Leinster Hurling – Kehoe Cup Final
Antrim 1-15 Offaly 1-16
Sunday January 12
Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Tailteann, Navan
When Dan MCCloskey found the back of the Offaly net in the third minute in injury time, it looked like Antrim were on the verge of committing daylight robbery. McCloskey’s goal brought the sides level for the first time in the match and the Saffrons looked like they could grab an unlikely win in a game where they were second best to the Faithful County. Offaly looked more cohesive throughout with a strong defence led superbly by captain Ben Conneely and a potent attack that gave Antrim their fill and more.
The winner came two minutes after McCloskey’s major. Oisin Kelly was a real handful for the Saffrons defence and it was he who struck what proved to be the winner and no one in an Antrim shirt could complain at the final score. Offaly recorded 18 wides over the 70 minutes, 11 in the second half and some of those misses were criminal.
Antrim themselves were off target 12 times with a couple also dropping short but in attack they didn’t get going while in defence they were up against a well drilled Offaly side that have Michael Fennelly’s finger prints all over it with their style of play. Neil McManus top scored with nine points in another strong performance while Keelan Molloy scored five points from play in his first game back from injury, but the Saffrons didn’t reach the performance levels they have so far in their previous matches.
Offaly started on top and had a four point lead before McManus scored Antrim’s point, a free in the 13th minute. Oisin Kelly and Peter Geraghty were dominating poc outs from either end of the field with Antrim struggling to claim primary possession. Offaly seemed to have a man in the right place and were reading poc outs with greater ease, giving them the footing to control the game for large periods yet by the midway point of the first half, they trailed by just one point. Molloy’s first of the match in the 18th minute the first from open play for Antrim as the crowd got more into the game in the Páirc Tailteann stand and the game beginning to heat up on the field.
McManus’ fifth point of the half in first half injury time left two between the sides at half time but it was a half that belonged to the faithful county with Kelly, Geraghty and Liam Langton all the focal point for Fennelly’s men. Half time score 0-9 to 0-7 in Offaly’s favour.
Niall McKenna opened Antrim’s account four minutes after the restart to cancel Shane Kinsella’s second point of the match but Offaly’s missed chances were keeping Antrim in the game at the start of the second half. A series of chances failed to find the target and Antrim kept plugging away with McManus’ accuracy from frees helping them to keep in touch.
Two points separated the sides when Offaly scored the opening goal of the game. Brian Duignan, son of Offaly legend Michael, with the finish with his first then second touches of the game. Claiming a high ball, he passed to Shane Kinsella and but for superb tackle from Phelim Duffin, Kinsella was through. The sliotar broke loose and Duignan pulled first time to send the sliotar over Ryan Elliott’s line.
The Antrim response will have been the most pleasing aspect of the encounter for Darren Gleeson and his management team. Five down with just over five minutes of normal time remaining, they clawed their way back. McManus and Molloy firing over before McCloskey’s goal two minutes into injury time. Collecting the sliotar in the heart of the Offaly defence, Domhnall Nugent found McNaughton. The Loughgiel man escaped the challenges and unselfishly passed to his Loughgiel club-mate McCloskey who arrowed a low shot past Offally goalkeeper James Dempsey from a narrow angle to bring his team level.
A tied game and Antrim looked like they could claim what would have been an unlikely victory. They had possession from the poc out but they couldn’t turn that possession into the chance they needed to score the winner. The Offaly defence were immense and when the ball was sent long one more time, Oisin Kelly rose highest to claim possession and break free. The white flag was raised for what turned out to be the winning score. Conor Johnston had one last effort, a difficult chance wide on the left and one you wouldn’t be surprised to see the talented St Johns man taking but his effort tailed wide with the last action of the game.
The pre-season competitions are over and thoughts turn to an away game in Wicklow for the start of the league campaign followed by the visit of Mayo to Fr Healy Park in Loughgiel. These two sides will meet again on February 16 in Tullamore and Antrim will be hoping for better fortunes against the Faithful County as they push for promotion.
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Conor Boyd, Eoghan Campbell; Keelan Molloy, Nicky McKeague; Michael Bradley, Neil McManus, James McNaughton; Domhnall Nugent, Alex Delargy, Niall McKenna
Subs: Conor Johnston for N McKeague (43); Ronan Molloy for A Delargy (43); Ryan McCambridge for M Bradley (46); Aodhan O’Brien for C Boyd (46); Dan McCloskey for N McKenna (55); Conor McHugh for S Rooney (67)
Scorers: Neil McManu 0-9 (5 f’s 2 ‘65’s); Keelan Molloy 0-5; Dan McCloskey 1-00; Niall McKenna 0-1
Offaly: James Dempsey; Brian Watkins, Damien Egan, Paddy Rigney; Michael Cleary, Ben Conneely, Dan Doughan; Brendan Murphy, Leon Fox; Shane Kinsella, Peter Geraghty, Oisin Kelly; Liam Langton, Sean Cleary, Thomas Geraghty
Subs: David King for B Watkins (ht); David Nally for B Murphy (49); Paul Kinsella for S Cleary (52); Brian Duignan for P Geraghty (62); Kevin Dunne for L Fox (65); Jason Sampson for S Kinsella (69); Ross Ravinhill for L Langton (inj)
Scorers: Liam Langton 0-4 (3 f’s 1 ’65); Brian Duignan 1-00; Leon Fox 0-2; Shane Kinsella 0-2; Peter Geraghty 0-2; Oisin Kelly 0-2; Sean Cleary 0-2; David Nally 0-2 (1 f)
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)