Antrim have the goods to pull off a shock against Down

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT -

ACOUPLE of years back, the great, good, me­diocre and jaded of the GAA press corps de­scended upon the train­ing ground of an Ul­ster county to gather up their quotes ahead of a Cham­pi­onship game.

In the round-table dis­cus­sion with the man­ager, he made light of re­cent in­jury scares. Re­ports cir­cu­lat­ing es­ti­mated the list per­haps a dozen strong, the panel dec­i­mated by a freak­ish run of ail­ments and knocks.

He did his best to con­vince us that the next day we would see them, they would bring fire and brim­stone. We left the in­ter­view con­vinced a cracker was in store.

Only when we re­treated to the com­fort of ac­ces­si­ble Wifi to file our re­ports for the evening, we had a clear and un­blem­ished view of the train­ing field. A tiny group of play­ers ran through a num­ber of drills be­fore set­tling on a game of seven-a-side. We had been duped. The team were sub­se­quently hammered in their game.

A man­ager’s job is to con­vince his play­ers that they are in with a se­ri­ous shout. With­out be­lief, they would have noth­ing.

As a re­sult, team press nights are awash with op­ti­mism. Play­ers are full of smiles and ra­di­ate pos­i­tiv­ity, kitted out in fresh boots and in in­creas­ingly lurid train­ing kit.

So it was in Ran­dal­stown last night, though man­ager Lenny Harbin­son had al­ready made his way to Dun­silly to pre­pare for a train­ing ses­sion.

Antrim play­ers are usu­ally a cheery bunch any­way, not the type to out­wardly ap­pear un­cer­tain of them­selves.

The thought gripped though that in this Cham­pi­onship, they could have a se­ri­ous chance in their quar­ter-fi­nal against Down.

Last year’s Ul­ster fi­nal­ists got there in a fash­ion no­body had ex­pected. Af­ter nar­rowly avoid­ing rel­e­ga­tion for the sec­ond year run­ning, they beat a fan­cied Ar­magh side, be­fore pro­duc­ing — let’s face it — some­thing of a rare shock in Ul­ster when they beat Mon­aghan in the semi-fi­nal.

They might have been ex­pected to push on from there. How­ever, the loss of Ai­dan Carr and Mark Poland to re­tire­ment, with Jerome John­ston be­ing ab­sent for the league cam­paign, saw them slide into the third tier, de­spite ac­cru­ing more points in this cam­paign than last.

Down’s progress is hard to gauge but there does not seem to be a pile of pos­i­tiv­ity around the place in Ea­monn Burns’ third year.

A rare Satur­day night Cham­pi­onship game in Newry — 10 days from now — might just be the type of thing that gets them up for it, and the im­pact that for­mer Antrim joint-man­ager Gearoid Adams can have as Down se­lec­tor now could be de­ci­sive.

But this game, should Antrim bring the ap­petite for it, is set up for a shock. Hope­ful: Lenny Harbin­son has a de­cent Antrim side

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