Could-Should and now Must at Semple Stadium

Tipperary v Antrim

Allianz Football League Division 3-Round 3

Semple Stadium-6-00pm Saturday

Antrim travel to Semple Stadium on Saturday to take on a Tipperary side, who like themselves have suffered defeat in their opening two Allianz Football League Division 3 fixtures.

The fixtures Gods have been extremely unkind to Antrim in fixing this game for 6.00pm on a Saturday evening and the long trip to Tipp will see those fans dedicated enough to make the trip returning home near mid-night.

Whatever the reason for the late start, Antrim will have their eyes firmly set on a fixture that takes on added importance for Saturday’s opponents who have both lost their opening two games in this year’s competition.

Antrim ‘could’ have taken something from their opening game against Offaly at Corrigan Park when they staged a strong second half comeback to reel in the Leinster side and had a strong penalty claim waved away with the game finely balanced.

They were caught on the counter-attack late in the game however with Offaly breaking for a late goal that gave the visitors a rather flattering 2-12 to 0-12 win.

A week later Antrim travelled to Pairc Esler to play a Down side who have been receiving rave reviews this season, and rightly so, and ‘should’ have won despite some bookmakers installing the Mourne men as 1 to 8 favourites.

Andy McEntee’s side came mighty close to smashing those odds when they deservedly led by five with only five minutes remaining but Antrim failed to see out the game and paid a heavy price.

Down hit 1-3 in the closing stages to pip Antrim by the minimum but McEntee will certainly have been encouraged by the performance if not the result.

The former Meath manager took over an Antrim side decimated by retirements and injuries at the start of the season and has run his eye over quite a number of players in both the McKenna Cup and in that league opener to Offaly three weeks ago.

Despite losing his opening McKenna Cup and league games there were encouraging signs that Antrim were getting close to their best line-up at Pairc Esler in a game where some of their attacking play was breath taking.

Unfortunately Dermot McAleese suffered a broken cheekbone in the opening ten minutes of that game while Kevin Small was only able to play the opening half and Pat Shivers limped out of the game in the second half with what looked like a tight hamstring.

McAleese looks like missing the rest of the season but hopefully Kevin Small and Pat Shivers will have benefited from the two week break and will be available for selection at Semple Stadium.

Michael Byrne had an excellent game against Down and I wouldn’t expect too many changes in defence with Sean Og O’Neill, who replaced McAleese in Newry hoping to get the nod again.

Aghagallon’s Adam Loughran made his full debut against Down while his club colleague, Ruairi McCann was the star of the Antrim attack with the big full-forward scoring both Antrim goals and both are likely to be given the nod in an attack that is likely to feature along similar lines to the last day.

While Antrim can feel somewhat unfortunate not to have points on the board after two rounds, Tipperary will certainly feel they should have had something from their opener against Down where they were in contention going down the home straight before losing 1-11 to 2-11.

They travelled to Breffni Park last day out to face Mickey Graham’s Cavan and came badly unstuck against a side who have opened their division 3 campaign impressively after gaining promotion from division 4 last year and I fancy the Breffni men to be challengers for the division 3 title.

Sean O’Connor’s fetch and finish – after an inviting centre by Teddy Doyle – was a goal that ought to have formed a springboard for Tipp. Instead, it was an effort which was the cue for a long run for home by the hosts.

Cavan came back strongly however with centre-back Dara McVeety whose three excellent first-half points were pivotal to engineering a clear path to victory.

Mikey O’Shea’s neat effort (28) broke a 16-minute barren period for the visitors but even at that stage, the writing was on the wall for the Premier county and just how much this heavy defeat will have affected them remains to be seen.

Both sides will be keen to get their first points on the board and defeat for either would see them looking nervously over their shoulders at relegation but Antrim have shown steady improvement since the start of the season and if they can produce anything like their performance last day out in Newry, then they can come away from Tipperary with both points.

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