He no doubt knew it was going to be a bumpy ride when the the Baker decided to shape the future of footballing in Antrim, but he couldn’t have imagined it would have been so exciting.
On Saturday night, the senior football squad secured promotion to Division 2 by beating Louth after being in Division 4 for what seemed to be an eternity and sweeping their way through Division 3 like men on a sublime mission.
At times on Saturday night, the Saffrons played sublime football under the floodlit glare, tearing the Louth defence apart with speed, strength and intelligence. Kevin Niblock played out of his skin – until he was injured: Michael McCann was magnificent as he soared to catch high ball after high ball; Paddy Cunningham was, well, Paddy Cunningham, scoring 1-06 of Antrim’s 2-16; Justin Crozier was forcefull in the half-back line.
Score after score piled up. Now, not only do Antrim score freely (6-79 in six games) but they are scoring beautifully-crafted points and goals on top of Paddy’s superlative free-taking. The first two points were indeed things of beauty.
Everything went Antrim’s way, they got all the breaking balls – I’m sure this was due more to planning than to Lady Luck – and Louth looked more like the audience at a masterclass than a feared opposition.
At times, the Saffrons seemed intoxicated with the way they were playing and passes started going astray and, worse still, Louth scored a couple of goals themselves.
Alhtough, they were 10 points ahead at one stage, the Wee County kept chipping away and at half-time, Peter Fitzpatrick’s men must have thought, if they got off to a blistering start in the second half, that anything was possible.
In the end, Antrim, stopped the showboating and put in an effective if not an enthralling second half performance to keep a respectable distance between themselves and the Louthmen and so the game fizzled out in a bit of an anti-climax.
But the importance of the win cannot be understated. Antrim are now a Division 2 football team. I’ll repeat that. Antrim are now a Division 2 football team. We’ll be playing the like of Kildare and Laois and who knows who else when promotion and relegation are sorted next week. Baker’s home county of Derry? Tyrone? Kerry? Armagh?
Mouthwatering ties whoever we get.
But it’s “just the league” -The Championship starts on May 23 with the visit of Tyrone to Casement Park. What a day that is going to be! But Antrim are in unknown territory. The understandable confidence mustn’t turn into complacency. Liam Bradley has rightly said the current set-up is a work in progress, but, wow, what a work in progress. How far can Antrim go? To win Ulster? To get to an All-Ireland semi-final? An All-Ireland final? Only time will tell but what a wonderful prospect.