Paddy Cunningham led his county to an Ulster final 10 years ago, when he was top scorer that day with 0-11, just losing out to Tyrone by six points. Fast forward to 2019 and Antrim tumbled out of the Ulster championship without a whimper, losing 2-23 to 2-9, the red hands again victorious.
Cunningham however doesn’t believe everything was doom and gloom about his counties performance and sees their loss as a learning curve, “At times Antrim did make Tyrone look vulnerable, particularly with their pace from the half back and half forward lines whenever they ran at Tyrone. They did open them up well and scored 2-9. Tyrone got a black card early doors for pulling Paddy McBride down when he was through on goal so I think the fact they scored 2-9, obviously the game was over as a contest at half time but I think there was positives from that game”.
“A lot of boys made their debut that day as well so even to get that over and have that experience going into the Louth game should help them. There’s a lot of talent in Antrim but I felt they had to play very defensive, playing with a sweeper; I would like to see Antrim be a bit more positive and see where it takes us”.
As Cunningham alluded to, Antrim were forced to play with a lot of inexperienced the last day out due to some players stepping away from the county set up in the last number of seasons, “It’s no secret that there’s a lot of boys who are probably capable of playing on the team who aren’t playing for various reasons but at the end of the day Lenny (Harbinson) can only play boys who are committed and are willing to give the time and effort all year so I think it’s a difficult situation for Lenny”.
“There’s not an awful lot of appetite or hunger to play for the county at the moment for a wide range of reasons but Lenny has the hand he has and the boys that are there are 100% committed and they’re the boys who deserve the jersey at the moment. It’s just unfortunate from an Antrim perspective that everyone’s not making themselves available to play for the county”.
Antrim have a chance to revive their season on Saturday evening as they travel to Louth for their first round clash in the qualifiers, while Louth will also be entering the contest confident they can pull a result, “It should be a competitive game. A lot will come down to who has regrouped the best over the last couple of weeks. They were both on the end of significant defeats by Tyrone for Antrim and Dublin for Louth so it’ll depend on who stayed on the panel as sometimes you’d find boys would drift off, maybe go to the states and whatever else, so I think whoever’s house is in better order have a good chance of coming through”.
The key man for the Saffron’s will no doubt be Matthew Fitzpatrick once again. The Naomh Eoin man may have only scored a goal the last day out but his impact for Antrim was a huge positive for his team, “They’ll need to share the responsibility a wee bit more, I’m sure Louth have looked at the Tyrone game and seen that ‘Fitzy’ had a great game and they’ll be out to try and tame him down to an extent but there is other boys there who are capable of opening teams up on their day”.
“Ryan Murray by his own high standards was seen in the Tyrone game as being very quiet, obviously he was well marshalled but I can’t see Ryan not having an impact on Saturday and there’s other boys, hopefully Conor Murray could be back in at the weekend, who’s just come back after knee surgery and he should offer them an attacking force as well. The lack of forwards they played up at times against Tyrone, they were limited in terms of the amount of scoring opportunities they had, where as hopefully this weekend they’ll be a lot more positive and that should reflect with more players causing an impact up front”.
The tie is certainly a hard one to call but Cunningham has faith in his county team “I know Antrim have been back training well, I’m sure Louth have as well. Home advantage is obviously a big thing in the qualifiers but I do feel it’s a match Antrim are capable of winning and both teams are going into the game with nothing to lose. I think it’ll be tight and there could be a point in it either way, I would be hopeful that Antrim can get the win”.