Antrim ladies undone in spirited opening encounter

Lidl National Football League Division 4

Antrim 2-10-3-11 Offaly

From Kevin Herron at The Dub

Photographs: Bert Trowlen

Antrim ladies came up just short in their opening National League Division 4 fixture at the Dub – going down 3-11-2-10 to last years Division 3 relegated side Offaly this afternoon.

Trailing to goals from Grainne Egan and Chloe Sheridan, the Saffrons fought back before the break and Ellen Morgan found the net.

The hosts further closed the deficit through an Aoife Taggart goal and were back on terms in second-half added time- however Sarah Cummins registered a third goal that ultimately saw Offaly over the line.

The Leinster side made the brighter start on a cold and crisp winter afternoon in south Belfast. They had the chance to register the games first goal after 2 minutes as referee Kieran McKeever signalled for a penalty after a coming together at the edge of the square and Grainne Egan tucked her penalty past Anna McCann.

Fionnuala Rocks replied for Antrim who had responded positively to their early set-back, without putting the scores on the board however. Ellen Morgan was inches away with a low drive that whistled wide of Lauren Dunne’s left hand post.

Instead it was Offaly who increased their lead through a fine Emma Maher point before Egan converted a free.

Chloe Sheridan popped the ball over and Egan did likewise in the aftermath as Offaly had four scores on the spin and the momentum; leading 1-04-0-01.

Ellen Morgan conjured up a fine point for the hosts, whose luck appeared to be out in the opening half-hour.

Aoife Taggart’s shot on the turn was cleared off the line and Lara Dahunsi fired wide from the follow-up and their frustration was compounded as Offaly doubled their goal tally through Chloe Sheridan, a fine finish from a well crafted move.

Grainne McLoughlin and Sheridan traded points in the aftermath but just before the interval; Antrim threw themselves a lifeline.

It was very much route-one stuff as Anna McCann’s kick-out was claimed by Lara Dahunsi who confidently burst forward and found Ellen Morgan with a perfectly weighted pass and Morgan made no mistake – rifling past Lauren Dunne to make ensure that at the break it was Offaly who led 2-05-1-03.

Offaly hit the opening score of the second period through Emma Maher to stretch their lead but Aoife Taggart replied from play and then from a free.

Grainne Egan brought her tally to 1-03 with a fine score from play – though points from Grainne McLoughlin and Taggart had a goal separating the sides ten minutes after the restart.

Offaly twice restored their four-point advantage through Dawn Hannon and Sinead Byrne with Aoife Taggart popping up with her fourth point of the half in-between.

A player light after having Emma Maher sent to the sin-bin; Offaly had to try and withhold heavy Antrim pressure and the strain showed with little over ten minutes remaining as Taggart rounded Dunne and finished to the net to make it a one-point in the visitors favour (2-09-2-08).

The last ten minutes of the game was scrappy and the games flow was disrupted by a number of stoppages, but Antrim continued their pursuit of a leveller and their persistence was rewarded as Aoife Taggart angled over to make it 2-09 apiece on the stroke of normal time.

Sarah Cummins was on hand to nudge Offaly back in front and was in the right place at the right time to deliver the knock-out punch moments later.

Grainne Egan dropped a free into the square where Cummins was waiting to turn the ball home, referee Kieran McKeever originally signalled for a square ball but after consultation his umpires decided to change his mind and Offaly now held a 3-10-2-09 lead.

Antrim were in need of a goal but had to settle for a sixth Aoife Taggart point and hope for a further opening in the aftermath.

Although Offaly finished the afternoons scoring through a Grainne Egan free as the Division 4 promotion favourites edged to an opening day victory in Belfast.

The Saffrons can take great pride from their spirited second-half showing which almost yielded a share of the spoils and will face another difficult encounter next Sunday as All-Ireland Champions Louth are visitors to the Dub.

Antrim: A McCann, L Wallace, E Kelly, N Killen, N Webb, M Hanna, G Shannon, L Dahunsi, A Tubridy, D Boyd, O Corr, A Taggart (1-06, 0-01f), E Morgan (1-01), F Rocks (0-01), G McLoughlin (0-02). Subs: M McGarry for D Boyd (HT); N Jones for F Rocks (46); A Carleton for O Corr (53); L O’Neill for E Kelly (62); D O’Reilly for G McLoughlin (65).

Offaly: L Dunne, E McNally, K Kehoe, I Murphy, M Mann, D Hannon (0-01), N Farrelly, F Quinn, S Byrne, A Carey, E Maher (0-02), C Sheridan (1-02), T Dunne, G Egan (1-04, 1-02f), R Ennis. Subs: S Cummins (1-01) for S Byrne (43); J O’Connor for K Kehoe (57); O Whelan for T Dunne (69).

Referee: Kieran McKeever (Armagh)

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