By Michael McMullan
ANTRIM goalkeeper Michael Byrne wore a smile that said it all after Saturday’s win over Cavan as the Saffrons took a step towards safety ahead of Sunday’s trip to Longford.
Antrim led by ten points before a comeback centred around Conor Madden’s goal led to Conor Smith fisting a 67th-minute point to leave just two between the teams.
A penny for goalkeeper Byrne’s thoughts at that point as Cavan had all the momentum. All the avenues for a short kick-out were closed as Raymond Galligan and co. pressed up.
Then Eoghan McCabe won a vital break and seconds later Odhran Eastwood had the ball over the bar from a soft free.
“Against Down and Fermanagh, we were in the lead and probably had the game,” Byrne said, pointing to how Cavan had forced Antrim to another crossroads.
Factor in a 31-point defeat to Westmeath and Antrim’s underbelly was poised for another acid test.
“We were on the other side of it,” beamed Byrne of how they dug out a victory. “Maybe if that had happened in those games (Down and Fermanagh), but might’ve been different in the last game (against Westmeath).
“I don’t think that was a true showing of ourselves, but we have to own it. It was something we done and something every player on the pitch had to deal with.
“That wasn’t a true showing of us as a team and I think today showed we had a lot more character. It’s good that it takes us into that final game and us safe.”
Byrne admits that Conor Moynagh’s black card in the 71st minute allowed Antrim to have extra bodies on kick-outs for the final moments including those crucial minutes after Paddy Lynch hammered a second Cavan goal.
“It probably was the deciding factor in the end,” he said. “For the last 10 minutes we were finding it a bit tight and were under pressure and kicking into the breeze.
“The black card gave us an extra man on the break and it helped us back into it which is exactly what we needed in the end.”
Eoghan McCabe played the long ball for Aghagallon’s Ruairi McCann to bag the opening goal and Paddy McBride kicked five points.
Byrne hauled both having a vital imprint on the game, but their win came from drawing a line under the Westmeath debacle.
“It was tough.. you sitting after it and even sitting for a couple of days,” said Byrne of their 4-27 to 0-8 hammering.
“We had the Tuesday off and we went back in training on the Wednesday. We talked about it…you just can’t hide from it.
“We got ourselves going and said we’d draw a firm line under it. We knew the performances before that were better.
“We needed the game a lot more than they (Cavan) did. They are going for the league and they might win it, but we needed it to stay up.
“We knew we had another game but you don’t want to leave it to the last game.
“Anything can happen in this league.”