Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier is going to be extra special for Matthew Fitzpatrick. He will get to represent his county infront of a Saffron crowd, at Corrigan Park, the home of his club St John’s.
“It is more special for me, Paddy and Padraig (McBride and Nugent). The whole rigmarole around it is more exciting.
“It is going to be a big occasion for Antrim in general, it is a chance for kids to come and watch the county team. It’s a big thing for Belfast as well. Anyone can jump on the Glider and go to the game. It’s something that we have not been able to do for a while. When we played Tyrone we had to go to Armagh.”
It’s not the first time Antrim have played at Corrigan Park, as they played at the west Belfast venue during the league.
But there’s a different atmosphere about this game. The reaction to the win over Louth, a shock result for many as the Wee county played in division three this season, has been one of great positivity.
The Championship began with frustration around having to play Tyrone in Armagh, in what should have been a home game for the Saffrons. They lost that game, and then had to travel to Drogheda, to play Louth.
They get the opportunity this time to entertain their home fans.
“Playing at home is a slight advantage.
“It has been a hard year, but we had a good win against Louth. And the prize is now we get a game at home for the people who follow us.
“It will be packed with the local community and families, they will be coming out in their numbers. The atmosphere will be great. When you are playing in these matches there is a bit of a buzz. We have not been able to experience that at home for a while.”
Fitzpatrick said that he has lots of great memories of playing at Corrigan park with his club, but the home game he remembers as having a great atmosphere was the league game against Longford when Antrim were in division three in 2017. They played that game at Corrigan park and Fitzpatrick remembers it as a bittersweet day.
“We ended up drawing, but still got relegated. It was a big day for us. That’s the game that sticks out for me because of the atmosphere.
“It was a good atmosphere. There was a huge crowd and we had a chance to stay up.”
They didn’t stay up in the end, but Fitzpatrick expects this weekend’s clash with Kildare to be as exciting. Antrim have a chance to prove themselves against a team who played ‘Super eights’ football last year. But they are also going into the game off the back of a great result, the win over Louth in the first round.
“Louth had done so well in division three this year. But we knew we had good players. We rode our luck a couple of times. But we were clinical. That was the difference. We took our chances. We stuck to our plan.”
One of the main reasons that Antrim won the game was Fitzpatrick.
He had an outstanding game, as he charged through the Louth defence to score a total of 2-1. His two goals put Antrim two points ahead, while Ryan Murray kept the score board ticking over with frees.
Then Lenny Harbinson sprung Ruairi Scott from the bench and his two late points secured the 2-16 to 1-11 victory.
The two Fitzpatrick goals owe much to his relationship with his club mate Paddy McBride who teed him up. They sync up so well.
“I just think it comes second nature to us. I don’t have to look at him to know what he is going to do, and he knows what I am going to do. I have been playing with him for so long. At St John’s, St Mary’s, no matter what happens, any time I call the ball he knows what I am going to do.
“I let him do all the work and I finish it off.”
Stephen Beatty, who’s a Rossa man, told this paper that he thinks that McBride and Fitzpatrick only every pass to each other.
This is clearly a bit of West Belfast banter that Fitzpatrick’s willing to take part in.
“Beatty would yap about anything.”
So after a massive performance against Louth, Kildare are likely to focus their attentions on Fitzpatrick.
But that’s not something he is concerned about.
“I don’t think any team can afford to focus on one player, if you do that you allow other players in. You look at Ryan Murray, and the way he is playing, they can’t afford to ignore him. There are lots of us who are well able to score.”
So could Antrim cause another upset? And create history in Corrigan Park, the home of St John’s.
“I am confident that we can put on a performance. I am not saying that we are going to win, but you never know what might happen.”