Tailteann Cup quarter-final
Fermanagh v Antrim (Brewster Park, Saturday, 6pm)
REGARDLESS of how they got there, the fact is that Antrim are setting their sights on Saturday evening’s trip to Brewster Park to face Fermanagh in the quarter-final of the Tailteann Cup.

The victory over London in the preliminary stage was far from convincing, but Andy McEntee’s charges got over the line and head to Enniskillen to face the Ernesiders who will be keen to set the record straight after they were undone by Antrim last year.

That game didn’t have the same jeopardy as it took place in the group phase, but it was a major boost for Antrim who bypassed the preliminary phase and moved into a home quarter-final, with Fermanagh then coming unstuck at home to Laois to exit the competition.

Kieran Donnelly’s side have looked much better in the 2024 edition of the competition, winning all of their group games to sail into the last eight and they will enjoy home comforts against an Antrim side that will be seeking a major improvement from their win over London.

“Whatever it is, it is,” said Antrim manager Andy McEntee of their scenic route in this year’s competition.

“This is the route we have to take but we know we will have to be playing an awful lot better than we did today.

“You won’t come up against too many defences as stubborn as London, so you have to give them some credit for that.”

Certainly, London made life extremely difficult for Antrim, but the Saffrons didn’t help their cause with wasteful shooting and that is one area that will need major work if they are to prolong their interest in this year’s competition.

In fairness, that performance was not in keeping with what has gone before as they were just edged out of top spot in the group phase by Sligo on scoring difference following a draw between the pair.

The Yeatsmen will have been ranked as one of the leading contenders at the outset of the competition and Antrim proved there is nothing between them in that draw a fortnight ago in Kingspan Breffni Park.

It’s also a big ask this week as it will be a third game in as many weeks with Fermanagh enjoying last weekend off as reward for finishing on top of Group 3, so the Erne men ought to be fresher for this weekend’s game.

That meeting between them last year was right in the balance late on until late goals from Oisin Doherty and Aghagallon’s Ruiari McCann put the Saffrons out of sight and McCann’s eye for a goal has been crucial again this year as he bagged two against London, whilst also finding the net in the games against Tipperary and Wexford - making it five goals in four games.

His presence on the edge of the square is a major outlet for Antrim, but they do have plenty of other avenues to attack with the pace of Marc Jordan crucial to their victory against London.

Ryan McQuillan didn’t hit the same heights as previous games, but he has been one of the finds of the season, while Dominic McEnhill kicked two points off the bench and Conor Hand also landed to show there are options for McEntee.

Their last visit to Brewster Park resulted in victory back at the beginning of the 2022 Allianz League, so there is plenty of evidence that Antrim can get the measure of their Ulster rivals.

But that’s not to say Antrim have dominated the recent meetings as last year in Corrigan Park, Fermanagh came from eight behind to snatch a late victory in the League.That was the second time Antrim had been caught at the death during that Division Three campaign, but they do seem to have learnt from those experiences.

There is little the sides don’t know of each other and Fermanagh have plenty of familiar faces who have been pulling the strings like Ultan Kelm, Garvan Jones and Josh Largo-Ennis, while Callum Jones and Conor McShea have been good for goals in recent games.

Last year they will have felt disappointed with how their Tailteann campaign went and there are signs they have really zoned in on making a charge this time around.

So too have Antrim, who just came up short to last year’s eventual winners, Meath, in the semi-final and will have belief they can go even better this time around.

The prize for the winner this week is an appearance on semi-final day at Croke Park. Playing at HQ is a nice incentive on its own, but both these Ulster rivals will have higher ambitions and for one, their season will be over come Saturday night.

Antrim will surely be improved from the London game and they know they will need to be, while Fermanagh will know they must also be on to form as they have lost out to the Saffrons in those aforementioned games.

It’s unlikely a lot will be separating them come the final whistle, so making the most of spells will likely decide who matches on and who checks out for the year.