Allianz Hurling League Division One
Antrim 1-21 Clare 0-22
Sunday May 9th
Brendan McTaggart reports from Corrigan Park
Antrim got their 2021 league campaign off to a historic if not sensational start on Sunday afternoon as they defeated Clare by two points. It was a quite brilliant performance from the Saffrons as they showed their determination, their intensity and class when it was required to run out thoroughly deserving winners at the end of the 70 pulsating minutes at Corrigan Park.
The Banner played with the elements in the first half and ran into a six point lead by the 13th minute thanks to their magician Tony Kelly. An All-Ireland winner, an All-Star hurler using his hurl as a wand, Kelly was showing why he is one of the best in the country but Antrim are a side full of belief and self-confidence these days. They galvanised together, they took the fight to Clare and in a defence led superbly by Paddy Burke, the visitors to the Whiterock Road got no scores easy. The hunger, desire and passion shown to win possession, to recycle and to deliver quality ball into the forwards was mesmeric. Time and again they put their bodies on the line to fight for possession before a touch of class followed. Niall McKenna more often than not the man for the Saffrons, the strength of ten horses and the touch of an angel.
Ciaran Clarke top scored with 1-11 overall, a 100% record from frees on a blustery day in Corrigan Park, it’s the kind of thing we have come to expect from the Ballycastle man but it’s no less a fine achievement. He and Conal Cunning posed a serious threat on the inside forward line and an excellent foil with Conor McCann. Clarke’s goal came in the 29th minute to bring the sides level and again, it was textbook Clarke. The touch, the speed, the accuracy, the net bulging. Clare were rocked and Antrim’s belief grew a little more.
Antrim trailed by two points at half time but with the win at their back after the restart, they had put themselves into a strong position to record a league victory over Munster opposition for the first time in living memory.
The Saffrons carried a greater goal threat throughout and were unlucky not to add to their goal tally. Some last gasp defending from the Banner early in the second half kept Darren Gleeson’s men at bay.
Clare made changes looking and carried the ball with speed and accuracy to combat against the wind and Shane O’Donnell always looked threatening along with David Reidy, but the Antrim defence hooked and blocked with sticks and bodies when Clare looked like getting away.
The one time they did manage to breach the Saffron defence, they couldn’t get past Ryan Elliott, Reidy’s shot well saved by the Cuchullain ‘keeper late in the day.
Antrim reeled in the Clare half time deficit soon after the restart and while they edged ahead, the Banner always stayed in touch. Refusing to let the Saffrons get away from them with the sides tied on eight occasions over the 70 minutes.
With the game still in the melting pot, Antrim remained calm and in control. It always felt like they would get the scores to win the points and when Neil McManus split the uprights from deep in his own half for his third of the match to give the Saffrons the lead in the 69th minute, it felt like a defining score.
Clare never recovered and Clarke, fittingly, had the final say. His last free in the third minute of injury time, seventh overall and a quite brilliant Antrim victory.
The Banner lowered with the Cats up next in Nowlan Park. The season is off with a bang and Antrim are up and running. The skies the limit for this side who are making the hurling world sit up and take notice of what’s happening in the Glens and Ireland’s second city.
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Damon McMullan, Gerard Walsh, Stephen Rooney; Eoghan Campbell, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Neil McManus, Keelan Molloy; Niall McKenna, James McNaughton, Michael Bradley; Conal Cunning, Ciaran Clarke, Conor McCann
Subs: Eoin O’Neill for J McNaughton (47); Domhnall Nugent for C McCann (56); Conor Johnston for M Bradley (62); Dan McCloskey for C Cunning (70)
Scorers: C Clarke 1-11 (7f 1 ’65); K Molloy 0-3; N McManus 0-3 (2f); C Cunning 0-2; C McCann 0-1; E Campbell 0-1
Clare: Eibhear Quilligan; Paddy Donnellan, Conor Cleary, Paul Flanagan; Diarmuid Ryan, John Conlon, Aidan McCarthy; Ciaran Galvin, David Reidy, Colin Guilfoyle; Ryan Taylor, Aaron Shanagher, Shane O’Donnell
Subs: Rory Hayes for P Donnellan (HT); Liam Corry for A Shanagher (HT); David Fitzgerald for C Galvin (49); Shane Golden for C Guilfoyle (50); Jack Browne for P Flanagan (68)
Scorers: T Kelly 0-11 (5f 1 ’65); D Reidy 0-3; D Ryan 0-2; S O’Donnell 0-2; A McCarthy 0-1; C Malone 0-1; C Giulfoyle 0-1; R Taylor 0-1
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)