Saffrons second half improvement isn’t enough

Tailteann Cup North- Round 1 

Leitrim 2-14-1-12 Antrim 

Kevin Herron reports from Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada 

Despite an improved second half showing, Antrim exited the newly formed Tailteann Cup at the first time of asking after a 2-14-1-12 defeat to Leitrim at Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada this afternoon. 

The Saffrons were subdued in the opening half and trailed to a number of Keith Beirne points and a goal from Shane Moran. 

Jack Heslin punched in the home sides second and Conor Stewart’s black card in the aftermath rubbed salt into the wounds. 

However, Enda McGinley’s men hit a purple patch in the aftermath of Jordan Reynolds giving Leitrim a 2-12-0-07 lead in the 51st minute. 

Peter Healy sent a low shot to the net in the midst of his side hitting 1-04 without reply, but in the end it was too little too late as the visitors came out on the wrong end of the score line and were reduced to 14-men after Pat Shivers picked up a second yellow-card deep into injury-time. 

Both sides entered the newly formed second tier competition looking to bounce back from respective provincial quarter-final defeats to Mayo and Cavan respectively. 

Antrim were first off the mark on a glorious afternoon as Ryan Murray swung a high ball into the path of Odran Eastwood- who fisted over the bar. 

Keith Beirne replied at the other end and Leitrim hit the front when Jack Heslin got on the end of a fantastic Brendan Flynn kick-out and got his side on the front foot, he worked the ball into the path of David Bruen to kick a fine score. 

Beirne had the game’s first goal opportunity- though he snatched at the opportunity and shot wide of the post, but he atoned for that miss minutes later with his second point of the half. 

Antrim hit back from an outstanding point from Jamie Gribbin, however Jack Heslin sent a stinging effort over the bar in response. 

Leitrim extended their lead through a Keith Beirne shot that dropped over the bar and squandered a further goal sighting. 

Evan Sweeney’s high ball drifted to the right of the post and Mick Byrne’s attempted clearance fell invitingly to Riordan O’Rourke whose goal shot was scrambled off the line by Peter Healy. 

In the aftermath Paddy McBride guided a shot over the bar to narrow the deficit, but the goal that the hosts had threatened eventually arrived after 20 minutes at Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada. Domhnall Flynn sent a high ball into the square and Shane Moran directed the ball past Byrne to give his side a 1-05-0-03 lead. 

Fours scores in succession followed from Andy Moran’s outfit, Keith Beirne conjured up his fourth score of the half from a free and would add another from a converted mark in-between a Cillian McGloin point and another mark from Donal Wrynn. 

Dermot McAleese bore down on goal- though his shot rose over before the break but at the midway point it was one-way traffic and the Saffrons were staring an embarrassing exit in the face. 

Enda McGinley’s side began the second period on the front-foot with Odhran Eastwood popping off the shoulder to Peter Healy for the opening score of the half. 

But on 40 minutes the game appeared to be over when Shane Moran charged towards goal before squaring to Jack Heslin to punch home his sides second goal- things went from bad to worse when Conor Stewart was black-carded in the aftermath for an infringement in the build-up and Antrim were 2-09-0-05 behind and temporarily down to 14-men. 

The next four scores were traded between the sides, Leitrim twice extending their lead through Pearce Dolan and Evan Sweeney: with Pat Shivers and substitute Ruairi McCann (free) replying. 

With little under 20 minutes remaining Jordan Reynolds kicked his side into a 2-12-0-07 lead and things didn’t look to be improving for Antrim any time soon. 

Pat Shivers doubled his tally for the half on 56 minutes and sixty seconds later his side were offered a glimmer of hope when Peter Healy exchanged passes with Paddy McAleer and crashed a low shot off the post and in to make it 2-12-1-08. 

Shivers added his third point after doing enough to keep the ball in play at the side-line, moving in field and popping the ball high over the bar. 

Antrim were on a roll and Dermot McAleese added his second of the afternoon with McCann converting a second free to ensure that four-points separated the sides with three minutes remaining. 

The hosts needed a score to quell the Saffrons momentum and Mark Plunkett delivered with an angled point. 

Shivers replied in the first of five added minutes, but Antrim needed a goal and quickly if they were to have any chance to salvaging extra-time. 

It didn’t materialise however, and Keith Beirne converted a free deep into added time for his sixth score of the contest. 

Antrim’s frustrating afternoon was compounded when Pat Shivers was given a second yellow-card late-on and at the conclusion Leitrim ran out 2-14-1-12 winners to progress to the next round and ensure Antrim’s football for 2022 comes to an end. 

Leitrim: B Flynn, P Maguire, M Diffley, C Reynolds, J Heslin (1-01), D Bruen, J Rooney, P Dolan (0-01), D Wrynn (0-01m), C McGloin (0-01), K Beirne (0-06, 0-02f, 0-01m), S Moran (1-00), D Flynn, E Sweeney (0-01), R O’Rouke. Subs: J Reynolds (0-01) for C McGloin (38), E Mulligan for R O’Rourke (48), M Plunkett (0-01) for J Heslin (53), C Farrell for D Flynn (59), D Rooney for E Sweeney (67). 

Antrim: M Byrne, E McCabe, P Healy (1-01), P McCormick, M Jordan, D Lynch, D McAleese (0-02), K Small, C Stewart, P McBride (0-01), R Murray, P McAleer, J Gribbon (0-01), P Shivers (0-04), O Eastwood (0-01). Subs: R McCann (0-02f) for M Jordan (HT), J Laverty for K Small (HT), B McCormick for P McCormick (47), C Murray for J Gribbon (48), 

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry)

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