level and while the Saffrons face a tough opener there is never the less every reason for optimism.

 Louth have made the journey from division 4 to division 2 and back to the basement division in recent years but are said to be buzzing following the appointment of Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin and will be bursting out of their skins to impress the Tyrone legend.

Team captain Sam Mulroy has been their go-to man in recent years and in last year’s championship scored all of their total of 1-7 in their defeat to Longford while Conor Grimes, who scored a goal against Antrim in the 2016 Division 4 final, has returned to the panel and reported to be going well.

Antrim’s last visit to Haggardstown ended with a good win over Waterford with James McAuley playing a star role from centre-half back and weighing in with two goals and a similar result on Saturday would see the Saffrons travel back up the M1 with a spring in their step.

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