Wednesday 17 January 2018

Niblock happy with Antrim momentum ahead of Down visit

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

"WE were only saying it at training the other night. When else would you have got three championship games at home?" asked Antrim attacker Kevin Niblock.

If they aren't quite giddy up in the north-east, they at least have reasons to be cheerful. An overdue first qualifier win since 2001 against Westmeath was followed by another against Carlow.

They'll take another step up in class tonight when Down come to Casement Park but feel like they've gained traction over the last few weeks.

"You can see why Tyrone won two of their three All-Irelands through the back door," said Niblock. "You really do get a bit of momentum from playing on consecutive weeks."

With their only win in the back door coming against Leitrim in the first year of the system, Antrim could be accused of apathy towards the qualifiers but the St Gall's man insisted the Saffrons have always recognised their importance.

"We always wanted to win them but you needed a good draw," he said.

"To be fair, we have got that this year with three home draws on the bounce, but in previous years Antrim got the likes of Armagh in 2003 when they were reigning All-Ireland champions and Kerry in 2009 after we were beaten in the Ulster final."

It was only back in May that they lost to Donegal in the Ulster championship but it feels like a lifetime ago for Niblock. He split his time between the middle third and the full-forward line that day and was surprised at how the game developed and the subsequent storm that followed.

"I had never seen anything like it but it reminded me of Kildare," he said. "We have come across them (Donegal) a lot between league and championship this year and they (Kildare) were similar. There is no time around midfield and those teams don't really seem to suit us."

Traditionally, Down wouldn't be in that category but, given the geographic proximity and the links between the sides, he's expecting another claustrophobic affair.

"They know us inside out and we know a fair bit about them too. James McCartan coached us in St Gall's a few years ago while (Down trainer) Paddy Tally managed St Mary's College when I was there, so they'd be very aware of us and how we play.

"You know what you will get with Down. They have excellent forwards who can rip you apart if you give them the time and space. I don't know what Baker's (Antrim manager Liam Bradley) plans are but I'm sure we'll try and limit those chances as much as possible."

A season in Division 2 of the National Football League ended in relegation as Bradley's men were sent back to Division 3.

"It was good to get that year in Division 2 but we're looking to come straight back up," said Niblock. "It seemed like it was a league where everyone could beat everyone. We beat Meath and how we didn't take the points from Laois I'll never know.

"It was experience against better sides and even from these couple of qualifier games we know what we need to work on. We dominated for long periods but let Carlow back into it and made some silly mistakes. We can't afford to do that this weekend."

Irish Independent

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