Allianz National Hurling League Division 2 final
Antrim 2-23 Kerry 2-20
Report by John Curly McIlwaine – Pics by Brendan McTaggart
Antrim won the Division 2 Hurling League title, and with it a place in Division 1b next season, when they beat Kerry by 2-23 to 2-20 in Sunday’s final in Tullamore. The Saffrons appeared to be cruising when they lead by five points midway through the second half, but a bad mistake by goalkeeper Ryan Elliott let a long free from his own half by Kerry sharpshooter Shane Conway drop into the net and it was game-on once more. When Conway cut the gap to single point two minutes later it was squeaky bum time for the Saffron followers watching on GAAgo, but those nerves were settled a minute later when corner forward James McNaughton scored a brilliant goal at the other end. McNaughton and his fellow corner forward Conal ‘Coby’ Cunning were to share the man of the match accolades, Cunning absolutely brilliant in the opening half and McNaughton taking up the reigns in the second.
The Saffrons led by a point at half time, and were good value for it, their goal coming from team captain Conor McCann, after great work by substitute Dohmnal Nugent on 28 minutes. They started the second half strongly and pulled five clear but couldn’t push on as a dogged Kerry side battled hard. It was tough and uncompromising at times as they held off the Kerry challenge but McNaughton’s brilliant goal settled the nerves and they sealed the win with three to spare.
Antrim started well and Conal Cunning had them ahead in the second minute, but two points inside thirty seconds from dangerman Shane Conway had the kingdom in front by the fourth. Joe Maskey brought the Saffron level but two more from Conway, in reply to one from Niall McKenna kept the Kingdon ahead, but three great points in a row from Coby Cunning (2) and Niall McKenna put them two clear.
A great point from play by Conway cut the gap the minimum again but on eighteen minute Paddy Burke broke forward from defence hit a superb point to restore the Saffron’s two point cushion. It stayed that way until the 25 minute mark when a high ball into the Antrim square was broken out to Kerry full forward Mickey Boyle who drilled a low shot to the net to give the Kingdom back the lead, but a few minutes later Antrim captain Conor McCann had the ball in the Kerry net after great work by substitute Dohmnal Nugent (on early in the game for the injured Neill McManus).
Michael Leane pulled one back for Kerry but two more the ever accurate Cunning, and another from McKenna, in reply to three more from Conway frees gave them the edge at the break, though it took a magnificent save by Antrim keeper Shane Elliott in first half injury time to see them hold that lead.
When Antrim got the first three points of the new half through Michael Bradley, Niall McKenna and James McNaughton they appeared to be taking a grip on the game, and though Nolan pulled on back on 42 minutes, James McNaughton, who was growing into the game minute by minute, came back another top class score to give the Ulster men a four point cushion
It could have been even better as good work by the Antrim forwards saw Dohmnal Nugent through on goal, but his one handed shot under pressure was brilliantly saved by Mark Stackpool in the Kerry goal, though Coby Cunning did get a point from the free that the referee was playing advantage for.
Kerry closed the gap to three again as Michael Leane and Conway added points but Conor McCann pushed the gap out to four again with a brilliant point from out on the right-hand sideline just before the second-half water break. James McNaughton put the Saffrons five clear with a massive free from distance just after the resumption and things were finally starting to look comfortable, but Antrim don’t do things the easy way and when Conway’s long free deceived Shane Elliott in the Antrim goal it was game on again.
To their credit they weathered the storm and when Eogan Campbell cut in from the wing and sent the ball across the Kerry goal, it ended up with McNaughton who fired brilliantly to the net. From here on there was a degree of comfort, though it was all hands to the pump, and substitute Doniel McCloskey earned his corn by earning two vital frees.
Ryan Elliott, Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney, Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey, Eoghan Campbell, Keelan Molloy, Niall McKenna, Neil McManus, Michael Bradley, Conal Cunning, Conor McCann, James McNaughton
Subs –Domhnall Nugent for Neil McManus (4), Ciaran Clarke for Keelan Molloy (42), Aodhán O’Brien for Niall McKenna (55), Dan McCloskey for Michael Bradley (61), Ciaran Johnston for D Nugent (66). Blood sub: Eoin O’Neill for Ciaran Clarke (70+4, not reversed).
Scorers: Conal Cunning 0-10 (0-7f), James McNaughton 1-5 (0-2f), Conor McCann 1-1, Niall McKenna 0-3, Paddy Burke 0-1, Joe Maskey 0-1, Michael Bradley 0-1, Domhnall Nugent 0-1.
Martin Stackpool, James O’Connor, Bryan Murphy, Tómas O’Connor, Conor O’Keefe, Jason Diggins, Fionnan Mackessy, Brendan O’Leary, Shane Nolan, Shane Conway, Michael O’Leary, Michael Leane, John Buckley, Mickey Boyle, Brandon Barrett.
Subs: Eric Leane for Conor O’Keefe (27), Colum Harty for John Buckley (52), Michael Slattery for Brendan O’Leary (59), Dan Goggin for Brandon Barrett (62).
Shane Conway 1-14 (1-9f, 0-2 65s), Mikey Boyle 1-1, Michael Leane 0-3, Michael O’Leary 0-1, Shane Nolan 0-1.