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Antrim hoping to draw home comforts ahead of Corrigan clash

Paddy McBride, pictured in action against Louth, feels if Antrim reproduce their showing from the win over the Wee County, they can shock Kildare at Corrigan Park on Saturday afternoon Paddy McBride, pictured in action against Louth, feels if Antrim reproduce their showing from the win over the Wee County, they can shock Kildare at Corrigan Park on Saturday afternoon
By Paddy Tierney

All-Ireland Senior Football Qualifiers Round Two
Antrim v Kildare (Saturday, 3pm, Corrigan Park)

IT was meant as a tongue-in-cheek tweet, sent out against the backdrop of Kildare’s famous ‘Newbridge or nowhere’ campaign last summer, but Paddy McBride admits he had no idea how much influence his post would have.

Some 20 minutes after Antrim were pitted against Kildare, McBride tweeted: “Whiterock or nowhere” – an obvious reference to the fact that the Saffrons would, in all probably, lose their right to host the Championship fixture.

Such was the case when Antrim were forced to play their Ulster Championship clash against Tyrone in Armagh’s Athletic Grounds, but officials within the county dug their heels in and successfully made the case for Corrigan Park to host the fixture.

The Whiterock Road venue was used as Antrim’s home pitch when they lost out to Limerick in the Qualifiers in 2016 and McBride insists the key focus now is to put on a performance for the home fans.

“I honestly wasn’t expecting a reaction, I did it for a laugh,” stated McBride.

“I remember the campaign they had last year and, obviously, I did want to see the game at Corrigan Park. At the same time, I didn’t think it would get so much publicity. Now we have the game at St John’s, it is great.

“When you get a win in the Qualifiers and you then get a home draw, surely you should push to play it at home to get as big an advantage as you can, especially when you are playing a team like Kildare?”

After going four years without a victory in Championship football, the sense of relief at the Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda was palpable.

Two goals from McBride’s St John’s clubmate Matthew Fitzpatrick helped the Saffrons claim a fully-deserved 2-16 to 1-11 win over the Wee County.

The result was Antrim’s first Championship win since their Qualifier defeat of Laois back in 2015 and McBride feels it will stand to them this weekend as they welcome Kildare to Corrigan Park.

“Our focus isn’t on the venue, it is on the next round. We aren’t looking forward, it is just one game at a time for us,” said McBride.

“That’s the way it was for the Louth match. We weren’t talking about getting a run in the Qualifiers – it was just about getting a win.

“After the win, it was just relief. You bust your balls for years and we hadn’t won a Championship game in four years and we lost a National League final as well. It was a big lift for us and I think that will stand by us going into this game.”

Kildare are, as expected, overwhelming favourite to progress to round three, but the Lilywhites have struggled in the Championship thus far.

After finishing a disappointing fourth in Division Two in the spring, Cian O’Neill’s men only had two points to spare over Wicklow in their Leinster opener before drawing with Division Three outfit Longford in the quarter-final.

They won the replay handsomely, but were no match for All-Ireland champions Dublin in the provincial semi-final – losing 0-26 to 0-11.

Indeed, Kildare have tended to struggle against so-called smaller counties and were dumped out of the Leinster Championship last season by Carlow and McBride feels Antrim have every reason to be optimistic ahead of Saturday’s showdown.

“Kildare play in Division Two so they are two divisions above us so they have that experience of playing at a higher level and they have that experience of playing better teams having played in the ‘Super 8s’ last year,” stated the St John’s defender.

“But they only beat Wicklow by two points earlier in this year’s Championship and then they drew with Longford. We’ve played Longford in recent years and they’ve always been close games and we’ve had close games against Wicklow too.

“The great thing about these games is that they come so quickly. You go out and give it everything you have and see where it takes you. That’s what we did against Louth and we played really well. I don’t see why, if we play like that again, we can’t get another win.”

As well as a welcome win in the Championship, Antrim also received a major boost against Louth with the return to inter-county action of Conor Murray.

The Lámh Dhearg attacker has been sidelined for the best part of a year after sustaining a cruciate knee ligament injury against Offaly in the Qualifiers last summer.

Considering Antrim’s well-documented lack of strength-in-depth, owing to injury and absenteeism, Murray’s return couldn’t have come at a better time.

Whether 40-odd minutes of action against Louth will bring him on enough to warrant a starting berth remains to be seen, but Lenny Harbinson will certainly utilise his experience at some point.

Naomh Éanna defender James McAuley is also expected to recover from a minor hamstring strain, which forced him to be taken off in the opening stages of the Louth clash.

However, Patrick Finnegan and Marty Johnston remain sidelined and Harbinson looks unlikely to make too many alterations to his starting 15.

The Lilywhites can often flatter to deceive and their recent Championship struggles against Longford, Wicklow and Carlow will give Antrim hope they can cause another upset.

Few gave Kildare a chance of defeating Mayo last year, but their ‘Newbridge or nowhere’ campaign galvanised the entire county. Saturday is a chance for the Saffrons to do the same and turn Corrigan Park into a fortress.

Having won the right to host Saturday’s Qualifier clash against Kildare, the important business of winning another Championship battle looks an altogether tougher challenge for Antrim.

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