Antrim’s win over Louth in round one of the qualifiers has sparked a bit of life into the county, their first win in the championship since 2015, and with the advantage of having a home game in Corrigan Park, everything is pointing towards a massive performance against division two side Kildare.
Kildare come into the game on the back of a loss to Dublin while it took two games to get over Longford after limping past Wicklow, while Antrim head into the contest full of positivity. The Saffron’s star forward Matthew Fitzpatrick feels that Antrim’s victory over Louth has given the county a great lift,
“You get respect from winning. For a couple of years obviously we’ve had a few of bad results now we’ve had one good one, I think people tend to then see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel and support you a bit more. I think momentum comes from just us winning, if people are going to pay to come and watch you, they want to see some degree of success so I think winning does build momentum and it has and everyone is excited”.
“We know Kildare are a very good team, you don’t operate at the level they operate at if you’re not but that’s the beauty of the qualifiers, you get to test yourself against bigger teams and we’re confident that if we play to our game plan then we’ll make a game of it and we’re excited and looking forward to testing ourselves against them”.
Home advantage has been massive in the back door system throughout the years and Antrim will enjoy welcoming the Lilywhites to Belfast, although Fitzpatrick feels the venue may not have a huge bearing on the outcome of the game “I don’t think it’s even an advantage in terms of an advantage over Kildare”.
“I just think it’s a massive thing for gaels in Belfast to have their county team playing in Belfast, it’s a simple thing to think that when you get a home fixture you get to play it at home but obviously because of the situation we’re in, it’s not simple so I just think it’s a huge lift for everyone in the county to have their own county playing on Whiterock road”.
The 24 year old has been Antrim’s main goal scoring threat throughout their championship campaign, raising 3 of Antrim’s 4 green flags over their two games, a stat that will undoubtedly have caught the eye of Cian O’Neill and his men, although Fitzpatrick isn’t too concerned about receiving any ‘special attention’ on Saturday evening.
“You never know what way teams are going to view us or what their opinion of us is but I think in today’s game ‘special attention’, with teams having everyone back and everyone defending so much it doesn’t happen as much and to be honest I wouldn’t be too fussed because we have other good players. The likes of Paddy McBride and Ryan Murray who would need equal attention so what will be will be, but I’m sure we’ll not be stuck for goals even if it’s not me scoring them”.
Fitzpatrick also praised the management team of Lenny Harbinson and Brendan Trainor in bringing the team together and building a strong group of players despite some absentees, “People have different reasons and excuses for why they don’t play (for the county) and I get that, it’s very time consuming and the commitment levels are huge so I understand that not everyone can commit”.
“I just think, when your county wants you, you should play because it’ll get to the stage where they don’t want you and they’ll not be too quick to tell you you’re not good enough anymore. I think Lenny and Brendan’s hands are tied, they asked people to commit and if they don’t, they don’t, they have their own reasons for it but I think it’s brought the squad together because they know everyone wants to be there”.
Antrim march into Saturday’s qualifier knowing how big a win over Kildare, who featured in last season’s Super 8’s, would be for the county, Fitzpatrick believes “It would be massive, it’s been a long year and it’s the time of year you want to be playing football for starters. We’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of it hasn’t been justified so it would be great to get another win and build a wee bit more momentum and give everyone another day out”.