Tom Comack email@example.com @dgldemocrat
There is a greater interest in Antrim this week on the minor footballers than there is in the senior footballers in Antrim as both teams travel to MacCumhaill Park on Sunday next.
That is the view of a Donegal man living and working in Belfast for the past two decades and in the know on the Antrim football scene.
Anthony McGrath,from Ballyshannon is a former Donegal U-21 and minor player, who also played for Antrim at senior level for a couple of seasons.
He also played club football in Belfast with O’Donovan Rossa.
“There is not a great deal of confidence about the seniors ahead of Sunday’s game,” says Anthony, who is head of marketing and student recruitment at Queen’s University, Belfast.
“I have been speaking to a number of people in recent days and being honest there is more interest in the minor team.
“I was speaking to one man only last night and all he wanted to talk about was the minor game.
“The general feeling is that they have a good minor team this year. Shaun Paul Barrett and the Donegal minors better be on their guard.
“A lot of the focus on the seniors is on the controversy surrounding the Matthew Fitzpatrick case.
“A big row has broken out between the players and the county board over county officials identifying the player from video footage of an altercation at the end their league game with Armagh, at the end of March.
“The player sent a letter to all of the clubs in the county and they also released it to the media. I know there are those that say it will solidify the players but overall I don’t think it is good for morale and preparations for a big championship game.”
Fitzpatrick initially avoided censure on a technicality but was hit with a 48 weeks ban earlier this week after being called before by the GAA’s Central Hearings’ Committee.
Antrim are expected to appeal the proposed 48 week ban in the hope that they will have one of their young and promising players for the trip to Ballybofey.
“I think any chance Antrim had of causing an upset ended with the news that Kevin Niblock is out through injury.
“He is a quality player and very much the playmaker in the team and without him they don’t really have a chance.
“They have experienced players in C J McGourty in the forwards and Sean McVeigh in the middle of the field.
“They are two good and experienced players and they have a number of good young players that have made it into the squad for the championship.
“Seamus McGarry is one them. He was on this year’s U-21 team and he kicked eight points against Monaghan in the U-21 championship and was drafted into the senior squad afterwards.
“He’s a good young and promising player. They also have Conor Small; the Donegal lads will remember him from the minor team a couple of years ago.
“They have another young lad Ruairi McCann, who is also a quality player with good potential and they have St Mary’s Paddy McBride.
Antrim have a joint management team. Frank Fitzsimmons, who has been in the job for a number of years, has been joined this season by former player Gearoid Adams.
“Frank and Gearoid will be organised and they will have a game plan. I expect them to be very defensive and they will make it difficult for Donegal.
“But being realistic the gulf in class will be too great. Donegal are at a different level to Antrim. There was a time in Ulster when the likes of Antrim could pull off a shock, like they did in 2009.
“Those days are long gone and the gulf between the top teams like Donegal and the likes of Antrim has become so wide the chance of an upset is no longer on the cards.
“Besides Antrim football is not in a good place right now. It seems to be as low as it has been for a good few years.
“They got promoted up to Division Three in the league, the year before last. But they came straight back down again after being one season up.
“The best Antrim can hope to get out of this season is to bring through a number of young players and get a couple of games in the Qualifiers.
“That would appear to be about the height of what they are capable of achieving right now.”
Anthony McGrath won a minor championship with Donegal at wing back in 1991 and an Ulster U-21 championship in 1995.
He was also a senior championship winner with Aodh Ruadh and in recent years has been working with Declan Bonner during his stints as Donegal minor and U-21 manager.