Antrim’s ‘old hands’ save the Saffrons as they let an eleven point lead slip away

As the Tailteann Cup gets underway this weekend with the meeting of Leitrim and Antrim in Carrick on Shannon the Saffron Gael takes a look back at the last time these sides met. It was in Belfast back in May 2021 in the Allianz NFL Division 4 North and the Saffron looked to be on their way to an easy win when they led by 11 points at one stage but were thankful for a late Tomas McCann point to get them over the line

Allianz National Football League Division Four North

                                             Antrim 2-17-1-19 Leitrim

                                 Kevin Herron reports from Corrigan Park

Antrim topped the Division Four North section of the Allianz National Football League with a slender 2-17-1-19 win over Leitrim – but were perhaps fortunate after seeing an eleven-point second half lead wilt on a blazing hot day afternoon in Corrigan Park.  

The Saffrons were in control through Conor Stewart’s first half goal and Conor Murray added a second after the break.

But Leitrim substitute Evan Sweeney landed three points on the spin and then found the net to give his side renewed hope.

Terry Hyland’s side would restore parity twice late-on and it took the trusted boots of veterans Paddy Cunningham and Tomas McCann to seal a late win for the hosts, and in the process protect their winning League run.

Antrim debuatant Luke Mulholland goes high to challenge a Leitrim forward for the dropping ball during Sunday’s National Football League game at Corrigan Park.

Antrim boss Enda McGinley made a couple of alterations to his side following last weekend’s dramatic victory over Sligo.

Luke Mulholland occupied the goalkeeping position and James McAuley and Patrick McBride also came into the starting fifteen.

Leitrim were off the mark first through a Keith Beirne free inside the opening sixty seconds, though Antrim responded through Odhran Eastwood who took a defensive mark and pointed.

Beirne and Mark Plunkett would give the visitors a two-point lead, but Ryan Murray hit back with a fine point from play.

Scores were traded between Plunkett and Ryan Murray (free) before Keith Beirne steered over his third free inside of ten minutes.

Odhran Eastwood cut the lead to one with his second placed ball of the half and the sides would trade further scores through Dean McGovern and Patrick McBride- whose goal bound effort was turned over for a point.

Antrim hit the front just before the first half water break, Patrick McBride and Odhran Eastwood switched the play and they slipped Conor Stewart through on goal with the All-Saint’s midfielder powerfully guiding his shot to the net past Brendan Flynn to give his side a 1-05-0-06 lead.

Conor Stewart punches the air in celebration after scoring his team’s opening goal in Sunday’s win over Leitrim.

Antrim were firmly in their flow and further scores followed through Ruairi McCann and Patrick McBride- who combined excellently with Marc Jordan.

Odhran Eastwood then slipped Conor Murray in for a point before Eastwood himself conjured up the next after claiming an attacking mark and popping the ball between the posts.

The St Enda’s forward was hard to keep tabs on and took his tally for four with a fine point that was his sides sixth without reply.

Keith Beirne would break that momentum- kicking his fourth free of the afternoon, but Paddy McBride would reply before the break for the Saffrons who were 1-11-0-07 to the good- despite losing Dermot McAleese to a black card in first half injury time.

Leitrim were first off the mark in the second half through a Keith Beirne free but Antrim responded through the same scenario after Conor Murray was felled and Odhran Eastwood converted.

Odhran Eastwood gets his shot despited the close attentions of Leitrims’ Gilheaney and Reynolds.

Six minutes after the restart the Saffrons stretched their advantage with their second goal of the afternoon.

Conor Murray was slipped through and bore down on goal- his initial shot was saved by Brendan Flynn however Murray rose to palm the rebound to the net and give the hosts a 2-12-0-08 lead.

Tom Prior steered over a reply for Leitrim, but Antrim would pull eleven points clear with twenty minutes remaining thanks to Odhran Eastwood’s sixth of the afternoon and a point from substitute Conor Small, after Conor Stewart broke a hop ball.

It would appear as though Antrim had sown things up and that was the felling throughout the Whiterock Road venue- but Terry Hyland’s charges weren’t about to go out with a whimper.

Evan Sweeney’s 51st minute introduction sparked a revival with the corner-forward slotting over three points on the bounce before coming up with a 57th minute goal.

Conor Dwyer slipped in Sweeney who swept a low shot beyond the reach of Luke Mulholland and into the net to make it a five-point game (2-14-1-12).

Frustration was beginning to creep into the Saffrons play and they were reduced to 14-men for the second time in proceedings when Marc Jordan was black carded for dissent towards whistler Kevin Faloon.

Keith Beirne kicked his sixth of the afternoon before Antrim would break their 13 minute scoreless period.

Substitute Paddy Cunningham switched a side-line ball to Conor Small who was felled and Odhran Eastwood was on hand to send the resulting free between the posts.

A second point of the half from Tom Prior kept Leitrim in touch and the visitors would storm back onto level terms with four quick points in a row as regulation time was about to elapse.

Beirne would score his seventh free of the afternoon and that was quickly followed by a Mark Plunkett score after Faloon had hoped the ball.

Antrim’s Conor Murray rises highest to palm the ball to the Leitrim net for his team’s second goal early in the second half

Under extreme pressure Luke Mulholland was adjudged to have wasted too much time over a kick out and the ball was hopped again with Leitrim winning the break and Evan Sweeney was on hand to turn the ball over.

A minute into injury time and Leitrim had pulled level through a terrific point from Niall McGovern.

Antrim appeared to have given themselves the winning chance when the won a free out on the left and Paddy Cunningham dully converted to edge his side back into the lead, but talisman Keith Beirne struck for the eighth time to restore parity once again.

It looked as though the sides would share the spoils, but the last attack of the game yielded the winner, and it was one that was scripted in Toomebridge.

Justin Crozier guided the ball into the path of Tomas McCann who steered his shot between the posts to claim a third successive one-point win for the Saffrons after another afternoon of high drama involving Enda McGinley’s troops.

A two-week break lies in store for the Division Four North table toppers- who face Waterford in the League semi-final in two weeks’ time.

Tómas ‘Mossy’ McCann is congratualted by sub goalkeeper Michael Byrne after the final whistle

Antrim: L Mulholland, J McAuley, R Johnston, P Healy, M Jordan, J Laverty, E Walsh, C Stewart (1-00), N McKeever, D McAleese, C Murray (1-01), P McBride (0-03), O Eastwood (0-07, 0-06f), R McCann (0-01), R Murray (0-02, 0-01f). Subs: K Small for R Murray (13), J Crozier for R Johnston (HT), D Lynch for J Laverty (HT), C Small (0-01) for C Murray (43), T McCann (0-01) for D McAleese (43), P Cunningham (0-01f) for N McKeever (47), N Delgary for E Walsh (53).

Leitrim: B Flynn, C Reynolds, P Maguire, S Moran, O Madden, J Gilheaney, A Flynn, D McGovern (0-01), D Wrynn, S Quinn, M Plunkett (0-03), P Dolan, J Mitchell, K Beirne (0-08, 0-07f), T Prior (0-02). Subs: M Diffley for A Flynn (HT), K Keegan for S Moran (HT), N McGovern (0-01) for D Wrynn (51), E Sweeney (1-04) form D McGovern (51), D Bruen for S Quinn (55), N Brady for P Dolan (58).

Referee: Kevin Faloon (Armagh)

Antrim face Leitrim in Tailteann Cup

GAA President Larry McCarthy today unveiled the new Tailteann Cup trophy at Croke Park and revealed plans for the inaugural competition which will commence next weekend and conclude on July 9.

The draw for the Preliminary and First Round games took place this morning and was followed by an event in Croke Park where representatives from the competing counties gathered for the official launch.

Last weekend’s provincial championships results confirmed the line-up for the Tailteann Cup and the GAA’s CCCC will finalise details for the games drawn earlier today.

The GAA President said: “This is an historic day for the Association. It is rare that the GAA announces new competitions at inter-county level but that’s precisely what we are doing today here at Croke Park in the company of some of the players who will be competing in it.

“The sole motivation for the establishment of the Tailteann Cup is to provide counties with meaningful games against teams of a similar standard and I believe that the benefits of this will become apparent in the weeks and years ahead and replicate the success of our tiers in senior hurling and in the club championships.

“We will promote the Tailteann Cup in tandem with the Sam Maguire Championship and we will work with our players, managers and supporters to make it the success that we believe it can be.

“This is a Championship with a final contested at Croke Park and I look forward to seeing the competition unfold in the coming weeks.”

The players in attendance at today’s media promotional event were: Conor Stewart (Antrim), Mark Diffley (Leitrim), Darragh Foley (Carlow), Killian Clarke (Cavan), Barry O’Hagan (Down), Declan McCusker (Fermanagh), Evan O’Carroll (Laois), Mickey Quinn, (Longford), Johnny Moloney (Offaly), Niall Murphy (Sligo), Teddy Doyle (Tipperary), Conor Murray (Waterford), Kevin Maguire (Westmeath), Martin O’Connor (Wexford), Mark Diffley (Leitrim) and Dean Healy (Wicklow).

Today the GAA confirmed that financial assistance will be made available to the winning county towards a team holiday and a ‘Champions 15’ will be selected to honour the best 15 players from the competition.

The Association also confirmed how it plans to promote and market the competition.

In addition to both the final and semi-finals being broadcast live on RTÉ television, GAAGO will stream a preliminary round game, a Round One game and two Quarter-Final games. These games will be available to the domestic and international market and will also feature on the local radio stations of the competing counties.

GAANOW will produce in-game digital clips from televised Tailteann Cup games and a Monday round up package of the competition’s weekend action will also be distributed on GAA.ie and official GAA social channels.

Tailteann Cup action will also feature on RTÉ’s Sunday Game programme and TG4’s Monday highlights show.

As well as selecting a gaa.ie Tailteann Cup Team of The Week, the GAA will also choose a game of the week to preview featuring participating players for media promotional activity.

A targeted national radio and print and local radio and print marketing campaign, similar to that supporting the GAA Football and Hurling Championship, has also been planned to drive awareness among participating Tailteann Cup Counties.

These channels will be complemented by paid digital display and social media match specific promotion throughout the competition. Digital out of home advertising will also run in select high footfall locations nationwide, as will on air radio ticket promotions.

Competition Structure

Preliminary Round 21-22.05.2022 (Sat/Sun)

• This Round shall be played to reduce the number of teams to 15 (including New York who will enter at the quarter final stage). • The draw will be restricted to those Division 3 and 4 teams who did not reach their Provincial Semi Final. • The first team drawn will have home venue.

Round 1 28-29.05.2022 (Sat/Sun)

• This Round shall be played to reduce the overall number of teams to eight (including New York who will enter at the Quarter Final stage) and be organised on a geographical basis with Northern and Southern Sections.

• Where less than fourteen teams are involved in this Round, Bye(s) may apply.

• There will be an open draw for each section, with the first team drawn having home venue.

Quarter-Finals 04-05.06.2022 (Sat/Sun)

• This stage shall be comprised of the Winners and any Bye Team(s) of Round 1, along with New York.

• The round will be organised on a geographical basis with Northern and Southern Sections.

• There will be an open draw for each section, with the first team drawn having home venue. o Exception: New York will play their game in Ireland, and their opposition will have Home Advantage.

• The Winners of the four pairings shall qualify for the Semi-Finals.

Semi-Finals 19.06.2022 (Sun)

• An Open Draw shall determine the two pairings. • Venues shall be determined by the Central Competitions Control Committee.

Final 09.07.2022 (Sat) Semi-Final Winner v Semi-Final Winner

Preliminary and Round One Fixtures

SOUTHERN SECTION

May 21/22

Preliminary Round:

Wexford v Offaly

Wicklow v Waterford

May 28/29

Round 1:

Wexford/Offaly v Wicklow/Waterford

Carlow v Tipperary

Laois v Westmeath

New York was drawn to the Southern Section at a C.C.C.C meeting earlier in the week and will join at the quarter-final stage.

NORTHERN SECTION

May 28/29

Round 1:

Longford v Fermanagh

Leitrim v Antrim

Sligo v London

Cavan v Down

Antrim lose in Breffni but restore pride

Ulster MFC Round 3

Cavan 1-16 Antrim 0-13

Antrim made their final exit from this year’s Ulster Minor Football championship when they lost to a strong Cavan team at Breffni Park but turned in a battling performance that will have restored pride in the jersey following their heavy defeat to Tyrone last weekend.

Antrim were forced to field without the service of a couple of key players but It took a Conal Mooney goal in the first minute of injury time to finally kill off a battling Antrim challenge and the visitors will reflect on a number of missed chances over the hour.

Cavan led all the way and a couple of points from |Matthew Smith and another from Lorcan had them 0-3 to 0-2 ahead after 14 minutes with Tiernan McCormick and Conhuir Johnston on target for the visitors.

Cavan kept their noses in front with the impressive Cian Keaney and Cormac Callaghan leading the way but they were never able to shake off the Antrim challenge as Conhuir Johnston, Paul Duffin and Ciaran McAleese fired over Antrim points to leave the visitors trailing by 0-5 to 0-8 at half time.

Keaney increased Cavan’s lead with a point on the restartbut Antrim replied through Ciaran McAleese and Conhuir Johnston to leave just two between the sides with three minutes of the new half gone

Try as they might the Saffrons could not get their noses in front despite playing some excellent football with points from James Blaney and Conhuir Johnston keeping the gap at two after 14 minutes.

The home side pushed further ahead with scores from Lorcan Reilly and Cormac Callaghan but Antrim kept chipping away at the Breffni lead with Conhuir Johnston leading the way and a Sean Boyd point for the Saffrons left just three in it with time almost up and a goal at this stage was what the visitors needed.

The goal arrived but unfortunately for Antrim it was at the other end with Conal Mooney’s strike in injury time finally putting the game out of Antrim’s reach but the young Saffrons can hold their heads high following their performance today.

Antrim: Jamie McLaughlin, Thomas Lloyd, Conor Logue, Hugh O’Donnell, Paul Duffin, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Ben McLarnon, Manus McCrossan, Tiernan McCormick, Lorcan Phillips, Conhuir Johnston, Rory McErlane, Ciaran McAleese, Niall Hynds, James Blaney. Sub: Sean Boyd

 Tyrone put Antrim to the sword

Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Football Championship

                             Antrim 0-5 Tyrone 3-17

Antrim suffered a heavy defeat to a Noah Grimes inspired Tyrone in the Ulster Minor Football championship at Corrigan Park today. The young Saffrons found themselves five points behind after only seven minutes but seemed to have settled when an excellent point from play from Tarlach Enright and another following a ‘mark’ from Rory McErlane saw them close the gap to three with 18 minutes gone.

It was as good as it was to get for Antrim however as Tyrone came back strongly to lead by 0-9 to 0-2 at half time but any hopes of a second half comeback were quickly put to bed when Conor O’Neill got through for an excellent Tyrone goal in the opening minute of the second half.

Noah Grimes got the visitors off the mark as he pointed after 30 seconds and added another from a ‘45’ with two minutes on the clock. Charlie Donnelly fisted over Tyrone’s third and further points from a Grimes free and another from Eoin McElholm saw the visitors move five in front.

Antrim finally opened their account with points from Enright and McErlane but it failed to spur them into further action as Tyrone finished the half strongly with points from Caolan Donnelly 0-2, a superb long range effort from Sean Hughes and further points from Michael McElholm and Grimes again to move into a comfortable half time lead.

O’Neill’s goal on the restart put paid to any notion of an Antrim comeback and further goals from Caolan Donnelly and Michael McElhatton saw the Red Hands push on to win comfortably but to their credit Antrim never gave up, fighting right to the final whistle against impossible odds.

They were rewarded with second half points from Tarlach Enright, Ciaran McAleese and a great late score from Conhuir Johnston but there was no holding a rampant Tyrone side who have already won the league and on this form should go on to reclaim their Ulster title.

Antrim can take some consolation from their win over Monaghan in the last round when they started as rank outsiders but travelled to the Farney County and recorded an excellent victory. Tonight proved to be a bridge too far but Paul McErlean, Barry Burns and Matthew Gribbin and their backroom team have done excellent work with this group of players and undoubtedly we will see quite a few of them in the Saffron jersey in the not too distant future.

Antrim: Jamie McLaughlin, Thomas Lloyd, Conor Logue, Hugh O’Donnell, Paul Duffin, Bairre Burens, Kevin McCann, Manus McCrossan, Tiernan McCormick, Tarlach Enright, Conhuir Johnston, Rory McErlane, Ciaran McAleese, Niall Hynds, James Blaney. 16 Noah Jeffries, 17 Diarmuid O’Sullivan, 18 Sean Boyd, 19Lorcan Phillips, 20 Niall McKenna, 21 Ronan Quinn, 22Ben McLarnon, 23 Rian Brown

Tyrone: Conor McAneney, Joey Clarke, Ben Hughes, Conor Devlin, Conan Devlin, Callum Daly, Nathan Farry, Sean Hughes, Conor O’Neill, Charlie Donnelly, Eoin McElholm, Caolan Donnelly, Noah Grimes, Ruairi McCullagh, Michael McElhatton, 16 Conan McGarvey, 17 Barry McMenamin, 18 Shane mcCaul, 19 Eoin Donaghy, 20 Sheehan Fay, 21 Niall McCarney, 22 Leo Hughes, 23 Ryan Donnelly 24 Liam Og Mossey

Referee: John Murphy (Fermanagh)

Saffrons ready to go against Tyrone

Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Football Championship

Corrigan Park 6-00pm Saturday

Antrim v Tyrone

After an outstanding six point away win (2-11 to 0-11) to a much-fancied Monaghan team in the first round of the Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Football championship, the young Saffrons take the field again this Saturday night at Corrigan Park (6pm) against the reigning Ulster Champions and provincial favourites, Tyrone. The Antrim minors, co-managed by Paul McErlean and Barry Burns, took a sizable beating, 4-13 to 0-8, from Tyrone in the Ulster Minor League in Donaghmore on March 19th so Tyrone, who also won the League final against Derry, will go into the game as clear favourites. Barry Burns though, who this writer remembers scoring a wonder goal for the 1996 Antrim Minors in Casement Park to beat Cavan in the first round of the Ulster Championship, is unworried about the young Saffrons’ underdog tag. “This great group of boys has shown already they have both character and real ability. Very few gave us a chance against Monaghan after they stuffed us in the league but we knew our lads had the ability to win and we know they can get better. “But we also know how good this Tyrone team is – so it will require a huge performance from us – but we are going into the game in a positive way, as we did against Monaghan.

Tyrone, who were narrowly beaten in the All-Ireland minor final last year, beat Cavan in the first round 3-17 to 1-15 and they clearly have a potent forward line, led by one of the stars from last year’s campaign, their captain Eoin McElholm. Antrim’s captain is Tiernan McCormick from Moneyglass, who won a Rannafast Cup with St Pat’s Maghera this year. Moneyglass has five players in the squad including Sean Boyd who also won a Rannafast medal with Maghera and Paul Duffin who, along with Conhuir Johnston from Erin’s Own, Cargin, won a MacRory with St Mary’s, Magherafelt this year. So, Antrim have serious pedigree too and a great blend of South West and South Antrim players with St Brigid’s, St Gall’s, St John’s, Gort na Mona and St Paul’s all contributing players from the city with other South West players from Glenravel, Aldergrove, Cargin and Portglenone’s Ciaran McAleese, who kicked two great points from play against Monaghan. The coaching team also blends country and city with Matthew ‘Huggy’ Gribbin from Cargin and Niall Enright from Gort Na Mona pulling the strings. As Paul McErlean says: “we have two of the best coaches in Ulster, the quality of our sessions has been superb throughout. Our strength and conditioning work with Thomas Rogan and our goalkeeping work, now being done by Colin Burgess from St Paul’s has been of the highest quality also. Colin has brilliantly managed the logistics and our video analysis from Mark McAreavey and nutritional support from the Balmoral Hotel have been top drawer too. We’ve also had great support from the County Board leadership and particularly Paddy Kelly, the Coaching Officer, so our feeling is that since last October, we’ve done our best to leave no stone unturned in our preparations for a championship game like this on Saturday night. Our boys are ready to go.” McErlean concluded.

Good luck to the young Saffrons on Saturday night from all at the Saffron Gael.