Allianz Hurling League – Division 2a
Antrim 5-27 Meath 1-15
Sunday February 23
Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Uí Cheallaigh, Port Gleann Eoghan
Job done and the perennial banana skin avoided. Antrim made it three from three on Sunday afternoon as they swept aside the challenge of Meath in Portglenone. The Saffrons had 24 points to spare in a performance that was every bit as comfortable as it sounds. The Royals had two men sent off for double bookings at the end of the first half but Antrim were already in control with a first half where they dominated the visitors and laid the foundations for a resounding league win.
Darren Gleeson’s men had big performances all over the field in a fine team display. Matthew Donnelly at full back rarely put a foot wrong while Eoghan Campbell and Keelan Molloy’s partnership in midfield continues to grow. The Saffrons star man however was a simple call however. 2-9 over his 70 minutes work, 2-5 from play and a lung busting performance, Neil McManus was in top form for Antrim.
An early goal from Keelan Molloy set the tone for the Saffrons as the crowd gathered into a sun kissed but cold Páirc Uí Cheallaigh. Despite playing into a substantial wind, Antrim showed fluency and cohesion belittling the fact it was three weeks since their last outing.
The second Antrim goal came 10 minutes in. Eoghan Campbell applying the finish and Dan McCloskey with the assist as Antrim opened a five point lead. Meath were reliant on the free taking of Padraig O’Hanrahan for the majority of the game and more so in the first half while Antrim waited until the 25th minute before scoring their first point from placed ball.
The lead was nine points when Alan Douglas saw red for a second booking as Meath grew frustrated at Antrim’s dominance. Both sides had goal chances in the moments that followed, James Toher bringing the best out of Conor McAlister while James McNaughton was denied at the other end of the pitch but an already difficult task for the Royal’s was made a mission impossible with Luke Moran seeing red for a second booking.
Both dismissals changed the complex of the game thereafter but the visitors couldn’t argue with any of the cards given. Antrim held a deserving 11 point lead at the interval and a firm grasp on the two league points available.
The fear at the interval wasn’t more about winning the game but whether Antrim could show the same application. It would have been easy to take the collective eye off the ball while holding all the aces but Antrim put any fears of a Meath renaissance by scoring their third major after just 30 seconds of the second half. James McNaughton showing his dancing feet to evade the Meath challenges and getting the yard required to score.
Antrim stretched their lead to 18 points and it could have been more by the mid point of the second half but their radar wasn’t as accurate as they would have liked. Meath performed much better after the half time break and showed more aggression in the tackle while hunting with more vigour to ensure Antrim didn’t get things all their own way but Antrim upped their levels also. Despite a number of changes, the Saffrons finished the match impressively with McManus scoring a brace of goals. His first borne from the sheer persistence of Michael Bradley while Maskey assisted his second before the Cushendall man delivered a sumptuous dummy and sending the sliotar to the back of the net.
Meath scores their major in injury time with substitute Nicholas Potterton crashing home from close range but it didn’t take the gloss off what was a very good performance from the Saffrons. A 24 point winning margin that could make a crucial difference come the end of the league campaign. Wins against Kerry and Offaly will ensure a league final position but there is the distinct possibility that all three teams at the top of the division could end up on the same number of points. The calculators will be on standby.
Next up, The Kingdom in their backyard.
Antrim: Conor McAllister; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Eoghan Campbell, Keelan Molloy; James McNaughton, Neil McManus, Michael Bradley; Domhnall Nugent, Niall McKenna, Dan McCloskey
Scorers: 2-9 (2 f’s 2 ‘65’s); Eoghan Campbell 1-2; James McNaughton 1-2; Keelan Molloy 1-2; Domhnall Nugent 0-2; Niall McKenna 0-2; Aodhan O’Brien 0-2; Ronan Molloy 0-2; Gerard Walsh 0-1; Joe Maskey 0-1; Michael Bradley 0-1; Nicky McKeague 0-1
Meath: Charlie Ennis; Séan Geraghty, Shane Brennan, Stephen Morris; Keith Keoghan, James Toher, Luke Moran; Mikie Mullen, Patrick Potterton; Damien Healy, Padraig O’Hanrahan, Jack Regan; Michael Burke, Alan Douglas, Éamon Ó Donnchadha
Scorers: Padraig O’Hanrahan 0-8 (6 f’s); Nicholas Potterton 1-1; James Toher 0-2; Alan Douglas 0-1; James Kelly 0-1; Stephen Morris 0-1; Keith Keoghan 0-1
Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin)