If Antrim followers have been delighted by the unbeaten start our footballers have made to this season's National Football League, they were on cloud nine after the hurlers began their campaign by beating Wexford in their opening game on Sunday last at Casement Park.

In recent years we have beaten Wexford on a couple of occasions but those victories were nothing as comprehensive as this six-point win, 3-18 to 2-15.

The first ten minutes of play gave no indication of what was to follow as Wexford built up a five point lead, 1-4 to 0-2, and with a rather experimental side on display we could be forgiven for thinking a defeat was going to be our lot.

However, once Antrim had settled down to the task in front of them what happened was exceptional.

In the remaining 25 minutes of the half Antrim outscored Wexford by a  massive 3-6 to

0-4, turning that five point deficit to a lead of eight, 3-9

to 1-7.

On the restart Wexford showed something of their better play and made some inroads on that Antrim lead but the closest they reached was to cut the leeway to four as Antrim showed unexpected maturity, never panicked and eventually eased home six points in front.

Dog fight

Before a ball was pucked in this year's Division 1B it was widely decreed that there would be a three way dogfight for the two promotion places and the three involved would be Limerick, Wexford and Clare.

Antrim have dealt a major blow to Wexford and on Saturday last Clare gave Limerick a beating by 2-24 to 1-13, so that all the early forecasts are being revised.

Clare are now the promotion hotshots and as fate would have it the next Antrim fixture is away to them.

The appointing of Davy Fitzgerald as manager has apparently done wonders for Clare judging by the result against Limerick and a good run in the Walsh Cup, which saw a 3-17 to 4-9 win over Waterford in Waterford.

So if Antrim can get any sort of decent result against Clare, our county must come into the promotion argument.

It will be a huge task to do but if the heights reached on Sunday last against Wexford can be attained again, anything is possible.


I am glad that there was a decent crowd at Casement Park on Sunday last because they saw a most promising start being made and manager Jerry Wallace must get a pat on the back for his decision to opt out of the Leinster warm up tournament and concentrate on getting the Antrim squad fit for the real thing.

What a change from his predecessor Dinny Cahill and his disinterest in the League games.

Jerry Wallace produced fifteen players who - once they got to the pace of the game - were superior to the players from what we are continually told is a major hurling power.

We had heroes all over the pitch on Sunday but best of them were goalie Chris O'Connell who stopped a first half penalty that may have changed the couse of the tie, Karl Stewart and Shane McNaughton.

However, by far the best player was full back Cormac Donnelly who was a collossus both in appearance and performance.

A scoring tally of 3-18 is impressive in any game but to score that tally when short of the Loughgiel players, including Liam Watson, suggests that it is not only our footballers that are making the pundits sit up and take notice.

Which brings us to our footballers who face their third League tie on Saturday when Offaly come to Casement Park.

Antrim have played two and won two, Offaly have played two and lost both, so on paper it must be an Antrim victory, but that might be a hasty judgement.

There has been ructions in Offaly after that poor start and three of their better players who opted out before the league began have decided to rejoin the panel.

After losing to Longford and Roscommon in the league, (in the Longford game Offaly hadn't scored until the 40th minute), the revamped Offaly team played Wicklow in a challenge on Sunday last and won by 0-18 to 0-10.

That is being taken as an indication that the Offaly team is now back on the rails so Antrim will do well to treat them with every respect come Saturday.

Still, one has to remember that Antrim have beaten both Sligo and Tipperary.

A win over Offaly is vital as it will put us on six points and at the top of the league table, especially as one of the other unbeaten sides, Roscommon on Saturday, have to travel to Wexford and will not find it easy to get a result there.

If Antrim can win their third game and the other fancied counties beat each other in turn we can anticipate a quick return to Division 2, something that did not look likely when the competition started.

Managerial payments

As expected, the assembled county officials voted enormously against changing the rule book to allow payments to be made to team managers.

That happened after our President made a speech indicating that he was in favour, so that left him in the loser's camp with Cork and of course the Gaelic Players Association, an organisation that vowed when it was founded that it was not seeking payment for playing.

President Cooney might be showing a little more foresight than the rest of us and thinking ahead as what to do now that the rule book says one thing yet many counties choose to ignore the ruling.

In other words how can the rule be imposed?

There is talk of county treasurers being ordered to send Croke Park a list of every piece of expenditure every month but the whole problem is that illegal payments do not go through the books but are made underhand.

And what if the payment is not made by the actual county officials but by somone from one of the many ‘friends of county’ supporters groups that have mushroomed in recent years.

Such bodies gather their money from dinners, dances and the like and are not constrained by any of the rules in the Official Guide.

When the Association first damaged its own rules by agreeing to pay an annual sum to inter county players it opened a nest of worms and God knows where it will all end.