Allianz Hurling League
Antrim 2-20 Kerry 2-14
Sunday March 1
Brendan McTaggart reports from Austin Stack Park, Tralee
Antrim made it four from four on Sunday afternoon in the Kingdom and all but sealed their place in the division final. A victory that was more comfortable than the final score line suggested and as convincing as the healthy Saffron support in Austin Stack Park would have hoped for.
It was another slick display by Darren Gleeson’s men who had 11 different scorers over the 70 minutes while 2-16 of their tally came from play. It has to be noted thought that their task was made a little easier as Kerry lost four of their panel, including star man Shane Conway, because of a mumps outbreak. Neil McManus (0-5) and Niall McKenna (1-2) top scored for the Saffrons and while there were massive performances all over the field, Keelan Molloy was once again exceptional. Three points from play in a hugely impressive display, the Kingdom struggled to curtail his influence on the game.
Six points was the margin of victory by the final whistle with the home side scoring a second goal in injury time but it did little to take the gloss off what was a good afternoons work for the Saffrons.
After a nip and tuck opening quarter, Antrim hit seven unanswered points in the space of nine first half minutes to take control. Neil McManus (two), James McNaughton, Domhnall Nugent, Dan McCloskey, Keelan Molloy and Paddy Burke all raising the white flag to open a six point lead by the 30th minute.
The Saffrons charge was briefly halted when Kerry scored the opening goal of the game. Conor McAlister spilling the sliotar and Jordan Conway punished the error to leave Antrim ahead 0-12 to 1-6 at the short whistle.
The half time score flattered the home side and it was a blow for the Saffrons to concede the soft goal but all thoughts of Conway’s major were gone just two minutes after the restart. McManus sending the sliotar forward and Nugent collecting 30 yards out. The St John’s man held off two Kerry defenders and fired beyond Martin Stackpoole in the Kingdom’s goals.
The home side showed glimpses of eating into the Antrim lead with Jordan Conway dangerous and Michael Leane scoring from distance but Antrim always looked in control. Anytime Kerry came to within three points, Antrim met the challenge and when Conor McCann scored their second goal, it all but sealed the two points. The Antrim captain came away from a ruck and when one on one with Stackpoole, there was only going to be one winner.
McCann’s goal opened an eight point lead with 15 minutes to go and they held that going into injury time. Kerry scored their second goal two minutes into the additional time added with Mickey Boyle firing home after collecting the lose sliotar on the edge of the Antrim six yard box but it didn’t take the gloss off what was a comfortable victory for the Saffrons.
They now travel to Tullamore on Sunday for the re-fixed game with their place in the divisional final all but sealed. With another impressive performance comes growth in confidence. Antrim are exactly where they would have hoped to be coming into the last game of the league and they now know what’s required to get to the final. Offaly will need to win and by a margin of at least eight points while Kerry will be hoping for an Antrim win or for Offaly to win by less than they require.
Antrim: Conor McAlister; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Keelan Molloy, Eoghan Campbell; Michael Bradley, Neil McManus, James McNaughton; Domhnall Nugent, Niall McKenna, Dan McCloskey
Subs: Conor McCann for J McNaughton (45); Conor Johnston for D McCloskey (58); Conal Cunning for M Bradley (64); Aodhan O’Brien for G Walsh (64); Ciaran Johnston for P Duffin (68)
Scorers: Neil McManus 0-5 (3 f’s 1 ’65); Domhnall Nugent 1-2; Niall McKenna 0-3; Conor McCann 1-00; Keelan Molloy 0-3; James McNaughton 0-2; Paddy Burke 0-1; Eoghan Campbell 0-1; Dan McCloskey 0-1; Michael Bradley 0-1; Conal Cunning 0-1
Kerry: Martin Stackpoole; Eric Leen, Bryan Murphy, James O’Connor; Sean Weir, Mickey Boyle, Jason Diggins; Fionan Mackessy, Padraig Boyle; Michael O’Leary, Michael Leane, Jordan Conway; Shane Nolan, Michael Slattery, Brandon Barrett
Subs: Conor O’Keeffe for J O’Connor (44); Dan Goggin for S Nolan (60); Colum Harty for M Slattery (69)
Scorers: Padraig Boyle 0-6 (4 f’s); Jordan Conway 1-2; Mickey Boyle 1-1; Michael Leane 0-2; Brandon Barrett 0-1; Shane Nolan 0-1; Michael Slattery 0-1
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)