Saffrons battle past Derry in tight Ulster opener

Ulster U20 Hurling Championship round-robin

Antrim 1-13 Derry 1-11

Brendan McTaggart reports from Dunsilly

It was a war of attrition at Dunsilly’s second game of the evening on Wednesday as Antrim edged past the challenge of Derry with two points to spare.  It was a scrappy affair in a contest where both sides were guilty of missing the target but not found wanting in challenges…however it was the Saffrons who had that little bit extra in attack.

In a low scoring hour, it was Antrim’s defence that can earn the plaudits for this result with Eoin Trainor outstanding at centre half while Daire McMullan was also influential.  Up front, Joseph McLaughlin and Niall McGarel excelled, sharing seven points between them from open play while Jack McCloskey’s first half major proved to be a pivotal score throughout the hour.  But to hold a team of the attacking threat that Derry posed to just 1-2 from open play will have been a pleasing aspect for Paudie Shivers and his backroom team.

BOOM! Antrim’s Niall McGarrel takes a hard shoulder from Derry’s Eunan Boylan, but the Glenarm man never lost possession of the ball and bounced straight back to get the ball away

James Friel top scored for the Oak Leaf men, with all of his nine points coming from placed ball with their major coming early in the second half from Jack Cassidy.  The Slaughtneil man was a constant threat all evening and carried a huge danger on the Antrim goal.

The tone for this opening fixture was set early with Derry’s centre-back James Friel landing the first of the night from distance in the opening minute, while Antrim’s Aodhán McGarry responded in kind with six gone to get the hosts on the board.

Friel added another couple before Antrim’s first sight of goal with McLaughlin teed-up but missed, flashing the ball just wide of the target.

The Cushendall man did make up for this soon after as he blocked down a Derry clearance and split the posts from out on the left – the game’s first score from play taking 13 minutes to arrive, while another exchange of pointed frees followed before Derry’s first from play as the impressive Jack Cassidy fetched from the sky and popped in Eunan Boylan to make it 0-5 to 0-3.

Bickey’s ball! Christy McGarry makes a great high catch before soloing through in the move that led to Antrim’s goal.

The Antrim goal would arrive on 24 minutes but came at the second attempt as Christy McGarry’s shot for a point came down off the post and dropped to Aidan Scullion, but Derry goalkeeper Cathal McElhinney made a quite brilliant save.  The sliotar fell for Jack McCloskey who was on hand to hammer to the back of the net.

Back-to-back points from McLaughlin followed as it appeared Antrim were getting into a flow late in the half, while an exchange of late scores left the Saffrons 1-6 to 0-6 ahead at the interval.

A long free from Daire McMullan extended the gap just after the break, but on 34 minutes Derry roared back with Cassidy out in front to gather an inviting low ball before turning and sending a rasping shot low to the net. 

A pair of Friel frees nudged the visitors ahead briefly before McGarel restored parity and Antrim were back in front again with the score of the night as they turned over a Derry attack with Eoin Trainor emerging from the ruck and sending an excellent ball down to McGarel on the left who dissected the posts from a tight angle on the sideline.

Derry centre back James Friel breaks away from two Antrim opponents it set his team in the attack. The Swatragh man was the games top scorer with nine points from frees.

Friel tied it up again with a free on 45 minutes as it was clear this game was going down to the wire, but a pair of McLaughlin frees gave Antrim a little breathing space.

Cassidy replied with a fine score at the other end before Christy McGarry raised a gallop to burst through and send as rasping shot just over to make it a two-point game with four to play.

Cassidy was proving Derry’s main threat as they went in search of scores and he was almost in for a goal as he cut in on the right, but good defending gave him little room to get a shot off as the ball went wide, but a Friel free reduced the gap to the minimum moments later.

Derry’s top-scorer had been dead-eyed all night and had the chance to level with the game ticking into added time, but this time he was off-target, while Cassidy was again snuffed out as he made a charge at goal late on.

Ouch! I bet that hurt! Antrim midfielder Aodhan McGarry has a hurl broken over his knee as the action heats up in Wednesday evening ‘s Ulster U20 game at Dunsilly.

The points were finally safe for Antrim when McGarel intercepted a stray puc-out late and returned it over the bar as the Saffrons edged home to get off to a winning start in the competition.  They face Donegal in two weeks’ time in their next fixture.

ANTRIM: E Richmond; B McGarry, R McCormick, D Wilson; C Boyle, E Trainor, D McMullan (0-1 free); E McFerran, A McGarry (0-4 frees); J McLaughlin (0-3), S McIntosh, C McGarry (0-1); N McGarel (0-4), A Scullion, J McCloskey (1-0).

Subs: E McCartan for C Boyle (9), C McKeown for E McCartan (22), L O’Connor for S McIntosh (40), R Mort for A Scullion (52).

DERRY: C McElhinney; J McAllister, M McEldowney, A McBride; A Duffin, J Friel (0-9 frees), N McGonagle; R McNamee, E Boylan (0-1); C O’Kane, E Cassidy, R O Mianain; R Hendry, J Cassidy (1-1), C Murtagh.

Subs: R McLaughlin for R Henry (14), K Doherty for R McNamee (45), C Bradley for E Cassidy (52).

REFEREE: Barry Winters (Tyrone) 

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