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Saffrons bid to salvage pride from rubber games

Paddy McBride, pictured in action against Wexford last month, says Antrim must put their poor form behind them as they seek to defeat Wicklow this weekend Paddy McBride, pictured in action against Wexford last month, says Antrim must put their poor form behind them as they seek to defeat Wicklow this weekend
By Paddy Tierney

Allianz Football League Division Four
Antrim v Wicklow (Saturday, 2pm, Corrigan Park)

IT was at this hurdle last year when Antrim’s promotion hopes hit a pothole when Wicklow plundered an unlikely share of the spoils at Corrigan Park.

A little over 12 months later and both sides have relinquished ambitions of promotion with Derry and Leitrim already confirmed as this season’s Division Four finalists.

The fact that Antrim have nothing but pride to play for with two games remaining is a source of great frustration for Paddy McBride and his colleagues.

Indeed, the St Johns’ ace admits he can barely bring himself to look at the Division Four table, which places only London below the Saffrons.

“It was frustrating after the first two matches knowing it was going to be a challenge. After the Leitrim defeat, we probably knew we weren’t going up,” stated McBride.

“We were hoping to win our last three games and we lost to Waterford. It is just so hard to look at the table at the minute – we’ve never been in that position any year I’ve been involved with Antrim. It is depressing seeing it.

“We have to make sure it doesn’t look like that at the end of the League. The last two games… we need to get two wins.”

A narrow opening round defeat to Derry has proven to be something of a false dawn for Antrim.

The general consensus was that the Oak Leafers were lucky to leave Corrigan Park with both points having scored the winner deep into injury-time.

Yet, the Saffrons have failed to build on their early promise with a series of agonising defeats with their solitary win of the campaign coming in a form last month’s five-point win over London.

Antrim’s problems have been exacerbated by a shocking turnover of playing personnel. Every team suffers from injuries and withdrawals on a yearly basis, but Antrim have been haemorrhaging players for a number of seasons.

Having started the League minus the services of 10 of last year’s panel, manager Lenny Harbinson was forced to deal with a number of withdrawals midway through the campaign, with Mark Sweeney among those to step away from the squad.

Peter and Kristian Healy have also opted against returning to county duty following Naomh Éanna’s All-Ireland club campaign.

McBride feels a lack of experience coming off the bench has been a factor in Antrim’s inability to close out tight games.

“I’ve played in two Division Three campaigns and, even the years when we didn’t get promoted from Division Four, we’ve challenged,” said McBride.

“You need to see the games out. In recent years when we’ve played bigger teams, we’ve held on own.

“Against Waterford, we moved five points up and we conceded a goal. We then stopped doing the things which put us ahead and we made errors that can’t happen at that level. We stopped doing what was working for us. We probably haven’t the experience in the panel to see some of these games out.

“The younger guys have to get game time and that will stand to them when we are back next year trying to get promoted.”

Antrim will hope to finish the League with some urgency and momentum in their final two outings against Wicklow and Limerick (away) with the Championship fast approaching.

The Saffrons await the winners of the preliminary round meeting between last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists Tyrone and a Derry team who have secured their return to Division Three.

McBride insists the Championship campaign isn’t on the radar yet and says their sole focus is securing a win over the Garden County this weekend following a disappointing result against the same opposition last season.

“The last time we got promoted, we beat Wicklow in Aughrim to go up,” added the St John’s clubman.

“Last year in Corrigan, we should have beaten them. The build up to the game wasn’t ideal – there was a debate on whether or not the game was going to go ahead.

“It was snowing and I think a lot of the focus went away from the match. Our shooting let us down and they ended up getting a draw out of it. We need to go out to rectify that and try and pick up another win.”

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