Something special about Saturday in Navan

By John ‘Curly’ McIlwaine

There was something special about Saturday in Navan when Antrim secured their Division 1 status for the third year in a row by beating Offaly in the play-off at Pairc Tailteann.

At the end of the game the Saffron fans got onto the pitch to congratulate the players, chat with fellow fans, get pics taken and bask in the good feeling of victory. Incredibly that was the first time this season they got the chance to do that, for though the team had performed well for most of the season, they still hadn’t got across the line, and there is no felling like it.

We thought we had it that day in Portlaoise when we led Laois going into injury time, but somehow contrived to throw it away, but in truth it all worked out well in the end, and the performance on Saturday against Offaly, despite being short a few regular starters, gave the whole thing a massive lift.

By the time they are back in action again in three weeks’ time the panel should be stronger overall, and it will need to be as the run of games in the Joe McDonagh Cup, coming thick and fast as they do, will test the Saffron’s resources to the limit.

Leaving home on Saturday morning I have to say the confidence levels were not high, but when Keelan Molloy broke through the Offaly defence in the opening minute I knew they were in a good place. Keelan’s run did not bring a score, but it wasn’t long until James McNaughton had the umpire reaching for the green flag, and when Keelan got in for the second goal just on half-time you knew they were in a strong position.

Even the wobble at the start of the second half didn’t really dent the confidence, and they were soon back on the front foot and began to stretch clear again. The defence were solid with Eoghan Campbell leading the line as the pivot. Big Joe Maskey revelled in his new role at midfield while the young, and not so young, guns up front were raising sparks as they threw the ball around with James, Keelan, Coby and Clarkey outstanding. But overall everyone played their part, Big Domnhall’s catch and pass to start the move for the second goal, Conor McCann’s glorious point from out on the stand sideline, and Wee Con’s energy and drive.

Those who came on also played their part, Sammy’s point from his first possession, Seaan’s burst that led to the penalty, and Clarkey’s finish, even though it was disallowed for a marginal infringement. That little lesson learned could come in useful in the McDonagh Cup campaign.

Overall a great day. Navan is a great ground where you are always made to feel welcome, and the weather also played its part. My only tinge of regret was for Offaly’s greatest supporter Mick McDonagh who follows the Faithful County all around the country, standing on the bank or terracing behind the goals at every game they play. Next to the late Frank Hogan, who spread the gospel from the terraces with his yellow sign “John 3:7”,  and the Kerry legend Buff Egan, Mick is the most famous fan in the country.  As things turned out it was to be a bad weekend for Mick for the following day he had to watch the Offaly footballers being edged out by Cork in injury time in Tullamore in another league relegation game.

Offaly’s most faithful – Mick McDonagh, watches the action from grass bank at the back of the Town goals in Pairc Tailteann, Navan

However he will be back to follow them again and no doubt we will see him in Corrigan Park in a few weeks’ time when they come up to play the Saffrons in the McDonagh Cup.    

You know things are going good when you get a Dunloy man queueing up to get a photo with a Looughgiel player at the end


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