Saffrons grind out win over Carlow

Joe McDonagh Cup – Match Day 3

Antrim 2-22 Carlow 1-22

Saturday April 30

Brendan McTaggart reports from Corrigan Park, Belfast

Antrim had to dig deep on Saturday afternoon to maintain their winning record in this years McDonagh Cup.  They edged Carlow with three points to spare at the end of 70 minutes and a contest that could have gone either way.

The Barrowsiders came with a definite game plan to stifle the Saffrons attack and playing to their own strengths with their ball winners and carriers having a huge bearing on the game.  Defensively they were organised with Martin Kavanagh, Chris Nolan and Jon Michael Nolan all influential.  

Ciaran Clarke sends over a late Antrim point

With four minutes to go they held a two point lead but Darren Gleeson’s men found another gear in the time that remained and fired over an impressive run of six points in five minutes, the pick of which a quite superb score from substitute Eoin O’Neill that effectively gave Antrim the lead once again and one they would hold onto for the remainder of the game.

Conal Cunning top-scored for the Saffrons with 1-11 beside his name by the time referee Sean Stack called time with Neil McManus scoring the other Saffron major, both goals coming in the opening 35 minutes.  The Saffrons never reached the attacking prowess they showed against Down six days earlier but showed plenty of glimpses with Ciaran Clarke, Seaan Elliott and Cunning all looking like they could cut loose at different times.  Such was Carlow’s organisation and game play however, those moments were fleeting.  Antrim’s delivery into their forward unit was being dealt with on numerous occasions as the visitors to Corrigan Park look to strangle the contest and leaving the game bereft of flow.

As the contest progresses, Antrim needed something different and the impact off the bench effectively was the difference between the sides.  Michael Bradley and Niall McKenna returning from injury were introduced along with Daniel McKernan while Eoin O’Neill’s touch for his point in the 68th minute was sumptuous and matched only by the score that followed.

The sides were tied on three points each when Antrim scored the opening goal of the game.  Maskey breaking free to release Clarke while he showed incredible vision to spot Cunning in space.  Coby applied the finish with composure to score his first major of the McDonagh Cup and settle the Saffron’s into the game in the 12th minute.

The Saffron fans in attendance didn’t have to wait long before the second goal with McManus firing to the back of the net just six minutes later.  Maskey and Clarke involved once more before Conor McCann provided the assist for McManus to hammer the sliotar to the back of the net.

McManus’ major gave Antrim a seven point lead and signalled an awakening of sorts in the Barrowsiders. They cut the Antrim lead to six before scoring their only goal of the game through Chris Nolan.  John Michael Nolan with the side line cut deep into the Antrim defence that wasn’t dealt with while Chris Nolan punished.

Indeed, he should have scored another major with the next attack of the game but his drive was superbly saved by an in-form Ryan Elliott.  The Saffron’s steadied the ship with Cunning’s frees a life line while Kavanagh was equally accurate for Carlow at the opposite end of the pitch to leave Antrim ahead at half time with the minimum between the sides, 2-8 to 1-10.

Seaan Elliott goes past the challenge of Carlow’s Fiachra Fitzpatrick

That one point advantage was gone inside the opening 60 seconds of the second half as Carlow for the first time in the game, Chris Nolan and Kavanagh the architects at the beginning of a whirl-wind second half that was played largely on Carlow’s terms.

The sides were tied on five occasions in a second half that saw Carlow take a two point lead on three occasions.  The last of those with four minutes remaining but Antrim rallied.

Three frees from Cunning, points from Joe Maskey and the impressive Conal Bohill while O’Neill’s score was deserving to grace any pitch in Ireland.

The Saffrons have an extra week to recover ahead of a contest with Meath in Navan that could see Antrim seal their place in the McDonagh Cup Final on Leinster Final day.

Antrim’s Conal Bohill hand pass the ball away as he is challenged by a Carlow opponent

TEAMS

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Gerard Walsh, Niall O’Connor; Paddy Burke, Eoghan Campbell, Conal Bohill; Joe Maskey, James McNaughton; Seaan Elliott, Domhnall Nugent, Conor McCann; Conal Cunning, Ciaran Clarke, Neil McManus

Subs: Michael Bradley for J McNaughton (46); Eoin O’Neill for N McManus (50); Daniel McKernan for D Nugent (56); Niall McKenna for C McCann (62); Aaron Bradley for J Maskey (inj)

Scorers: C Cunning 1-11 (10 f’s); S Elliott 0-3; N McManus 1-00; C Clarke 0-2; P Burke 0-2; C Bohill 0-2; J Maskey 0-1; E O’Neill 0-1

Carlow: Brian Tracey; Paul Doyle, Conor Lawlor, Michael Doyle; Jack McCullagh, Diarmuid Byrne, Richard Coady; Fiachra Fitzpatrick, Conor Kehoe; Sean Murphy, Chris Nolan, Kevin McDonald; John Michael Nolan, Martin Kavanagh, Paul Coady

Subs: Jon Nolan for K McDonald (63); John Doyle for S Murphy (inj)

Scorers: M Kavanagh 0-11 (9f’s); C Nolan 1-4 (1f); K McDonald 0-2; D Byrne 0-1; R Coady 0-1; F Fitzpatrick 0-1; JM Nolan 0-1; C Kehoe 0-1

Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin)

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