Allianz Football League Division Three
Antrim v Offaly (Corrigan Park, Sunday, 2pm)
WITH two points already on the board, Antrim will be keen to back up last week’s win in Limerick when they host Offaly at Corrigan Park on Sunday for their first home Allianz Football League Division Three game.

The Saffrons impressed in Rathkeale at the weekend, running out 2-14 to 2-7 winners in a game that will have ticked a number of boxes.

Defeating a team that played in Division Two last year away from home is a superb start, but they must back it up on Sunday against an Offaly team that claimed a win at Corrigan Park las year.

On that occasion, Antrim were well of the pace early, but recovered after the break, yet missed opportunities would cost them as they couldn’t complete the comeback.

In contrast to Antrim, The Faithful lost their opener last week when they were guilty of missed opportunities as Westmeath won the local derby in Tullamore.

A second loss would leave Offaly in a tricky position in terms of promotion ambitions and Antrim’s Marc Jordan is expecting a tough examination once again.

“They were five or six up at half-time after we’d come out of the blocks really slow,” he recalled.

“Then they shut up shop a bit but we did have a couple of chances and butchered them. But then you’re six points down in a county game, you are going to be doing well to take anything from it.

“After that game, we were saying ‘oh we had chances’ but really, we were nowhere near it and they deserved to beat us, so we get another rattle at them on Sunday.

“Two (wins) out of two would be great and surpass last year already, but those boys will be coming up knowing they won here last year, so I don’t think there’s going to be much between the teams.

“There won’t be more than kick of the ball between any of the teams (in Division Three) and that seven-point win on Sunday is going to be a bit of an anomaly.

“We’ll just target the first 10 or 15 minutes, make sure we start better than last year as we did rally fairly well. Starting well (against Limerick) stood to us, so we will target the again.”

Last year, big leads were surrendered on a couple of occasions and in Limerick they saw an eight-point advantage brought back to one, but this time they proved the had leant past lessons by powering home in the final quarter.

Those defeats to Down and Fermanagh would leave them in a precarious position, but Antrim beat the pro and after a fine run in last year’s Tailteann Cup, they are aiming to build on this time.

“They say you have to lose one to win one, but we lost three or four of them,” Jordan reflected.

“Having Paddy McAleer in on Sunday with seven or eight years of county experience, Dermott (McAleese) coming back in and then a number of younger boys who don’t have the baggage of last year: Niall Burns making his debut, Eoin Hynds in and Kavan (Keenan) from Ballymena.

“A lot of the older boys will have learnt a lot from last year, but it was almost like basketball towards the end on Sunday when it got down to one, we took the sting out of the game and were able to manage it a bit better.”

There is a sense that Antrim are in a much more settled place than this time last year and that is only to be expected considering manager Andy McEntee was trying to settle into the role in 2023.

But with a year behind them and a good pre-season banked, the hoe is that 2024 will see a truer reflection of what this team is capable of.

“Last year it was nearly trials up until the McKenna Cup,” Jordan recalled.

“Andy didn’t know a lot about the boys who were coming in fresh, trying to figure out a panel of 26 and that was maybe reflected in some of the games at the start of the year.

“With him having a full year with us and now with a definite style of play in how we go about things, a full pre-season with a full panel working on how we want to play, so hopefully that stands by us.”

It certainly stood to them at the weekend as they took a fine win at Limerick that ought to act as a confidence boost going forward.

Two years ago, Antrim were outmuscled by the Treatymen at Corrigan Park, but the work going on behind the scenes has begun to shine through.

“We played Limerick two years ago and they have (since) been playing Division Two football,” Jordan acknowledged.

“I watched most of that game, had a broken hand and came on, but they were just very physically big. That stood out and it was the same on Sunday.

“We were a bit naive (in the past) but have conditioned ourselves a bit better and were more able for it.

“We said before the game that even if everything went right, we’d come out with a point or two to spare, so it was unbelievable for us (to win by seven) and probably flattered us, but you to take it.”