Kehoe Cup – Leinster Hurling – Round 1
Saturday November 30
Antrim 3-27 Meath 1-15
Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Tailteann, Navan
What a difference a year makes. 12 months ago, Antrim played Wicklow in the opening round of the Kehoe Cup with a thread bare squad, barely a starting 15 and with a question mark over pre-season. On Saturday, they took apart Meath and had time to experiment in the second half. A comfortable if not facile victory against the Royal County with 18 points to spare. The start to his term as Antrim manager Darren Gleeson would have been hopeful of.
The first 35 minutes and despite a slow start, the Saffrons Antrim were touch perfect all over the field. To nit-pick, they missed a few too many scoreable chances but from the moment Alex Delargy scored the opening goal in the 23rd minute, the Saffrons would hit a further 1-8 before the half time whistle. Antrim’s second goal coming from man of the match Domhnall Nugent when the St John’s clubman riffled a 21 yard free to the roof of the net. A fierce strike that would have troubled any ‘keeper in the country. His contribution throughout the 70 minutes was immense. Starting on the edge of the square before drifting further out, Nugent’s touch, vision and work rate was exemplary. A welcome return to the Saffron shirt and a glimpse of what can be for the forthcoming season.
Meath scored their goal at the start of the second half, substitute Jack Regan with a penalty but Antrim responded with Michael Bradley scoring their third goal nine minutes after the restart and controlling the second half. The Royal’s improved as they brought on more experience off their bench but Antrim were on top in defence and had the ability to score at will. Ciaran Johnston and Paddy Burke forming the spine of the Saffrons defence, strong, controlled and putting on an exhibition. Conor McCann, a captain’s performance with four points from play while Conor Johnston top scored, six of his ten points coming from placed ball.
The midfield partnership in the starting 15 of Eoghan Campbell and Niall McKenna dovetailed naturally during their time together on the pitch. McKenna was one of six players who made a welcome return to the Saffron fold and during his 55 minutes on the field, he gave us a reminder of his talents.
In a cagey opening, the sides were tied on two points each after nine minutes. Antrim were already showing more intensity and work rate, but their lack of accuracy in front of target meant their early play wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard.
Antrim did manage to open a five point gap by the 22nd minute with Conor Johnston, McCann, McKenna and Bradley all finding their range before Delargy hit the opening goal of the game. Nugent claiming a high ball before delivering an intricate pop pass into the path of Conor Johnston. He was hounded by two Meath defenders and smartly found Delargy on the edge of the square who made no mistake from point blank range.
Delargy’s goal marked the start of a blistering period for the Saffron’s where everything they touched turned to gold, or scores as the case may be. They led by 11 points when Ryan McCambridge was hauled to the ground making his way to the Meath goal. Nugent stood over a 21 yard free and no one was prepared for what was to come. His stance over the sliotar didn’t give any indication he was about to go for goal but that he did and he found the Meath net with a ferocious drive.
Further scores from Bradley, McCambridge, Nugent and Conor Boyd were answered to by Anthony Healy’s third free of the match to leave Antrim 17 points ahead at the interval.
Half time: Antrim 2-16 Meath 0-5
Antrim really didn’t want half time to come such was how they were taking Meath apart. The Royal’s started the second half with more intensity and didn’t let Antrim dictate and scored their only goal of the contest three minutes after the restart. Nicky Potterton fouled while burrowing his way to Ryan Elliott’s goal. Jack Regan found the back of the net but Saffrons responded and didn’t allow Meath to gather any momentum.
The third Antrim goal came in the 44th minute with Ryan McCambridge claiming a diagonal ball from Ciaran Johnston. The Ruairi Og man went one way and passed inside to Michael Bradley who moved intelligently into the space McCambridge’s run created. 20 plus yards from goal, Bradley found the top corner with a sumptuous drive and all but end the match as a contest.
Antrim introduced Ronan Molloy, Ryan McGarry along with James O’Connell and Conor McHugh at half time while remaining in control and keeping Meath at arm’s length. The points still flowed with Conor Johnston, Bradley and Paddy Burke all finding their range while Molloy could have had two majors inside the 15 minutes.
Meath never looked like adding to their goal tally, a good reflection on the organisation showed in the Antrim defence throughout. Solid, unyielding and their delivery into the attack allowed the Saffrons to flourish.
Next up, the McGurk Cup and a match against Armagh in the Dub before travelling to Abbottstown next Saturday and their Kehoe Cup second round match against Wicklow.
We’re off and running once again.
Antrim: R Elliott; S Rooney, Ciaran Johnston, C Boyd (0-1); G Walsh, P Burke (0-1), M Donnelly; E Campbell, N McKenna (0-3, 2 frees); M Bradley (1-3), R McCambridge (0-1), C McCann (0-4); Conor Johnston (0-10, 5 frees 1’65), D Nugent (1-3), A Delargy (1-1).
Subs: J O’Connell for R McCambridge (h/t); C McHugh for M Donnelly (h/t); R Molloy for M Bradley (55); Ryan McGarry for N McKenna (55); R McCambridge for C Boyd (68)
Meath: C Ennis; G Murphy, P Lally, S Brennan; S Geraghty, J Toher (0-4, 2 frees), K Keoghan; P Hanrahan (0-1), P Potterton; J Walsh (0-1), S Whitty, A Healy (0-7 frees), D Raeligh, D Gilmartin, N Potteron.
Subs: J Regan for P Lally (h/t); P Slevin for D Gilmartin (h/t); S Ennis for G Murphy (49); C Kelly for J Walsh (58); N McLarnon for P Potterton (58); P Potterton for P Hanrahan (65)
Check out the goals from Saturday’s game
The third goal is something special