Saffrons restore pride with battling second half against Cody’s silky Cats

Allianz Hurling League Division 1 – Group B – Sunday May 16

Antrim 3-15 Kilkenny 1-28

Brendan McTaggart reports from UPMC Nowlan Park, Kilkenny

A case of what might have been.  Despite a barnstorming second half that saw Antrim score 2-3 without reply, the class of the Cats shone through.  Kilkenny the victors with seven points to spare over Antrim but the Saffrons gave the home side their fill of it and more to in a much improved second half.

James McNaughton top scored for Darren Gleeson’s men with four of his six points coming from play while Ciaran Clarke, Conal Cunning and Neil McManus scored the goals that raised Antrim hopes.  Kilkenny rallied with Alan Murphy, Eoin Cody and Padraig Walsh in particular outstanding, Murphy top scoring with 13 points (nine frees) overall while Cody scored their goal in the first half.

The Saffrons had further goal opportunities throughout, but some heroic defending and top drawer goal keeping kept them at bay.  Their second half performance was much improved from the opening 35 but their learning curve and adventurous journey continuous.

Antrim started brightly with Conor McCann scoring the opening point of the game with barely a minute on the clock but the Saffrons didn’t register another score until the 13th minute.  From then, James Bergin and Alan Murphy wrecked havoc with their pace and ability on the inside forward line. 

The Cats radar wasn’t exactly clinical in that opening quarter but with Alan Muprhy and his two corner wizards on form, the home side rattled over six points unanswered before James McNaugghton scored Antrim’s second point in the 13th minute.  Indeed, it could have been worse for Darren Gleeson’s men but for some top defending and a stumble from Adrian Mullen when he was through on goal.

Ciaran Clarke breaks through the Kilkenny defence to set Conal Cunning up for a goal

Kilkenny didn’t have long to wait for their major however with Eoin Cody finding the back of Ryan Elliott’s net in the 23rd minute.  They led by four points with the scoreboard reading 0-7 to 0-3 in their favour when Cody and Richie Reid combined to cut open the Antrim defence.

The Saffrons responded well with Niall McKenna splitting the uprights with the next attack but Bergin, Mullen and Murphy (free) found the target with Antrim’s only response coming from a McNaughton free.

Antrim were given a lifeline when they were awarded a penalty in the 32nd minute.  Keelan Molloy dragged to the ground by Conor Browne when through on goal, the Kilkenny man seeing the sin bin for ten minutes but Darren Brennan was equal to Ciaran Clarke’s effort. 

Murphy (free) and Gerard Walsh swapped scores before the short whistle to leave Kilkenny ahead 1-11 to 0-6 at the interval.

Antrim centre-back Paddy Burke gets clear of his marker while Eoghan campbell looks on.

The third quarter belonged to Antrim.  Despite not fully taking advantage of the extra player, by the 45th minute they were back all square.  Three unanswered points in as many minutes from McCann and McNaughton (two) preceded two Saffron majors.  Joe Maskey and McNaughton involved in the build up before Clarke found Coby Cunning in space.  He made no mistake despite Kilkenny ‘keeper Darren Brennan reducing the angle.

The second major came just two minutes later.  Keelan Molloy delivering a long ball to McManus who won the sliotar on the edge of the square.  He got his shot away and while Brennan saved, Clarke was on hand to pull the sliotar to the back of the waiting Kilkenny goals.

A huge turnaround but Kilkenny responded like champions.  Eight unanswered points with Murphy, Bergin and Mullen the chief tormentors as they opened daylight between the sides going into the final 15 minutes.

Antrim came back once again.  Their third green flag came with eight minutes remaining.  Paddy Burke delivering long where Clarke unselfishly found McManus in space.  The angle was against him but McManus drove with such ferocity, Brennan had no chance between the sticks.

The home side never let the Saffrons gather momentum however.  Mullen, Murphy (two) and Martin Keoghan firing over with just a Clarke free the solitary response from Antrim in a five minute spell.

Antrim laid siege on the Kilkenny goal to try and get a fourth major that could see them rock Kilkenny once more and but for the width of the crossbar, McManus would have added to his own goal tally.  A rasping 21 yard free coming back off the woodwork while he couldn’t beat the five Kilkenny men on the line in injury time.

A victory for the Cats by seven points but Antrim showed again, especially in the second half, they are a side who are improving and relishing playing at the top table.  The journey moved to Parnell Park next Saturday with Dublin the next challenge.

Antrim’s Conor Johnston passed the ball back to team mate Michael Bradley who sent over the last point of the game.

TEAMS

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, Conor McCann, Ciaran Clarke

Sub: Eoin O’Neill for N McKenna (49); Domhnall Nugent for K Molloy (52); Conor Johnston for C Cunning (52); Phelim Duffin for S Rooney (55); Dan McCloskey for C McCann (63); Shea Shannon for C Clarke (66); Ciaran Johnston for S Rooney (66)

Scorers: J McNaughton 0-6 (2f); C Clarke 1-3 (3f); C Cunning 1-1; N McManus 1-1; C McCann 0-2; G Walsh 0-1; N McKenna 0-1

Kilkenny: Darren Brennan; Tommy Walsh, Huw Lawlor, Paddy Deegan; David Blanchfield, Padraig Walsh, Conor Browne; Richie Reid, Cillian Bukley; Liam Blanchfield, Eoin Cody, Martin Keoghan; James Bergin, Adrian Mullen, Alan Murphy

Subs: John Donnelly for L Blanchfield (ht); Joey Holden for P Deegan (45); Conor Fogarty for R Reid (56); Tadgh O’Dwyer for J Bergin (61); Michael Carey for C Buckley (66); Eoin O’She for E Cody (blood sub inj)

Scorers: A Murphy 0-13 (9f); J Bergin 0-4; E Cody 1-1; C Browne 0-2; A Mullen 0-3; M Keoghan 0-2; John Donnelly 0-1; R Reid 0-1; P Deegan 0-1

Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin)

Antrim manager Darren Gleeson congratulates his Kilkenny counterpart Brian Coady at the end of the game.

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