Antrim’s ‘old hands’ save the Saffrons as they let an eleven point lead slip away

Allianz National Football League Division Four North

Antrim 2-17-1-19 Leitrim

Kevin Herron reports from Corrigan Park

Antrim topped the Division Four North section of the Allianz National Football League with a slender 2-17-1-19 win over Leitrim – but were perhaps fortunate after seeing an eleven-point second half lead wilt on a blazing hot day afternoon in Corrigan Park.  

The Saffrons were in control through Conor Stewart’s first half goal and Conor Murray added a second after the break.

But Leitrim substitute Evan Sweeney landed three points on the spin and then found the net to give his side renewed hope.

Terry Hyland’s side would restore parity twice late-on and it took the trusted boots of veterans Paddy Cunningham and Tomas McCann to seal a late win for the hosts, and in the process protect their winning League run.

Antrim debuatant Luke Mulholland goes high to challenge a Leitrim forward for the dropping ball during Sunday’s National Football League game at Corrigan Park.

Antrim boss Enda McGinley made a couple of alterations to his side following last weekend’s dramatic victory over Sligo.

Luke Mulholland occupied the goalkeeping position and James McAuley and Patrick McBride also came into the starting fifteen.

Leitrim were off the mark first through a Keith Beirne free inside the opening sixty seconds, though Antrim responded through Odhran Eastwood who took a defensive mark and pointed.

Beirne and Mark Plunkett would give the visitors a two-point lead, but Ryan Murray hit back with a fine point from play.

Scores were traded between Plunkett and Ryan Murray (free) before Keith Beirne steered over his third free inside of ten minutes.

Odhran Eastwood cut the lead to one with his second placed ball of the half and the sides would trade further scores through Dean McGovern and Patrick McBride- whose goal bound effort was turned over for a point.

Antrim hit the front just before the first half water break, Patrick McBride and Odhran Eastwood switched the play and they slipped Conor Stewart through on goal with the All-Saint’s midfielder powerfully guiding his shot to the net past Brendan Flynn to give his side a 1-05-0-06 lead.

Conor Stewart punches the air in celebration after scoring his team’s opening goal in Sunday’s win over Leitrim.

Antrim were firmly in their flow and further scores followed through Ruairi McCann and Patrick McBride- who combined excellently with Marc Jordan.

Odhran Eastwood then slipped Conor Murray in for a point before Eastwood himself conjured up the next after claiming an attacking mark and popping the ball between the posts.

The St Enda’s forward was hard to keep tabs on and took his tally for four with a fine point that was his sides sixth without reply.

Keith Beirne would break that momentum- kicking his fourth free of the afternoon, but Paddy McBride would reply before the break for the Saffrons who were 1-11-0-07 to the good- despite losing Dermot McAleese to a black card in first half injury time.

Leitrim were first off the mark in the second half through a Keith Beirne free but Antrim responded through the same scenario after Conor Murray was felled and Odhran Eastwood converted.

Odhran Eastwood gets his shot despited the close attentions of Leitrims’ Gilheaney and Reynolds.

Six minutes after the restart the Saffrons stretched their advantage with their second goal of the afternoon.

Conor Murray was slipped through and bore down on goal- his initial shot was saved by Brendan Flynn however Murray rose to palm the rebound to the net and give the hosts a 2-12-0-08 lead.

Tom Prior steered over a reply for Leitrim, but Antrim would pull eleven points clear with twenty minutes remaining thanks to Odhran Eastwood’s sixth of the afternoon and a point from substitute Conor Small, after Conor Stewart broke a hop ball.

It would appear as though Antrim had sown things up and that was the felling throughout the Whiterock Road venue- but Terry Hyland’s charges weren’t about to go out with a whimper.

Evan Sweeney’s 51st minute introduction sparked a revival with the corner-forward slotting over three points on the bounce before coming up with a 57th minute goal.

Conor Dwyer slipped in Sweeney who swept a low shot beyond the reach of Luke Mulholland and into the net to make it a five-point game (2-14-1-12).

Frustration was beginning to creep into the Saffrons play and they were reduced to 14-men for the second time in proceedings when Marc Jordan was black carded for dissent towards whistler Kevin Faloon.

Keith Beirne kicked his sixth of the afternoon before Antrim would break their 13 minute scoreless period.

Substitute Paddy Cunningham switched a side-line ball to Conor Small who was felled and Odhran Eastwood was on hand to send the resulting free between the posts.

A second point of the half from Tom Prior kept Leitrim in touch and the visitors would storm back onto level terms with four quick points in a row as regulation time was about to elapse.

Beirne would score his seventh free of the afternoon and that was quickly followed by a Mark Plunkett score after Faloon had hoped the ball.

Antrim’s Conor Murray rises highest to palm the ball to the Leitrim net for his team’s seond goal early in the second half

Under extreme pressure Luke Mulholland was adjudged to have wasted too much time over a kick out and the ball was hopped again with Leitrim winning the break and Evan Sweeney was on hand to turn the ball over.

A minute into injury time and Leitrim had pulled level through a terrific point from Niall McGovern.

Antrim appeared to have given themselves the winning chance when the won a free out on the left and Paddy Cunningham dully converted to edge his side back into the lead, but talisman Keith Beirne struck for the eighth time to restore parity once again.

It looked as though the sides would share the spoils, but the last attack of the game yielded the winner, and it was one that was scripted in Toomebridge.

Justin Crozier guided the ball into the path of Tomas McCann who steered his shot between the posts to claim a third successive one-point win for the Saffrons after another afternoon of high drama involving Enda McGinley’s troops.

A two-week break lies in store for the Division Four North table toppers- who face Waterford in the League semi-final in two weeks’ time.

Tómas ‘Mossy’ McCann is congratualted by sub goalkeeper Michael Byrne after the final whistle

Antrim: L Mulholland, J McAuley, R Johnston, P Healy, M Jordan, J Laverty, E Walsh, C Stewart (1-00), N McKeever, D McAleese, C Murray (1-01), P McBride (0-03), O Eastwood (0-07, 0-06f), R McCann (0-01), R Murray (0-02, 0-01f). Subs: K Small for R Murray (13), J Crozier for R Johnston (HT), D Lynch for J Laverty (HT), C Small (0-01) for C Murray (43), T McCann (0-01) for D McAleese (43), P Cunningham (0-01f) for N McKeever (47), N Delgary for E Walsh (53).

Leitrim: B Flynn, C Reynolds, P Maguire, S Moran, O Madden, J Gilheaney, A Flynn, D McGovern (0-01), D Wrynn, S Quinn, M Plunkett (0-03), P Dolan, J Mitchell, K Beirne (0-08, 0-07f), T Prior (0-02). Subs: M Diffley for A Flynn (HT), K Keegan for S Moran (HT), N McGovern (0-01) for D Wrynn (51), E Sweeney (1-04) form D McGovern (51), D Bruen for S Quinn (55), N Brady for P Dolan (58).

Referee: Kevin Faloon (Armagh)

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