Second half subs Neill McManus, Conal Cunning, Domhnal Nugent and Conor Johnston steered Antrim to their first ever Joe McDonagh Cup title, as they beat Kerry in a closely fought final at Croke Park this afternoon.
Several times in the game the Saffrons appeared to be getting on top but Kerry always found an answer and they took the lead for the only time in the game just on the half time whistle.
Trailing by 0-9 to 1-7 at half-time, Darren Gleeson’s men hit an unanswered 0-6 to move five clear, but again Kerry hit back to close the gap to two. The introduction of McManus saw the Cushendall man land a vital point and with Nugent and Cunning making an impact they pushed on to victory
Ably assisted by the impressive Niall McKenna, Ciaran Clarke’s accuracy from placed balls was central to the success – the Ballycastle corner forward finished with 0-11 (eight frees).
Making his first appearance since the Division 2A league final win over the same opposition, the experienced Neil McManus also made a telling contribution as a second half substitution with four crucial points.
Scores were at a premium during the early stages but Antrim began brightly and led by 0-4 to 0-1 on 10 minutes, thanks to efforts from Clarke (three) and Conor McCann.
Points by marksman Shane Conway and Paudie O’Connor kept Kerry in touch, Mikey Boyle’s 20th minute goal swung the pendulum in favour of Fintan O’Connor’s outfit.
At the other end, Kingdom stopper John B O’Halloran denied McKenna with a superb off the line clearance.
The sides were level four times in the first half before O’Leary struck late on to push Kerry ahead by the minimum at the break.
Clarke’s seventh – this one from play – handed Gleeson’s charges a perfect start to the second period as they established a firm foothold to lead by 0-15 to 1-8 at the water break.
Kerry’s first score of the half didn’t come until the 50th minute when Padraig Boyle got his name on the scoresheet.
Enter Neil McManus, the Cushendall clubman showed his class by splitting the posts from long range on four occasions to maintain Antrim’s cushion.
O’Leary, Brendan O’Leary and Conway sent over points for the Kingdom to reduce the gap to two in injury-time but the Saffrons held on to take the silverware.
O’Leary, substitute Brendan O’Leary and Conway sent over points for the Kingdom to reduce the gap to two in injury-time but the Saffrons held on to take the silverware.
Antrim – R Elliott; P Duffin, M Donnelly, S Rooney; J Maskey, P Burke, G Walsh; E Campbell, K Molloy; N McKenna (0-2), J McNaughton (0-1), M Bradley (0-1); D McCloskey, C McCann (0-1), C Clarke (0-11, 8f). Subs: C Cunning (0-2) for D McCloskey, N McManus (0-4, 2f, 1’65) for K Molloy, D Nugent for C McCann, Conor Johnston for M Bradley, A O’Brien for N McKenna.
Kerry – J B O’Halloran; B Murphy, T O’Connor, E Leen; J Diggins, F Mackessy, M Leane; B Barrett, P O’Connor (0-1); M O’Leary (0-2), S Nolan, S Conway (0-9, 8f); D Collins (0-2), M Boyle (1-0), M O’Connor. Subs: B O’Mahony for M O’Connor, P Boyle (0-1) for P O’Connor, C Harty (0-1) for M Boyle, B O’Leary (0-1) for B Barrett.
Referee – L Gordon.