Trip to Longford not a dead rubber-McEntee

Longford v Antrim

Allianz NFL Division 3

Glennon Bros Pearse Park Sunday 2.00pm

Antrim’s spectacular win over league toppers, Cavan at Corrigan Park last Saturday earned them a place in division 3 for the 2024 season and removed he pressure of travelling to Pearse Park in Longford needing a win to preserve their division 3 status

However when I spoke to manager, Andy McEntee after the Cavan game he told me that he didn’t regard Sunday’s visit to Longford as a dead rubber but rather as an opportunity to build momentum as they prepare for their Ulster championship opener against Armagh in a couple of weeks-time.

Antrim were forced to make a number of changes for the Cavan game because of injuries to key players with Jack Dowling and Patrick McCormick coming into the starting line-up and Paddy McBride returning after a lengthy layoff because of a finger injury and McEntee hinted that these players deserve another chance, given the Cavan result.

Declan Lynch was another who returned to the Antrim side and had an excellent game at full-back while Peter Healey and Seamus McGarry saw some late action and Pat Shivers, Ryan Murray and Conor Stewart will be amongst those hoping to get some game time in Longford.

The sides last met on March 12th 2022 when Antrim were still pushing for a promotion place and Antrim recorded a good win that day at Corrigan Park but in the end missed out on promotion.

Five years earlier the sides met at the same venue with division 3 survival the prize and on that occasion with Longford emerging as winners by a single point.

Today we look back at those two games and the reports that appeared in the Saffron Gael as we look forward to the trip to Pearse Park and hopefully another win to build on the Cavan result.

Longford are already relegated but put up a mighty fight against Down in Newry last time out and will be playing for pride and Antrim should not take them lightly but I feel the Saffrons can build on last week’s win and finish their campaign on a high

Antrim v Longford

April 2017

Antrim and Longford met in the National League back in April 2017 with division 3 survival very much the prize for both sides.

Both teams were sitting on four points with Laois and Offaly who met on the same weekend in Tullamore but Antrim had an inferior scoring difference so only a win would do for the Saffrons if they were to avoid the drop.

The Frank Fitzsimmons-Gearoid Adams managed side went into the game on the back of an encouraging display against Armagh the previous Saturday evening. They were well organised and showed impressive reserves of spirit and commitment, but two red cards late on meant they would be without midfielder Stephen Beatty and experienced forward Conor Murray for the Longford game.

Ryan Murray was also out injured but Niall Delargy and Sean McVeigh were expected to start after coming on against the Orchard men while rookies Sean Pat Donnelly, Conor Donnelly and Seamus McGarry were also pushing for places.

The game came too soon for county captain James Lavery but his Cargin club mates Kevin O’Boyle and Tomas McCann had returned to the fold and were expected to make a contribution in the crucial encounter.

Longford headed north on the back of a three-point loss to a Laois side Antrim defeated in the preceding round of fixtures. Gearoid Adams said at the time “there’ll be a change of tactics from the defensive set-up against Armagh. I think we need to go for it,” he said.

For the record CJ McGourty scored 0-5 and Mickey Pollock added 0-3 but significantly CJ was off target from a late free that would have earned Antrim a draw.

Allianz National Football League Division Three 

Antrim 1-19-0-12 Longford 

Kevin Herron reports from Corrigan Park 

March 12th 2022

Antrim ensured Division Three survival but more importantly- boosted their hopes of a top-two finish and promotion to the second tier with a 1-19-0-12 win over Longford at Corrigan Park this afternoon. 

An early Tomas McCann goal from a penalty had the hosts in the driving seat early-on with Conor Murray chipping in with four of his sides nine first half scores, though at the other end, a vital save from Oisin Kerr afforded the Saffrons plenty of breathing space at the interval. 

Although Longford did improve after the break, they couldn’t find a way past Kerr with Peter Healy making a goal-line clearance in the visitors most promising moment in the second period and Antrim saw the game out to make it three wins from five and ensure they will be up amongst the contenders for promotion at the league’s conclusion in two-week’s time. 

Enda McGinley was forced into pre-game alterations to his starting fifteen as Dermot McAleese and Martin Johnston were promoted from the bench in place of Kevin Small and Jamie Gribbon. 

The hosts made the ideal start on the Whiterock and within the first 30-seconds had a glorious opening when Tomas McCann fed Odhran Eastwood for an early goal opportunity, though his attack was halted abruptly by Patrick Collum in the Longford goal and referee Niall Cullen signalled for a penalty. 

Tomas McCann took responsibility and confidently rifled high past Collum- who guessed the right way- and Antrim were off the mark. 

McCann notched up his first point of the afternoon a few minutes later after taking the ball from Ryan Murray and swinging a shot between the posts. 

Further scores arrived: Conor Murray claimed an advanced mark and converted from a routine position, Martin Johnston then had his run halted, and Ryan Murray swung over the resulting free and Ruairi McCann claimed a mark out wide and steered it between the posts to give his side a 1-04-0-00 lead. 

Longford kicked the opening point of the second period through first half substitute Oran Kenny, but Ryan Murray kicked his first point from play and Tomas McCann took an off the shoulder pass from Marc Jordan and shifted it high over the bar. 

Jack Duggan got his angles right and landed his first score of the afternoon and a few minutes later his side carved out another goal opportunity. 

Like the chance in the first half, it came after a pointed effort came off the large upright, this time an effort from Darren Gallagher, the loose ball fell to Daniel Reynolds- who only entered the fray 60-seconds before and despite Oisin Kerr narrowing the angle, Reynolds got a shot towards goal, which was cleared on the line by captain Peter Healy. 

Odhran Eastwood and Jayson Matthews traded scores from frees and Eastwood would double his account after a neat interchange with Michael McCann as Antrim were 1-15-0-06 to the good with a quarter of an hour remaining. 

Matthews would follow-up with his second point from a free and then substitute Mark Hughes popped over a second score in succession for the visitors. 

Enda McGinley began to run his bench and the introduction of Pat Shivers yielded two further scores. The Cargin forward carried on from his eight league points at Hannahstown last weekend with a score 60-seconds after his introduction. 

Cian Dooner produced a fantastic score in response, though the Saffrons hit three on the bounce- Conor Murray adding to his four first half points with another two from play with Shivers squeezing over his second in-between times. 

The visitors replied with three points of their own, Dooner conjuring up his second in quick succession with Oran Kenny and Jayson Matthews converting the last two from frees. 

Both sides would end the encounter a man light after Dermot McAleese was shown a black-card in injury-time and then Eoghan McCormack was given his marching orders for a second yellow-card offence. 

It mattered little in the grand scheme of things as Antrim were convincing 1-19-0-12 winners at the conclusion and keep alive their hopes of promotion going into the final two games of the campaign away to Louth and home to Westmeath. 

Antrim: O Kerr, E McCabe, R Johnston, P Healy, P McAleer, J Laverty, M Jordan (0-01), M McCann, D McAleese, R Murray (0-03, 0-02f), M Johnston, C Murray (0-06, 0-02m, 0-01f), T McCann (1-03, 1-00p), R McCann (0-02, 0-01m, 0-01f), O Eastwood (0-02, 0-01f). Subs:

J McCann for P McAleer (HT), B McCormick for M McCann (57), P Shivers (0-02) for M Johnston (60), P McCormick for R Murray (64), E Hynds for T McCann (69). 

Longford: P Collum, P Fox, A Farrell, B O’Farrell, J Moran, PJ Masterson, I O’Sullivan, R Moffett, D Gallagher (0-03f), J Hagan, J Duggan (0-01), D Farrell, E McCormack, J Matthews (0-03f), A McGuire. Subs: O Kenny (0-02, 0-01f) for D Farrell (32), D Reynolds for A McGuire (45), K Diffley for R Moffett (47), M Hughes (0-01) for J Hagan (51), C Dooner (0-02) for Duggan (57). 

Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh) 

The Saffron Gael speaks to Andy McEntee

After Saturday’s thrilling win over Cavan on Saturday I spoke to Antrim manager, Andy McEntee. The former Meath man was obviously delighted by his side’s performance and the result on the day and was only too willing to share his thoughts on the game, on the rest of the league campaign and just where he though Antrim football was at and is going after his first year in charge

Andy McEntee Interview

Saffron Gael: Andy thank you first of all for agreeing to speak to us and congratulations on securing division 3 status for next year with that splendid win over Cavan. What were your thoughts going into that game and your feelings after that win?

Andy McEntee: It was hard to know exactly where the lads were at after the heavy defeat to Westmeath last day out coupled with the large amount of injuries we had. I suppose we really tried to focus on getting a performance from the lads and let’s see where that gets us. We knew that the Westmeath game didn’t represent where we have been in the majority of games in the league to date and just tried to get back to doing the right thing and showing the right attitude. We were all delighted with the game but also with the way the lads played the game. They showed great character- especially when we conceded the second goal. I know everyone was thinking “here we go again” but to go up the field and get the last score was huge.

Saffron Gael: As a photographer-reporter and an ardent Antrim supporter I’ve been through the wide range of emotions that probably you and your backroom staff have experienced this year. There were the games where we played well in spells and actually outplayed Offaly for half a game, Down for 50 odd minutes and Fermanagh for a similar period of time and as I look this morning at this weekend’s fixtures and our trip to Longford I’m thinking we could have been aiming for promotion if things had went our way. What’s your thoughts?

Andy McEntee: Absolutely agree. The truth is we could very possibly be sitting on 8 points and even 10 points going into the last game where we would be playing for promotion. But that’s how tight the league is and the importance of playing to the final whistle. We need to get used to winning and a lot of the panel are relatively new to inter-county football. The lesson is plain and simple – you have to keep your focus and play to the end. Experience plays a big role and perhaps you need to go through those heart breaking losses to get hardened to the reality of sport at this level.

Saffron Gael: When I looked at Saturday’s starting line-up against Cavan the thought occurred to me that perhaps we were holding a few back with the thought that Longford was going to be a must win for us and to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to that trip if that had been the case. Having attended the Offaly, Down and Fermanagh games, and given the fact that we lost so heavily in Mullingar I had a feeling that we might come up against an over confident Cavan and that we could get a result. What’s your thoughts on it?

Andy McEntee: I can see where you were coming from but the truth is that any of the lads that were left out of starting line-up were left out for a reason, they were injured. I suppose there was always the possibility that Cavan might have underestimated us, which was understandable given the score-line v Westmeath but we could only control how we approached the game and as you would have seen, anyone who wore an Antrim jersey on Saturday went out to win the game.

Saffron Gael: The trip to Longford doesn’t have the same significance as what it would have had if we had lost to Cavan. Will you see it as an opportunity to give some of the fringe player’s game time or with the championship just a few weeks away or do you see it as an opportunity to build further confidence in the run up to that one?

Andy McEntee: It’s an important game for us in that we want to get used to winning. We haven’t decided on a line up yet but it would be harsh not to reward the lads who played so well on Saturday.

Saffron Gael: You came into the Antrim job not knowing too much about Antrim players and deprived of quite a few of the more experienced players from previous years. I know you carried out quite a few trials and training sessions and had a couple of run outs in the McKenna Cup in a relatively short time. I thought at the beginning of this year’s league campaign when I looked at the fixtures that division 3 survival would be success and we have achieved that and might have had much more. What do you think?

Andy McEntee: There is no doubt that survival was hugely important for the group and for Antrim football. However I would have to say that I fancied our chances of getting promoted at the start of the campaign and as the games have shown, it wouldn’t have taken an awful lot more for us to be in division 2 next year. Having said that, we still have a lot of football to play and a lot of work to do.

Saffron Gael: Finally Andy give us your thoughts on how the season has turned out to date and how you see Antrim football progressing in the coming season. Your thoughts on the forthcoming Ulster Championship game away to Armagh and your thoughts on the development of the side in your first year in charge?

Andy McEntee: They say that the tables don’t lie but I do feel that they don’t tell the full story either. There is no doubt that we let a couple of games slip that would have put a totally different look on the league campaign. We have been hit with a large number of injuries in the last month, at one stage we had 15 out of 37 players out injured, but as you have seen from the Cavan game it gave us the opportunity to look at players who might not have played otherwise.

That can only be of benefit to us in the long term. Looking forward to the Armagh game we would hope to have a full hand to play with and hopefully be in a position to put in the type of performance that we are capable of. I think the lads have put in a huge amount of work to date and they have developed physically as a result. However we are definitely playing catch up in this area and it will be vital that they continue this development throughout the rest of the year so that we can come back stronger next year. It will be vital to increase the quantum of players capable of playing at this standard.

Saffron Gael: We at the Saffron Gael thank Andy McEntee for taking the time to speak to us and wish our footballers all the best in Longford on Sunday and in their forthcoming championship game away to Armagh.

Despite finishing just clear of relegation it has been an exciting season for me personally, a season of what might have been rather than the one it is. It’s not over yet and I’m personally looking forward to the visit to Armagh where I know, we will be massive underdogs.

If we can put all the best phases of our play in games throughout the league together at the Athletic Grounds then we might not be too far away.

In the meantime we wish Andy and his backroom team all the best in the future. It seems to me that we are a project in progress and I’ve been impressed by the buy-in to that project and I believe the future can be bright for Antrim football if that buy-in continues.

Antrim secure vital win in nerve-wracking finish

Allianz National Football League – Division 3

Antrim 1-17 Cavan 2-12

Pics by Paddy McIlwaine

Antrim held off a late rally by table toppers, and hitherto unbeaten, Cavan at Corrigan Park on Saturday to earn a vital win and boost their chances of staying in Division 3. Ten points up seven minutes into the second half the Saffrons appeared to be in cruise control and when they still led by six with less that ten minutes to play, there seemed no way they could be beaten. But as we we all know Antrim sides don’t do things the easy way, and when Cavan cut the gap back to just two with their second goal of the game we were all thinking ‘not again’.

Eoghan McCabe drives forward to set up an Antrim attack

To their credit each and every one of them stood up and were counted when the chips were really down, and they sealed the win with points from man of the match Odhran Eastwood and Paddy McBride, who came back on after beings substituted earlier in the second half, to secure the victory.  

Antrim started well with a point from Eastwood but Cavan were soon back level when Paddy Lynn pointed at the other end. Five minutes in they home team got a real boost when full forward Ruairi McCann got in for a goal, and though Cavan replied with a point inside 30 seconds through Madden, March Jordan restored the Saffron’s two point lead on ten minutes with a great score from play.

A lovely score from out on the right wing by Dominic McEnhill put three between the sides and Odhran Eastwood then added two in a row to extend the Antrim lead to 1-6 to 0-4 by the 30th minute. A quick break from Paddy McBride on 33 minutes extended the lead to six when he sent over his second point from play and a minute later it looked like the gap was going to be extended when Odhran Eastwood set Dominic McEnhill away, but the Rossa man’s shot went just wide of the target, but the home side still went in at the break with a six point cushion.

Paddy McBride fires over an Antrim point

The home side continued where they left off after the break as they added four points in the first five minutes of the new half. Paddy McBride got the first two, Odhran Eastwood added another and then Paddy McCormick came up from half back to stretch the lead to ten with his team’s eight point without reply.

It all seemed too good to be true…and it was as Cavan began to get a foothold in the game as they hit four of the next six points, McEnhill and McCormick raising the white flags for the Saffrons. Still it all looked comfortable when points from Eastwood and McEnhill put the team eight ahead with just eleven minutes of normal time left on the clock.

However Cavan were beginning to get the upper hand and after coming close when the hit the post they broke through again and Conor Madden fired home a superb goal. The nerves were really jangling now for the home supporters and visions of their last day’s collapse against Fermanagh came flooding back. When the Breffni men hit the net for the second time through Paddy Lynch it had all the hallmarks of that last home game, but to their credit they were not going to let that happen again and they showed great character to score the last two points through Eastwood and McBride to seal the win and spark scenes of great celebration.

Antrim: Mick Byrne; Eoghan McCabe, Declan Lynch, James McAuley; Patrick McCormick (0-01), Joseph Finnegan, Marc Jordan (0-01); Colm McLarnon, Jack Dowling; Patrick Finnegan, Ruairi McCann (Creggan) (0-01f), Paddy McBride (0-05); Dominic McEnhill (0-02), Ruairi McCann (Aghagallon) (1-00), Odhran Eastwood (0-06, 2f).

Subs: Peter Healy for Patrick Finnegan (51), Seamus McGarry (0-01) for McBride (54), Conor Stewart for Dowling (64), Barry McCormick for Joseph Finnegan (67), Paddy McBride for McEnhill (68).

Cavan: Raymond Galligan (0-02, 2 ’45); Killian Brady, Padraig Faulkner, Conor Moynagh; Ciarán Brady, Cian Reilly, Tiernan Madden; Jack McKenna (0-01), Killian Clarke; Gerard Smith, Cian Madden (0-03), Jonathan McCabe; Brandon Boylan, Paddy Lynch (1-01), Ryan O’Neill.

Subs: Gearóid McKiernan (0-02, 2f) for Boylan (ht), James Smith for Killian Brady (HT), David Brady for McKenna (45), Conor Madden (1-02) for O’Neill (45), Conor Smith (0-01) for Smith (64).

Referee: Kieran Eannetta (Tyrone).

Unbeaten Cavan visit Corrigan as Antrim look over their shoulders

Allianz NFL Division 3

Antrim v Cavan

Corrigan Park-Saturday 2.00pm

The visit of unbeaten Cavan to Corrigan Park on Saturday provides Antrim with another opportunity to get some much needed points on the board but it looks like a tough ask for Andy McEntee’s men.

The Saffron’s have undergone a big overturn of players since the former Meath Manager took over the reins from Enda McGinley at the start of the season and while there is no doubt the side has shown steady improvement, this hasn’t been reflected in results.

Players like Michael and Tomas McCann, James Laverty, Martin and Ricki Johnston and Conor Murray have all departed the scene and that lack of experience have played a part in Antrim’s failure to have accrued more points on the board.

Add to that an ever increasing injury list and things certainly haven’t been ideal for McEntee in his first season in charge of the Saffrons.

They lost to Offaly on day one at Corrigan but did enough in the second half to have got something from that game. A strong claim for a penalty that was waved away and a sucker punch goal against the run of play saw the home side lose by six but the final score didn’t really reflect the performance.

A great 50 plus minutes at Pairc Esler on day two saw Antrim out play a fancied Down with Ruairi McCann’s two goals seeing Antrim lead by five with only five minutes of play remaining and Down supporters starting to file out of the Newry venue early.

They failed to see the game out however and conceded 1-3 in the closing stages to lose by a point, still it looked that we were on track for better days ahead. That promise seemed to have been realised when Antrim travelled to Semple Stadium in round 3 and recorded a good 1-19 to 0-14 win over Tipperary but an injury to Ryan Murray took some of the gloss of that result.

Still things were looking good when Fermanagh visited Corrigan in round four and an 8 point lead in the early stages of the second half augured well for the home side but, as in Newry Antrim failed to see the game out and eventually lost by the minimum.

Performances if not results had been encouraging but with only two points from their opening four games Antrim travelled to Mullingar last day out and were forced to field without Ryan Murray and Marc Jordan, who had been their best player to date.

Jordan took a heavy hit late in the Fermanagh game while Murray hadn’t recovered from the injury he received against Tipperary and with Dermot McAleese, who received a bad injury against Down and Declan Lynch joining them on the touchline it was an inexperienced 15 who took the field against the Lake County.

The Saffrons never got started and were put to the sword by a good Westmeath side and the result leaves Antrim looking over their shoulder at Longford and Tipperary who have only one point each.

Antrim lost by 31 points in Mullingar that day, probably the biggest defeat ever suffered by an Antrim football team and Andy McEntee and his backroom staff were at pains to explain just what went wrong.

Hopefully the former Meath manager will have some of his walking wounded back on Saturday with Marc Jordan and Paddy McBride possible starters but it will take everyone playing out of their skin if they are to upset the odds against a Cavan side who have one foot in division 2 already following promotion from division 4 last year.

It’s important that a good crowd comes out to support and encourage the Saffrons on Saturday at Corrigan and that the players themselves can put the Westmeath result behind them and get back to the level of performance they produced against Down and Fermanagh for the full 70 minutes.

Antrim travel to Longford on the final day of the season where probably a win, or at least a draw would be necessary should they lose to the unbeaten Cavan on Saturday and it is a position they don’t want to find themselves in.

Antrim LGFA cruise past Carlow

Lidl LGFA National Football league Division 4A
Antrim 6-16 Carlow 2-7

Antrim ladies secured their place in the semi-final of the Lidl National Football League Division 4 when they had too much power for visitors Carlow at Davitt Park on Sunday, their third win in a row.

On top from the start the Saffrons were never threatened and had the points secured at half time as Grainne McLaughlin, Cathy Carey and Bronagh Devlin piled on the scores. The scoring was a little slow in the early stages but once Aoife Taggart got them on the scoreboard they started to flow and when top scorer Grainne McLaughlin got their first goal they clicked into gear and were soon 1-6 to 0-1 to the good.

The forged further ahead and by half time they had a virtually unassailable 4-10 to 1-4 lead, the other goals coming from team captain Cathy Carey, Bronagh Devlin and Thersa Mallon.

The second half was more of the same as the dominant Saffrons kept picking off the scores. They emptied the bench to give as many players as possible some game time as they sealed a semi-final place against Limerick in three weeks’ time   

ANTRIM: A McCann; M Mulholland, E Ferran, N McIntosh; O Corr (0-1), C Brown, S O’Neill; A Mulholland, A Tubridy (0-1); T Mellon (1-0), C Carey (1-2), M O’Neill (0-2); B Devlin (2-1), G McLaughlin (1-6, 0-4f), A Taggart (0-2, 1f).
Subs: L Agnew for M O’Neill (38), O Prenter (0-2, 1f) for A Taggart (44), C Emerson for A Mulholland (49), N Neeson for M Mulholland (51), R Mulholland (1-0) for B Devlin (54), B Ní Cahill for T Mellon 954), D Coleman for S O’Neill (54), C Taggart for G McLaughlin (56), A Devlin for C Carey (58), A Kelly for C Brown (60), C McKenna for A Tubridy (60).

CARLOW: M O’Neill; O Fitzpatrick, A Roche, N Murphy; O Hickey, C Doran, A Hanley; E Ware, R Bailey; E Coogan, E Tracy, E Molloy (1-0); J Sawyer (0-1), C Ni Shé (1-3, 1-1f), S Doyle (0-2).
Subs: B Nolan for O Hickey (HT), S McCullagh for O Fitzpatrick (HT), S Hayden (0-1) for E Treacy (HT), K Collins for A Hanley (HT), E Hayden (0-1) for E Molloy (38), K McDonald for E Coogan (46), R Bermingham for J Sawyer (50), 

REFEREE: Eddie Cuthbert (Down)