Senior Hurling Challenge – Fr Reid Trophy
Saturday February 8
Antrim 2-23 Tipperary 2-23
Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Mac Dáibhéid, Belfast
In a small corner in the heart of west Belfast, Davitt’s GAC opened their facilities to the GAA world with All-Ireland champions Tipperary the honour of taking to the pristine surface in Beechmount. Storm Ciara lurked, threatening and looming yet it did little to dampen a successful day for Davitt’s.
With 3000 tickets sold, the new venue was tested. The stewards were there in their droves, the weeks if not months of planning was all about this day and spectators began to fill in from the Falls Road. It was perfect. A sign of what hurling and big game hurling means to the people of Belfast. Tipperary came with Liam McCarthy to boot. Arriving the night before and doing their bit with Davitt’s club the morning of the match, the All-Ireland champions were brilliant both on and off the pitch. But brilliance was met with acknowledgement and class. Davitt’s with a contribution to the Tipperary training fund, presented to Liam Sheedy in their superb new facilities the night before the match.
The match itself matched the occasion. Antrim rose to the challenge of playing the All-Ireland winners with Tipperary requiring a free from Jason Forde to share the Fr Reid Trophy. The Tipperary man was brilliant on the day with 11 points overall but Antrim had players who shone as well. James McNaughton with two first half goals and top scoring for the Saffrons with 2-3 while Neil McManus gave another all action performance. The return of Keelan Molloy will have been a welcome sight for anyone who follows the Saffrons and he showed glimpses of what he’s capable off.
Tipperary started with a bang and with a strong wind at their back they had the better of the early exchanges. Darragh Mooney’s initial poc out dropped on the edge of the Antrim six yard box such was the force of the elements.
When Antrim settled, they outplayed Tipperary for large periods – highlighted with McNaughton’s brace. Two goals in the space of four minutes allowed Antrim to take a four point lead but the lead was cut to one by the half time whistle. Antrim 2-8 Tipperary 0-13.
The second half began with a raft of changes to either side but Antrim scored three points in as many minutes to stretch their advantage. Tipp had Forde and Michael Breen prominent while Seamus Callanan was keeping the Saffron defence honest with his work rate and sheer physical presence.
With 15 minutes remaining, Tipperary hit back. Dylan Quirke scored two goals and just like Molloy in the first half, they came in quick time – in the 55th and 63rd minute. The difference though was the Saffrons ability to keep the scoreboard ticking at the other end of the pitch. Goal keeper Conor McAllister, fresh back to the squad from his honeymoon landed three long range frees while pulling off a double save to deny Tipperary a certain goal.
Antrim responded to the Tipp resurgence by turning a two point deficit into a one point lead. Conor Boyd, McNaughton and Molloy with the scores. Both sides looked like they had the game won with time running out and Dan McCloskey landed Antrim’s 23rd point of the match and 14th from open play at the death but Forde had the final say.
The result wasn’t important. For Antrim, they needed a performance and Davitt’s deserved an occasion. They got both. The men from Davitt’s stand on the cusp of something special with the foundations laid forever more. Antrim turn their attentions to Tullamore and a massive league fixture against Offaly.
Antrim: Conor McAllister; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsk, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Keelan Molloy, Eoghan Campbell; James McNaughton, Neil McManus, Michael Bradley; Domhnall Nugent, Conor McCann, Dan McCloskey
Tipperary: Darragh Mooney; Jamie Maloney, Brian McGrath, Paul Maher; Joe O’Dwyer, Robert Byrne, Jason Ryan; Dan McCormick, Jerome Cahill; Dylan Quirke, Michael Breen, Niall O’Meera; Jason Forde, Seamus Callanan, Paul Flynn
Antrim Scorers: James McNaughton 2-3 (1f); Neil McManus 0-7 (4 f’s 1 ’65); Conor McAllister 0-3 (3 f’s); Conor McCann 0-2; Conor Boyd 0-2; Domhnall Nugent 0-1; Eoghan Campbell 0-1; Alex Delargy 0-1; Gerard Walsh 0-1; Keelan Molloy 0-1; Dan McCloskey 0-1