Joe McDonagh Cup – Round 3 – Saturday November 14
Antrim 3-18 Kerry 2-13
Brendan McTaggart reports from Corrigan Park, Belfast
Antrim’s Joe McDonagh Cup fate rests in their own hands as they go into the final game thanks to an eight point win over Kerry on Saturday at Corrigan Park. In a game played in horrendous conditions, the foundations for Antrim’s victory was laid in the first half where despite playing into the elements, they held a ten point lead at half time.
Kerry fought back in the second half and cut the Saffron’s half time lead back to five points, but Antrim kept the Kingdom at arms length with a strong defensive performance and while there was the odd moment of panic, Darren Gleeson’s men were well worth their victory.
With the wind blowing a gale and the rain hurtling down, it was never going to be a spectacle between two sides who know each other inside out but Antrim had more moments of individual genius, concise attacking and a clinical ability to take advantage of their opportunities.
The Kingdom finished the match with 14 men, Fionan Mackessy seeing red in the last minute of normal time but their profligacy in front of the target hurt them throughout. A missed penalty from the normally metronomic Shane Conway did little to help their cause moments after Daniel Collins scored their first major, but Antrim showed composure, belief and desire to get the job done.
They were helped with two early goals from captain Conor McCann, the Creggan man with seven majors in a run of six consecutive matches while Michael Bradley’s goal was right out of the top drawer and into the postage stamp.
Antrim’s tally of six wides over the 70 minutes is impressive considering the conditions and while McCann and Bradley got the majors, it was Ciaran Clarke who once again shone with his trickery and accuracy from frees while Keelan Molloy gave a man of the match performance from midfielf. The Dunloy man came off in the last minute of normal time with three points beside his name on the score sheet but he covered serious ground for his team. Breaking tackles, clearing from rucks and defending deep when the occasion called for it. His partnership with Eoghan Campbell in the middle of the park is developing into exactly what the Antrim management team are after.
The game was barely a minute old when McCann scored the opening goal. Niall McKenna initially involved before Molloy burst clear. He found Joe Maskey in space and the Naomh Eanna man passed to his Captain, McCann who showed great skill as let the ball drop to ground before firing left sided to the Kerry net.
The second Antrim goal came six minutes later and through the dancing feet and pace of James McNaughton. Again, bursting clear from a ruck into space and leaving a trail of Kerry defenders in his wake, the Loughgiel man drew in the defence and created space for McCann who took full advantage.
Kerry struggled with the intensity the Saffrons brought from the first whistle but in Mickey Boyle and Shane Conway they had two players who could create something from nothing. The Antrim lead was four points when Conway danced his way around the Antrim defence and managed to get a shot away. With Ryan Elliott looking beat, Phelim Duffin cleared the danger before the sliotar could cross the line.
Antrim’s response to the Kerry danger was emphatic. Four points in as many minutes, McCann, Clarke (free), Bradley and McCloskey giving the Saffrons an eight point lead at the first water break.
Padraig Boyle scored the Kingdom’s fifth point of the game but a brace of wides prevented the visitors from gathering momentum. Antrim however, looked like scoring goals at will at the other end. Their third goal was the move of the game and started with a quite brilliant pass from Eoghan Campbell into the path of Bradley. Dissecting the Kerry would-be defenders, he found Bradley on the run and the St John’s man gathered. Clearing two tackles, he nailed his shot off his hurl into the top right stanchion of the Whiterock Road end goals with a superb strike.
The Kingdom responded. They cut their way through the Saffron defence with a well worked move before Collins squeezed the ball past Elliott in the Antrim goals in the 30th minute. With the very next attack, they had a penalty and a chance to reduce the Antrim lead to six points but unbelievably, Shane Conway seemed to fluff his pick and while he got his shot away, it was tame and wide with Elliott looking like he had it covered on his right hand post.
Antrim held a 10 point lead at the short whistle with a score line of 3-10 to 1-6 but the Kingdom came roaring back after the restart. Shane Conway’s 38th minute goal helping them to eat into the Antrim lead but it was the decision to move Mickey Boyle into the middle third that helped them to take control.
Antrim took stock however and with Campbell and Molloy turning the screw in midfield, they saw off the Kerry renaissance to control the contest. McCann excellent on the edge of the square in the first half, dropped deeper to help his side win primary possession in midfield while Molloy, McKenna and McCloskey all thrived when given the opportunity.
Antrim had restored their 10 point lead by the second half water break and went into game management mode for the remainder of the game. While they still looked threatening in attack, those breaks were more infrequent. They didn’t need to be. Antrim had a winning position going into the final quarter and they made sure they would be the ones who were celebrating at the final whistle.
Kerry were reduced to 14 at the death with Mackessy seeing red after the umpires alerted referee Patrick Murphy to the incident while goal chances came at both ends. Eoin O’Neill and Damon McMullan were denied with some last gasp defending while Michael Leane’s effort was heroically blocked by Matthew Donnelly deep in injury time.
An eight point win, pole position for the McDonagh Cup final with a date against old rivals Meath at Navan in two weeks time.
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Eoghan Campbell, Keelan Molloy; Niall McKenna, James McNaughton, Michael Bradley; Dan McCloskey, Conor McCann, Ciaran Clarke
Subs: Domhnall Nugent for N McKenna (55); Eoin O’Neill for D McCloskey (61); Damon McMullan for M Bradley (70); Ronan Molloy for J McNaughton (70); Ryan McCambridge for K Molloy (inj)
Scorers: C Clarke 0-9 (7f); C McCann 2-3; M Bradley 1-2; K Molloy 0-3; D McCloskey 0-1
Kerry: Martin Stackpool; John Buckley, Bryan Murphy, Eric Leen; Tomas O’Connor, Jason Diggins, Fionan Mackessy; Paudie O’Connor, Shane Nolan; Brandon Barrett, Daniel Collins, Colm Harty; Shane Conway, Mickey Boyle, Padraig Boyle
Subs: Maurice O’Connor for J Diggins (52); Michael Leane for C Harty (61)
Scorers: S Conway 1-6 (3f); D Collins 1-2; P Boyle 0-1; M Boyle 0-1; B Barrett 0-1; S Nolan 0-1; T O’Connor 0-1
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)