McNaughton steers Antirm to Kehoe Cup final

Bord na Mona Kehoe Cup – Leinster Hurling

Antrim 4-20 Kildare 1-19

John McIlwaine reports from Abbotstown

A great individual display from centre forward James McNaughton helped steer Antrim to next weekend’s final of the Kehoe Cup. The Loughgiel star was in fine form, scoring 3 goals and 9 points as the Saffrons survived a second half comeback by Kildare in windy conditions at Abbotstown. After starting like an express train the Ulster men led by 3-6  to 0-3 after twenty minutes, but they took their foot off the pedal as the game progressed and slowly but surely Kildare fought their way back into the game. They were nine to the good at the break but Kildare hit back with a bang in the second half and despite having a goal disallowed, soon after the restart, they closed the gap to six with ten minute still to play. However James McNaughton came to the rescue when things were getting tight and his third goal, the best of the three, swung things back in Antrim’s favour, and they went on to push home their advantage and secure a final place against Westmeath in Mullingar on Sunday next.  

Antrim got off to a flying start with a goal and a point inside the opening minute, the point coming from Nigel Elliott and the goal from James McNaughton, and as if things were not bad enough for the Lillywhites they shipped another major score two minutes later when James O’Connell bundled the ball over the line after a bad mix up in the Lillywhites’ defence. Ryan Casey opened the Kildare account with a point from a narrow angle on the right but James McNaughton cancelled that out inside thirty seconds with a great solo effort at the other end.

Free taker Brian Byrne got Kildare’s second in the seventh minute but two quick replies from Keelan Molloy and Nicky McKeague gave Antrim back the initiative and they were in complete control by the 20th minutes as McNaughton (65) and Nigel Elliott added points, before James McNaughton got through for his second, and Antrim’s third goal. 3-6 to 0-3 in arrears Kildare were in danger of going under, but to their credit they showed a marked improvement for the remainder of the first half with three points from the excellent Brian Byrne and one each from Caolan Smith and Barry McCormack to go in at the break trailing by 3-10 to 0-8.

Eleven clear as the second half resumed you worried if Antrim could keep up the momentum and those fears were soon realised as Kildare came out with all guns blazing. They got the opening score of the half in the second minute before having a goal disallowed for a ‘square ball’ infringement, full-forward Caolan Smith finishing from close range after a good cross from the wing by Brian Byrne. Antrim hit back with an excellent Nicky McKeague point from a narrow angle and one from James McNaughton to increase their lead to twelve, but Kildare were coming more and more into the game and little by little they chipped away at the Antrim lead. With the brilliant Byrne leading every attack they outscored Antrim by 8 points to three during the next twelve minutes, Byrne getting six of the scores and substitute James Burke the other two as they clawed their way back to within six. Antrim were treading water at this stage and were badly in need of a lift and James McNaughton provided it as he completed his hat-trick of goals with a magical finish in the 57th minute. Substitute Conor Boyd started the move and found Keelan Molly who sent McNaughton through on goal. The Loughgiel man had still plenty to do but he kept his cool as he rounded a defender and fired a brilliant left sided strike to the corner of the Kildare net to give his team breathing space.

Suddenly Antrim were back at their first half best and five points followed in as many minutes as James McNaughton (2), Donal McKinley (2) and Nicky McKeague fired over to put the game beyond Kildare’s reach. To their credit the Lillywhites battled away to the end they were rewarded with a late goal from Deay and a point from Burke but Antrim had already booked their final place against Westmeath on Sunday next.

SCORERS – Antrim: James McNaughton 3-10 (4f, 1 ’65); Keelan Molloy 1-3; Nicky McKeague 0-3; Donal McKinley 0-2; Nigel Elliot and Ciaran Clarke 0-1 each. Kildare: Brian Byrne 0-11 (6f); Brian Deay 1-1; James Burke 0-3; Caolan Smith 0-2; Ronan Casey and Paul Divilly 0-1 each.

The Antrim team who beat Kildare in the Kehoe Cup semi-final. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

ANTRIM – R Elliot; S Rooney, J Dillon, P Duffin; R Molly, S McCrory, M Donnelly; C McCann, J O’Connell; N Elliot, J McNaughton, N McKeague; C McHugh, K Molloy, C Clarke. Subs: K Rice for Clarke (h-t); D McKinley for O’Connell (40); Conor Boyd for McHugh (50); Conor Patterson for Duffin (50).

KILDARE – M Doyle; C Dervan, J Doran, J Doolan; S Christiansen, M Fitzgerald, D Cahill; P Divilly, A Kelly; B Cormack, B Byrne, B Deay; C Dowling, C Smith, R Casey. Subs: J Burke for Kelly (22); R Kelly and K Whelan for Dowling and Cormack (33); P Feerick and A Kelly for Casey and Cahill (55).

REF – K Brady (Louth)

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