Antrim fightback comes up short in Tullamore

Walsh Cup – Leinster Senior Hurling

Offaly 3-18   Antrim 0-21 @ Bord na Mona O’Connor Park, Tullamore

A storming second half which saw 14 man Antrim outscore Offaly by twelve points to six was not enough to get the Saffrons over the line after a dreadful opening half had left them with a mountain to climb in Sunday’s Walsh Cup game in Tullamore.

The Saffrons made a disastrous start as the defence let Brian Duignan run 40 yards unopposed and bat the ball towards goal in the opening minutes. Paul McMullan made a brilliant point-blank save, but the sliothar broke to full forward Jason Sampson who scrambled it over the line.

Two minutes later Offaly were in for another goal but Antrim got it scrambled away and on five minutes Ciaran Clarke got their first score from a pointed free. Antrim were struggling to get any rhythm in their game and Offaly moved further ahead with two quick points from David Nally and Evan Kelly, but the Saffrons began to get back into things and further points from Keelan Molloy and Ciaran Clarke saw them close to within four at the first water break. (1-4 to 0-3).

Ciaran Clarke sends over and Antrim point from a free

Three further points from Nally frees saw Offaly stretch their advantage to 1-7 to 0-4 by the twentieth minute, but things appeared to be swinging back in the visitors favour when three quick points from Ciaran Clarke, Conal Cunning and Keelan Molloy closed the gap to just three by the 28th minute.

However disaster struck at the other end when goal number two came on 30 minutes for the home side as some suicidal defending let corner forward Luke Nolan in one-on-one on Paul McMullan. The Glenariffe custodian did brilliantly to get his hurl to the ball but the force of Nolan’s shot saw it spin off his hurl and into the net and to make matters worse Evan Kelly got in two minutes later for goal number three, following a short puc-out which again went badly wrong.

To make things even worse Gerard Walsh, who had been booked early in the game and then ‘ticked’ later, was sent off following another foul, but in his defence he can feel aggrieved as he himself had been taken high around the neck seconds earlier.

Half time – Offaly 3-12 Antrim 0-10

Antrim’s James McNaughton in action against Offaly’s Paddy Clancy

When the teams emerged for the second half it was clear it was going to take something very special to get anything out of the game, and things got worse in the opening ten minutes of the new half as the home team added three more points through Nally (2) and Cleary, in reply to one each from Coby Cunning and Ciaran Clarke.  Darren Gleeson had made a good few changes at half time and as the half wore on the team began to gel and an extraordinary point over his shoulder by one of those subs, Neil McManus, had the gap back to eleven by the second half water break.

Things began to turn in Antrim’s favour as the fourth quarter got underway and points from Scott Walsh and McManus closed the gap to nine. McManus appeared to have made the breakthrough minutes later when he got in on goal, but his shot rattled back off the crossbar with the keeper well beaten, though he did manage to regain possession and send over a point to cut the gap back to eight.

Conor Molloy pulled one back for the home side on 58 minutes but two more by McManus (who had taken over the free taking duties when Ciaran Clarke was substituted) and one from Eoghan Campbell closed the gap. McManus had a penalty well saved by Stephen Corcoran in the Offaly goal and the Coolderry man also denied James McNaughton from play, but a point from Eoin O’Neill and two more from McManus had the gap back to just four with four minutes still left on the clock.

The Offaly fans were starting to get a little worried at this stage, but Antrim couldn’t get the goal they needed to really change the momentum, and points from another Nally free and one from play by Eoin Cahill wrapped up the contest.

Keelan Molloy in action in Tullamore.

OFFALY: S Corcoran (0-1, f); P Delaney, C Burke, J Screeney; C Molloy (0-1), D King, P Clancy; A Cleary (0-1), L Fox; B Duignan (0-1), E Kelly (1-1), E Parlon; D Nally (0-12, 10f), J Sampson, L Nolan (2-0). Subs: C Butler for Burke (ht), C Burke for Duignan (ht), S Ryan for Fox (48), J Murphy for Kelly (48), P Guinan for Screeney (54); M Watkins for Nolan (54); C Langton for Sampson (54), E Cahill (0-1) for Parlon (63), K Sampson for Clancy (66)

ANTRIM: P McMullan; R McGarry, G Walsh, S Rooney; S Walsh (0-1), P Burke, R McCambridge; E Campbell (0-1), D McKernan; J McNaughton, C Johnston, K Molloy (0-3); D Murphy, C Cunning (0-2), C Clarke (0-7, 6f). Subs:N O’Connor for McGarry (12m), N McManus (0-6, 2f) for Murphy (half-time), D Kearney for Rooney (half-time), S Elliot for Johnston (half-time), J Maskey for McKernan (47), M Bradley for McCambridge (47), E O’Neill (0-1) for Clarke (52), C Bohill for Cunning (52),

Referee – Gearoid McGrath (Wexford)

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