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McBride: Antrim must keep the Faith

Paddy McBride, in action against Monaghan's Barry McGinn in the Dr McKenna Cup last month, feels Antrim’s performance against Tipperary last Sunday will give them the confidence to believe they can defeat Offaly this weekend in Tullamore Paddy McBride, in action against Monaghan's Barry McGinn in the Dr McKenna Cup last month, feels Antrim’s performance against Tipperary last Sunday will give them the confidence to believe they can defeat Offaly this weekend in Tullamore
By Paddy Tierney

Allianz National Football League Division Three Offaly v Antrim (Sunday, 3pm, Tullamore)

FEW gave Antrim any hope in their opening National Football League game against Tipperary in Thurles last Sunday but Paddy McBride was expecting nothing less than two points. The Saffrons were massive underdogs against a side who reached the All-Ireland SFC semi-finals last year.

As it transpired, McBride’s pre-match prediction was incorrect but not as far off the mark as many thought. Antrim battled gamely Semple Stadium and led 0-7 to 0-5 at half-time.

Late in the second half, Tipperary illustrated why they are one of the most improved teams in the country as they plundered two late goals from Michael Quinlivan and Philip Austin to seal a slightly flattering five-point win.

“I know we had a bad McKenna Cup but we were experimenting and trying new players,” said McBride. “We saw at the weekend from a couple of the debutants how good they are. “Before the game, I didn’t fear Tipperary or think we were going down to get hammered.

“I said to a few of the lads that I had a sneaky feeling we could win because of how good the training was going and how good the mood was in the camp. “We played really well and I think we deserved to win. I know you can’t really say Tipperary didn’t deserve it when they won by five, but I don’t think the scoreline reflected the performance. “In the first half we played them off the park.

“In the second half, I think we were still better but the two goals killed us. “Our performance was the big thing to take from it. I was gutted we lost and so was everyone else but, at the same time, you can use it as a positive going forward.”

Sunday’s game and the manner of their defeat perfectly illustrated the step up in class that Antrim face on a weekly basis. Last season, mistakes went unpunished as Antrim secured promotion from the basement tier.

However, McBride hopes the sterner examinations in Division Three will stand to the Saffrons in their Championship campaign. “Last year in Division Four, teams couldn’t get through us at all. It was brilliant,” said McBride.

“Then we played Fermanagh in the Championship and we hadn’t played a team of that standard all year. We found that hard when it came to the Championship. “Playing in Division Three will be a good thing because you can see the calibre of teams in that league and it will prepare us better for the Championship.

“Tipperary found it difficult against us too but once they got the chance, they weren’t missing. “Guys like big (Michael) Quinlivan at full-forward – once he gets the ball in front of goal, more often than not, it is going to end up in the back of the net.

“Chris Kerr, give him his dues, he made a great save as well but they took the last two chances.”

Antrim’s defeat to Tipp coupled with Offaly’s loss to Longford in Pearse Park means that Sunday’s clash in O’Connor Park is, not so much a must-win game but one that neither side can afford to lose.

“It happened a few years ago – we lost our first game. We won our first game last year and it set us up for the rest of the campaign,” added the St John’s clubman.

“If you lose your first game, your second one becomes a massive game. You can find yourself chasing the win. This Sunday, is a big game for us. “Once you get your two points on the board, you can work from there.

“This is a game we want to win. It is important now because we didn’t get the first win. “I think the Tipperary performance has lifted us. “I will give us confidence going down on Sunday. The way I look at it, you want to be winning every game.”

While Antrim’s performances in the Dr McKenna Cup were underwhelming to say the least, McBride is adamant that the Saffrons have turned the corner. Rather than wholesale changes to their approach, he feels Antrim must simply retain their focus for the entire duration of the game.

“Hopefully we can build on last week’s performance,” said McBride. “If we can play that well against Tipperary, another week of training will mean it can only get better. “We improved so much from the McKenna Cup. I think it is just about perfecting the game we play. That was the first game of the league.

“I think we just need to focus for the 70 minutes rather than trying to better how we are playing.”

The Antrim management handed out several debuts on Sunday, with Peter Healy, Stephen Beatty and Conor Small making their first NFL starts while Sean Pat Donnelly was among the newcomers sprung from the bench late on.

McBride feels the youngsters all made their presence felt and feels there is enough talent in the squad to compensate for absence of injured regulars like Kevin Niblock, Mark Sweeney and Sean McVeigh.

“We had a about five new players on Sunday. Now they have a game under their belt, they are only going to get better,” said the Saffron wing-back.

“Peter Healy is a great player. You would think he has been with us for years. Stephen Beatty was brilliant. He played wing half-forward. He brings something different to the team – his workrate was class.

“Sean Pat (Donnelly) came off the bench and his pace is frightening. He is a different type of player so that gives us another option. “Those guys want to be playing and they have a game under their belt and they can only improve from the experience of last weekend.

“That was one of the positives from the McKenna Cup. People were maybe wondering what was going on but we found those players and Sunday showed that they are able to play Division Three football.”

Like Antrim, Offaly remain understrength due to a lengthy list of absentees. Former International Rules star Niall McNamee missed last weekend’s defeat to Longford with a stomach injury and is expected to sit out Sunday’s game against Antrim. John Moloney remained sidelined with a shoulder injury while Joe O’Connor was given a straight red card last Sunday. Anton Sullivan’s availability is unclear due to his commitments with the Irish army but Brian Darby should feature after missing the Longford defeat.

The woes faced by Offaly makes Sunday’s trip to the Midlands a little less daunting for Antrim but the Faithful are unbeaten at home under Pat Flanagan.

Both sets of supporters will probably be happy to settle for a share of the spoils to get off the mark. Paddy McBride won’t be happy with anything less than a win.

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