Saffrons survive a late scare to book All Ireland final place

All-Ireland Intermediate Championship semi-final

Antrim 2-13 Galway 1-13

Report by Seamus McAleenan

Pics by Paddy ‘Jock’ Donnelly and John McVitty

ANTRIM joint-manager Paul McKillen doesn’t believe enough praise can be heaped on the team that survived a nail-biting finish in Clones on Saturday evening.

It shouldn’t have been so of course. As the game moved into injury-time, Róisín McCormick pointed a free from distance for a foul on Maeve Kelly and the Saffrons went six points clear with just two extra minutes signalled.

Those two minutes extended to six as a shot from a tight angle across Caitriona Graham’s area spilled and Ava Lynskey forced it home.

A goal between them, Time up? Well, No.

We had a 20 metres free from an angle to the left of the Antrim posts. Nicole O’Neill caught the sliotar and hand-passed out of the ruck. The whistle sounded and the Antrim bench and management ran out in celebration.

But it wasn’t the final whistle; there was another free, right in front of a packed Antrim goal-mouth. As tension mounted, Áine Keane’s low drive was killed by Maeve Kelly and this time there was no holding back the Antrim celebrations, led by McKillen.

The former All-star midfielder felt his team dominated the game and a draw and extra time would have been a travesty.

“That Galway team came here today to get revenge on the defeat we gave them in the league quarter-final. But we were up for the game. I have never seen our team, from 1 to 19 or 20 whatever number we used, I never saw them playing as well as they did today.

Nicole O’Neill gets her shot away despite the close attentings of the Galway defence

“The goals were a great start. One of them would grace any All-Ireland final, hurling or camogie. You don’t see it often now, but when you catch a first time strike off the ground sweetly it is a thing of beauty.

“Hurling or camogie hasn’t really changed. We moved the sliotar fast and kept it simple and these girls, I can’t praise them enough.”

The ground strike came from Róisín McCormick who took down a ball over the top from Áine Magill and belted it to the net.

Magill hadn’t played in the league quarter-final victory over Galway and the westerners had not planned for her to make such an impact with her pace and finishing.

She opened with a fine individual point before her involvement in McCormick’s goal. McCormick and Maeve Kelly added points before Magill picked up possession in the 9th minute from a Kelly-McCormick interchange on the right wing. She swept across the 20 metre line and fired head-high to the net.

That put Antrim 2-3 to 0-3 ahead and they were able to maintain that difference between the teams for the duration of the game before the injury-time drama.

Cáitríona Graham and her defence was strong throughout and none more so than Niamh Donnelly whose interceptions and calmness under pressure frustrated both Mairead Diollon and Aine Keane, Galway’s main strike threat.

Antrim goalkeeper Catriona Graham comes clear with the ball as defender Maria Lynn looks on.

Twice within a minute or two, Donnelly delivered long frees from her own 20m line with pin-point accuracy for first Maeve Kelly and then Áine Magill to point.

That brought Áine’s first half tally to 1-3 and her team deservedly led by 2-7 to 0-7 at the break.

She scored her fourth point early in the second half, neatly intercepting a pass out of the Galway defence and Nicole O’Neill then fired over two monster frees to cancel out two points from Keane and another from Máiréad Dillon who found space in the gap between the crowded midfield and the Antrim half-back line.

That took us to the second water-break and the Saffrons led 2-11 to 0-10.

The introduction of two Galway substitutes momentarily caught Antrim out and Rachel Burke and Tegan Canning (2) closed the gap with ten minutes remaining.

However a long diagonal ball out of defence by Nicole O’Neill found Róisín McCormick and the Loughgiel ace drew the foul which she pointed, as she did once more for a foul on Maeve Kelly as the clocked ticked into injury time.

Antrim were coasting now, but still had to survive a late scare and the phantom injury time minutes before that place in the final against Killenny was secured.

Maria Lynn flicks the ball away from a Galway opponent

Antrim : C Graham, C Drain, N Donnelly, M Lynn, C Patterson, C Conlon, M Connolly, L McNaughton capt., N O’Neill 0-2 frees, Christine Laverty, A Boyle, Á Magill 1-4, R McCormick 1-5, 4 frees, M Kelly 0-2, C Dobbin.

Subs : Ciara Laverty for Christine Laverty (37), A Connolly for A Boyle (45), S Devlin for C Drain (51), L McKenna for M Connolly (59), K Carey for C Dobbin (63).

Galway: F Ryan, C Donohue capt., L Ward, R Hannify, L Casserly, C Mahon, K Manning, M Burke, E Broderick 0-1, M Mannion, A Lynskey 1-1, K Mannion, C Kenny 0-1, M Dillon 0-2, Á Keane 0-5, 3 frees.

Subs: S Coleman for C Kenny (44), R Burke 0-1 for L Casserly (44), T Canning 0-2 for K Mannion (49), T Rutledge for M Mannion (61)

Referee : P McDonnell (Cavan)

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