Carlow 2-25 (31)
Antrim 5-16 (31)
Strength, guile and persistence. Antrim needed all three on Saturday afternoon as a last-gasp Domhnall Nugent goal rescued a point in their Joe McDonagh Cup Round 2 clash with Carlow.
A frenetic five-minute period of injury time yielded three goals as the sides went toe-to-toe in search of a winner, neither quite able to garner enough momentum to finish off their opponents.
First half goals from Ciaran Clarke and Conor McCann had the Saffrons leading at the break, having played against the wind, but the second-half introduction of Chris Nolan proved a game-changer.
Nolan finished the game with 0-5, all taken from play, and led the charge that took the Barrowsiders into a four-point lead as the game ticked towards second half stoppage time.
Loughgiel forward James McNaughton’s 69th minute goal cut the gap to a single point, but Carlow hit back immediately through a John Michael Nolan goal.
Paddy Burke’s point preceded a headlong charge towards the Carlow goal, which ended with Nugent’s major after Niall McKenna had burrowed his way through to create the opening.
The home side took advantage of the breeze to open the scoring after just 46 seconds as Jack Kavanagh launched over a score from midfield, before a Marty Kavanagh free doubled their lead.
Antrim hit back through a superbly worked puck out, finding Keelan Molloy in space to split the posts from distance.
Ciaran Clarke levelled matters with a looping run and finish, but Carlow edged ahead again, Marty Kavanagh first finishing a neat move wide on the left before slotting over his second free.
The early stages proved end-to-end. Conal Cunning and Eddie Byrne swapped points, before Niall McKenna and John Michael Nolan repeated the trick.
Keelan Molloy then sent Antrim into the first half water break on a positive note, after neat stick work from Dan McCloskey and Niall McKenna found the Dunloy man in acres of space in the middle to point.
A huge Diarmuid Byrne score stretched the hosts’ lead to two points immediately on the resumption, and on 19 minutes, the visitors trailed by three following another Marty Kavanagh free.
In what would prove to be the story of the game, Antrim refused to let Carlow open up any sort of lead, and, threatened by the three-point gap, they found the net.
The hosts hesitated to clear their lines, and Ciaran Clarke stole possession from Richard Coady, before racing clear to finish low into the corner in a mirrored image of his finish in Corrigan Park last week.
Jack Kavanagh fired his side back into the lead, but Niall McKenna hit back immediately, before Antrim opened up a three-point gap of their own on 22 minutes.
Clarke again nipped in to dispossess a Carlow defender, this time hand passing the ball to a waiting Conor McCann, who rifled the sliotar into the bottom corner of Brian Tracey’s net.
Kavanagh traded scores again with Ciaran Clarke, and points from Eddie Byrne and Kevin McDonald were also cancelled out by Conor McCann and Ciaran Clarke.
Late scores from Ted Joyce, McDonald and Jack Kavanagh were met with only a Dan McCloskey score in response as Antrim took a narrow 2-10 to 0-15 lead into half-time.
Carlow sprung John Nolan from the bench as they looked to make up for losing the wind advantage, but a Niall McKenna score doubled the Saffron lead from the restart.
Mattie Donnelly sent Ted Joyce flying with a Diarmuid O’Sullivan-esque shoulder, but Joyce exacted revenge minutes later by slotting over a point on 39 minutes.
Ciaran Clarke then landed a 65, before Antrim hit a series of wides that almost came back to haunt them, the profligacy ended by Clarke himself on 45 minutes.
Substitute Chris Nolan then exploded into the game, firing over two points in quick succession before Marty Kavanagh fed Eddie Byrne, who rattled Ryan Elliott’s net to give Carlow a two-point lead.
A brace of Ciaran Clarke frees left the scores level again, but Marty Kavanagh found space in front of Stephen Rooney to nudge his side ahead going into the second half water break.
Chris Nolan fired over a further quickfire brace on the restart to stretch the lead to three, but Antrim again closed the door, a well-taken Ciaran Clarke penalty levelling matters with 15 minutes to go.
Nolan’s fifth of the day saw Darren Gleeson look to his bench, sending on Damon McMullan to try and curtail the Carlow forward, but further points from John Nolan and Jack Kavanagh again opened the three-point gap.
Marty Kavanagh stretched the lead to four, but yet again, as it looked like Carlow would pull away, second-half subsitute James McNaughton skipped clear of the defence and found the net.
Antrim tails were up, but Carlow deflated the comeback almost immediately, Chris Nolan feeding John Michael Nolan who netted to cancel out McNaughton’s major with one minute of injury time gone.
With only goal on most Saffron minds, Conor McCann had the presence of mind to find Paddy Burke, who had the composure to split the posts leaving three between them in the 71st minute.
Antrim continued to burrow their way into a packed Carlow rearguard in search of an equaliser, and almost had it when McNaughton found Nugent free in the penalty area, but the St John’s man’s shot was deflected wide for a 65.
It was a 65 that Carlow should have cleared, thus ending the game, but when the ball broke loose, Niall McKenna picked it up and drove at goal.
The Sarsfield’s man had the strength to ship two heavy challenges, and the vision to find Nugent free on the penalty spot.
With men either side, the full forward threw the ball in front of his eyes and batted it past Brian Tracey in the last meaningful puck of the game to earn Antrim a share of the spoils.
This was a pulsating encounter in which the lead never eclipsed four points. The win sets up a top-two clash with table-toppers Kerry, who saw off Meath this afternoon.
The Kingdom are wounded after Antrim defeated them in the league final, and the Saffrons will need the same strength, guile and persistence to repeat the feat.
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott, Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney, Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke (0-1), Joe Maskey, Eoghan Campbell, Ryan McGarry, Niall McKenna (0-3), Keelan Molloy (0-2), Conal Cunning (0-1), Dan McCloskey (0-1), Conor McCann (1-1), Ciaran Clarke (2-7, 1-5f, 0-1 65).
SUBS: James McNaughton (1-0) for Dan McCloskey (46), Domhnall Nugent (1-0) for Ryan McGarry (53), Damon McMullan for Stephen Rooney (58), Aodhán O’Brien for Gerard Walsh (62)
CARLOW: Brian Tracey, Michael Doyle, Paul Doyle, Gary Bennett, Ger Coady, David English, Richard Coady, Jack Kavanagh (0-3), Paul Coady, John Michael Nolan (1-1), Diarmuid Byrne (0-1), Edward Byrne (1-2), Martin Kavanagh (0-7, 0-4f), Kevin McDonald (0-2), Ted Joyce (0-2).
SUBS: John Nolan (0-2) for Richard Coady (HT), Chris Nolan (0-5) for Ted Joyce (40), Aaron Amond for Paul Coady (61), Cathal Tracey for Jack Kavanagh (71)
YELLOW: Richard Coady (11), David English (13)
REFEREE: Cathal McAllister (Cork)