Antrim dip their toes in Tailteann waters in Carrick on Shannon

Tailteann Cup first round

Leitrim v Antrim

Carrick on Shannon-Saturday 2-00pm

Antrim dip their toes in the inaugural Tailteann Cup waters this Saturday when they travel to Carrick on Shannon to face a Leitrim team who are sure to provide a serious challenge in front of a strong home support at Sean MacDiarmada Park.

Antrim played their football in division 3 of the National League this year while Leitrim won four out of their seven starts in division 4 so that would suggest that the Saffron’s were playing at a higher level in the league and indeed they were still in the promotion shakeup for a place in division 2 going into the final round of games but failed to get over the line.

Leitrim finished fourth in division 4 but a closer look at their results in the 2022 league campaign would suggest they are a serious threat. They lost by four points to Cavan in the opening game of the league by 0-12 to 0-8 but recorded an excellent away win to Tipperary next day out, beating the eventual division 4 finalists by 8 points in Thurles.

A week later they lost at home to a London team who were going well at the time but recorded good wins away to Waterford and Carlow and a home win over Wexford before losing in their final game away to Sligo.

The last time these two teams met was back in May 2021 in the league in Division 4 North when Antrim led at one stage by 11 points but it took a late Tomas McCann point to get Antrim out of jail after the Connaught side staged a remarkable comeback.

During the week I spoke to Antrim manger Enda McGinley, now in his second season in charge of the Saffrons after leading them to promotion from division 4 in his first season and I asked him about his thoughts on the Tailteann Cup and on Saturday’s opponents, Leitrim and of Antrim’s championship defeat to Cavan.

“Looking ahead to the Leitrim game and obviously the first game in the Tailteann Cup there is the opportunity for the lads to not end the season on the bitterly disappointing performance of the Cavan game.  That was a day when, if there was a wrong note to be hit we managed to hit it.  Such days happen individuals and teams in sport – no matter what level they are at in their respective games.  It doesn’t make it any easier to take or lessen the sick feeling you are left with after such games but it does remind you that you have to be resilient against such blows if wanting to progress.  Then there is the reality of what Cavan produced and the work they have put in right from their dominant period at U21 level to get there.  It was a sobering reminder of the consistent work over multiple seasons and management setups required by any squad in trying to achieve significant progress”

“That sets the scene for the Tailteann cup, where like most teams in it we come in to it off the back of a disappointment.  It is a test of the ambition of the team to regroup and get back at training retaining belief in their own abilities and a hunger to rise to the challenge again.  To be honest we are delighted regarding the renewed effort we have seen from the group.  It took a bit of time to get going as you would expect but the last few weeks have been great.  It’s just up to us to try to make sure we get another few weeks by getting over Leitrim.  Taking them on down there, with the crowds they are getting out this year will be a big challenge.  They played a lot of good football and got some great results in the league.  They’ve got several key players back in who weren’t available last year and particularly up front with the likes of the O’Rourke’s, Ryan and Riordan, Darragh Rooney and Shane Moran to go alongside their two main threats from last year, Mark Plunkett and Keith Beirne they carry an increased threat under Andy Moran.  And of course they’ve still the likes of Evan Sweeney who came off the bench and done such damage last year and Emlyn Mulligan to call upon.”

“So it’s definitely a challenge but it’s one we are glad to have the opportunity to take on.  Squad wise, Ronan Boyle, Eunan Walsh, Tomas McCann and Marty Johnston have stepped away for various reasons while Mick McCann, James McAuley and Seamus McGarry won’t be available through injury.  Suppose that sounds like a lot and in many ways it is but the squad we have training there at the minute is very good and we’ve taken five U20s up onto the squad, Conall McGirr, Calum Higgins, Cathal Hynds, Sean O’Neill and Aidan McAleese who have proven a great addition as well which feels like a real bonus to be honest.  We’ll look to change the team a bit as there have been lads who have been pushing all year and are due more of a chance than maybe they have got up until now.  The Tailteann Cup is an opportunity.  It’s up to us to make the very most of it we can” the manager concluded.

So the Antrim management have embraced the Tailteann Cup and the opportunity it has provided for further football this year and will be keen to get a run in it but Leitrim will not provide them with an easy passage and the Saffrons will need to be at their best to advance.

The above mentioned absentees from their lineout provides an opportunity for those who have been on the fringe of the team during the league and if those players can step up to the plate on Saturday then Antrim can advance to the next round.

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