MARK Sweeney believes Saturday’s heart-stopping victory over Galway has given the Saffrons the confidence to go on an extended run through the Qualifiers this year.
Liam Bradley’s side’s reward for that 0-11 to 0-10 victory over the Tribesmen is a Round 3 clash away to Tipperary this weekend.
While Galway’s star may have faded somewhat since their last All-Ireland senior victory (2001), the team did still contain members of the All-Ireland winning U21 (2002, 2005, 2011) and minor (2007) teams.
With this in mind, the St Brigid’s ace feels that defeating such a quality side has proved that this crop of Antrim players are ready to take the next step along the road to success.
“It was magic. Decky O’Hagan was saying after the match that we won our first game of the National League against Sligo by one point and we had been building all year to try and beat these big teams,” he said.
“Galway is a great team to beat but everyone believed we could, so we just had to go out there and perform.
“You hear some people saying that Galway aren’t the team they used to be and are living off their reputation but for us it’s a massive win.
“It’s a big scalp and we needed to be beating a team like Galway. The past number of years we have been beaten by teams like Kildare, Tyrone, Kerry and Down in the Qualifiers.
“Galway would be right up there with them so I suppose this gives us confidence going forward.”
Antrim’s hero on Saturday was Sweeney’s St Brigid’s club-mate Déaghlán O’Hagan who was introduced with just minutes remaining and kicked the winning score with just seconds to play.
While O’Hagan may be recognised more as a defender, Sweeney said he had every faith the ball would sail between the posts as soon as it left his boot.
“I think I heard a few people in the stands saying ‘don’t shoot’ when he got the ball,” laughed Sweeney.
“But he has got that in his locker. He isa confident guy and wouldn’t shy away from anything.
“I’m so happy for him because he has stuck at it for a number of years and maybe didn’t have the rub of the green in the past but he deserves it.”
While Antrim’s victory was reported by many as the shock of the weekend, another result that stood out was Tipperary’s 1-13 to 0-15 victory over Wexford.
Both teams will view Saturday’s Semple Stadium showdown as a golden opportunity to make further progress where the loser of Sunday’s Ulster final (Donegal/Down) will provide the opposition in Round 4.
The sides have already met this season with Antrim claiming the league points in a 1-13 to 0-13 victory at the home of the GAA back in February.
However, things have changed in the Premier County with Peter Creedon having replaced John Evans as manager since then and Sweeney is aware Antrim will face a tough test but is nonetheless happy with the draw.
“I haven’t really thought about it but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to have avoided the big three names that were in the hat – Kildare, Kerry and Tyrone,” admitted the Queen’s University student.
“Tipperary are a good team especially in Thurles. They beat Wexford there and have run Kerry close.
“We beat them in the league but it was only a goal in it and it will be a different team we face now. They have changed their manager and their style of play so we can’t underestimate them but it’s a game we are looking to win.
“We have to hope our big players like Mick and Tomás (McCann) and Locky (James Loughrey) have big games and the rest of us chip in to support them.”
See reports, analysis and photographs from Saturday’s Qualifier win over Galway, and the Ulster Minor Hurling Final, on pages 84 – 87