Saffrons spirited fightback comes up short

Allianz National Hurling League Division 1B

Dublin 0-28 Antrim 2-19

A last quarter comeback by Antrim came up short at Parnell Park on Sunday as the Donnycarney curse struck again for the Saffrons in defeat to Dublin in Division 1B of the National Hurling League.

Seven behind at the end of a disappointing opening half the Saffrons had fallen ten behind ten minutes into the second half. It looked like being another bleak day at a ground where Antrim can never seem to win, but after coming close when Neil McManus had a point blank shot saved by the Dublin goalkeeper and then being denied by the crossbar a minute later, they were thrown a lifeline when Keelan Molloy broke through and fired the ball to the Dublin net.

Antrim substitute Niall O’Connor in action against Dublin’s Fergal Whitely

To their credit, Dublin hit back with three quick points and it appeared the comeback had faltered but the Saffrons came again and a carbon copy goal by Molloy, Conal Cunning this time setting him up, brought his side back to life.  The final eight minutes of play was all Antrim as they closed the gap to three points, but they also squandered a few gilt edged chances and defeat was again their lot as they left the north Dublin venue to head home yet again.

Antrim needed a good start to build a bit of confidence after last week’s below par showing against Kilkenny, but unfortunately it was the opposite that happened as Dublin dominated the opening ten minutes. Antrim did have their chances but they were badly off target with six or seven simple looking chances going astray. Dublin took advantage as they hit the first five scores through Donal Leavy, Chris O’Leary, Fergal Whitely and two from man of the match Donal Burke.

Keelan Molloy fires in the first of his two goals

Antrim eventually got going with a well taken point from play by Conal Cunning and from the 11th to the 20th minutes they were well on top, adding points from James McNaughton, Niall McKenna and Cunning again to close within a points. They had chances to draw level, and even go ahead but the three good scoring chance were squandered and Dublin made them pay as they hit seven of the next eight scores to take control again. Entering first half injury time the Saffrons came back with points, the first by corner back Paddy Burke and the second from Conal Cunninng, but again the home side were able to react an late points from Conor Burke and Donal Burke (2) put them seven ahead at the short whistle. 0-15 to 0-8.

There were chance to close the gap at the start of the second half but again the finishing let Antrim down and the Burkes added four points to the Dublin tally in reply to just one from Conal Cunning from the visitors. Points from Neil McManus and substitute Niall O’Connor were ruled out by Liam Murphy and Chris O’Leary and you felt it was going to drag out to be a one sided win for the boys in blue. However the introduction of Joe Maskey somehow lit a spark and the big St Enda’s man sent a great sideline cut into the ‘square’ with his first touch of the ball. Neill McManus was on the end of it and after catching cleanly he fired a great left sided shot towards the Dublin net, only to be denied by the Dublin custodian Eddie Gibbons.

Antrim’s Eoghan Campbell tries to chase down Dublin’s dangerman Donal Burke

A couple of minutes later McManus was in again, a little further out this time but his right sided strike had the keeper well beaten when it crashed back off the crossbar, and you felt it was going to be another one of those days. Up until McManus’s first shot the boys in Saffron hadn’t caused the goalkeepers in the Kilkenny and Dublin games to make a save, but to their credit they persisted with this new tactic and soon afterwards the got some rewards when Keelan Molloy was sent clear by a clever little hand pass from Conor Johnton and the Dunloy man produced the goods with a beautiful left sided finish.

The chances of comeback faded fast as Dublin hit five of the next six points, Antrim’s repy coming from Seaan Elliott after a great catch by Joe Maskey.

The gap was out at eleven with five minutes of normal time left to play when Molloy produced a bit more magic, appearing at Conal Cunning’s right shoulder to receive another perfect pass and rifled home another peach of a goal. Those final five or six minutes were all Antrim as Dublin were clearly rattled. Paddy Burke came up from corner back to grab his second point of the game, McManus popped one over from play and then added one from a free before Molloy completed a great display with another points. There were other chances as well and a couple of balls were dropped short, and one sent wide, plus Conal Bohill cut in along the endline and whistled one across the face of goal when a pass to McManus on the far corner of the square may have paid dividends, but nobody will blame the big Naomh Eoin man who did so much to get his team back in the game.

Antrim full forward Conor Johnston in action against Dublin’s Paddy Doyle

Another Parnell defeat and another major task in Dungarvan against Waterford in two weeks’ time. For long periods of this game it was a hard watch for the Antrim followers, but that mini revival, and Molloy’s magical goals lifted spirits immensely and we will go again in a fortnight’s time.

Dublin: Eddie Gibbons; Paddy Doyle, Eoghan O’Donnell (0-01), John Bellew; Conor Donoghue (0-02), Conor Burke (0-02), Daire Gray; Chris O’Leary (0-03), Aidan Mellett (0-01); Donal Leavy (0-02), Donal Burke (0-10, 0-05f), Cian Boland (0-02); Fergal Whitely (0-02), Liam Murphy (0-02), Paul Crummey

Subs: Ronan Smith for Mellett 18-23, blood, Darragh Power (0-01) for Leavy 31 – full-time, blood, Danny Sutcliffe for Crummey 46, Andrew Jamieson Murphy for Whitely 58, Andrew Dunphy for Doyle 61, Dara Purcell for Murphy 64

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Ryan McGarry, Paddy Burke (0-02); Gerard Walsh, Eoghan Campbell, Conal Bohill; Michael Bradley (0-01), Keelan Molloy (2-01); Niall McKenna (0-01), James McNaughton (0-01), Neil McManus (0-05, 0-02f); Conal Cunning (0-06, 0-01 65, 0-02f), Conor Johnston, Seaan Elliott (0-01)

Subs: Niall O’Connor (0-01) for Duffin 32, Joe Maskey for McKenna 47, Paul Boyle for McNaughton 58, Rian McMullan for Seaan Elliott (65)

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)

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