BY KIERAN LYNCH
ANTRIM came into Division Three as the bookmakers’ favourites for relegation, and two defeats in two games would indicate that they’re in trouble. However, their lack of points on the board is harsh on the Saffrons, who have been desperately unlucky to date.
They take on Tipperary in a match this weekend which may be crucial to their chances of survival, as the 2020 Munster champions have also lost their first two matches – both against Ulster sides, Down and Cavan.
Tipperary came into their league campaign already shorthanded, after the news that star man Michael Quinlivan had opted out for the 2023 season, and they then lost marksman Conor Sweeney to injury against Cavan.
However, for all of Tipperary’s problems, Antrim will need to put together a strong showing for all 70 minutes on Saturday evening to get the win – something they have yet to do.
Against Offaly, wasteful shooting in the first half saw the Saffrons fall seven points behind at half-time.
A good second half performance saw them close the gap to just three as time was winding down, but try as they might, Antrim just couldn’t hit the back of the net.
Creggan’s Ruairi McCann, and Odhran Eastwood both saw goal-bound efforts saved by the Offaly goalkeeper Ian Duffy, before Patrick Finnegan had a palmed effort cleared off the line. A goal did come in stoppage time, but cruelly, it came at the other end, as Bernard Allen lobbed goalkeeper Michael Byrne to seal a six-point victory for Offaly, which probably wasn’t a fair reflection on Antrim’s performance.
However, if Andy McEntee’s men felt that defeat was cruel, what happened in Páirc Esler in round two was even more heartbreaking for them. Playing away to the highly fancied Down, Antrim were superb, and with the minutes ticking away they led by five points and appeared to be well on their way to an upset win.
Byrne’s kick-outs were a joy to watch, and the goalkeeper was getting involved in driving the team forward in open play. Furthermore, midfielder Conor Stewart was imposing and chipped in with 0-3, and McCann was clinical, burying two first half goals.
However, things fell apart late on, as Down outscored them 1-4 to 0-1 late on, and for all their efforts, Antrim were left with nothing.
That defeat would have been difficult to take, but if Antrim can reach the same levels of performance, they have a good chance to take the win this weekend, against a Tipperary side who look there for the taking.
Failure to get a result however, and things will be looking bleak for McEntee’s side.
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