Watson and McManus were the Antrim stars when the Saffrons met Cork in 2010

Cork defeated Antrim by 1-25 to 0-19 in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Quarter-Final in 2010. A week after a late Karl Stewart point had give the Saffrons victory over Dublin in Croke Park, the men from the ‘Glens’ faced a Cork side who were in good form. They fared well for most of the first half but got hit with a double blow in first half injury time which left them with a mountain to climb. Liam Watson caught the eye for the Saffrons with six points from play, while Neil McManus ended with 0-9 overall.

Liam Watson, who scored some brilliant points for Antrim in the 2010 quarter-final clash with Cork, goes past the challenge of Cork corner-back Shane Murphy. Pic by John McIlwaine

From the Irish Examiner newspaper

Sunday, July 25, 2010 – 03:32 PM

Cork 1-25 Antrim 0-19

Cork will face Kilkenny in the semi-final of the GAA All-Ireland Hurling Senior Championship after they enjoyed a routine victory over Antrim at Croke Park this afternoon. While the scoreline may indicate that Cork did not have things all their own way, they were always in control in a contest which seemed to lack some intensity. Denis Walsh’s side did not hit top gear, but in truth they didn’t need to as they were efficient enough to take the scoring opportunities that came their way, while not letting Antrim in with a real chance of causing an upset. The Ulster side will take plenty of positives from this game though, and they were in no way disgraced by the defeat.

Neil McManus, who will line out on Saturday, scored nine points when the sides met in Croke Park 12 years ago. Pic by John McIlwaine

At times though, their lack of experience at this level cost them and a scoring burst of 1-2 in first-half injury time was crucial in ensuring Cork won with ease. For most of the first half, Antrim did well to keep in touch with Cork. Four points was the most common gap between the sides, that amount separating them on seven different occasions. From the off, Cork threatened to run away with, Paudie O’Sullivan setting the tone with a point inside 25 seconds and after seven minutes it was 0-4 to nil, Antrim struggling to find their feet. Two Neil McManus frees helped the Saffrons to get back into the game though and once they settled they were more competitive, with full-forward Liam Watson recovering from an early booking for hitting Eoin Cadogan to convert four points.

Cork were that bit sharper though, with captain Kieran Murphy doing well at centre-forward having been moved there prior to throw-in and O’Sullivan and Tom Kenny were also on form, as well as Niall McCarthy. Antrim full-back Cormack Donnelly was keeping Aisake O’hAilpín under wraps for the most part, and with McManus continuing to send over the frees they were not letting Cork get away. McManus’s fifth free, coming after the second of Kieran Murphy’s points, cut the lead to three points, 0-14 to 0-11, with half-time approaching, but in injury time Cork did much to lay the foundations for the win. First, McCarthy found the net with a clever batted finish from a tight angle after O’hAilpín set him up, and two Ben O’Connor frees left eight points in it at the break, 1-16 to 0-11.

Johnny Campbell, who played at centre-back against Cork in 2010 is a selector with the current team

Points from their standard-bearers, Watson and McManus, at the start of the second half ensured that Antrim would not let Cork pull away, but Cork always looked capable of taking points when they needed to and in the 45th minute Tom Kenny did well to stop a Liam Watson 20m free when a goal would have cut the gap to just three points. John Gardiner’s long-range frees, and efforts from closer in by Ben O’Connor, were helping Cork and goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack, while underworked, was still alert enough to deny Karl Stewart a goal chance on 53. Another Watson 20m free was blocked by Brian Murphy for a 65 with six minutes left and that proved to be Watson’s last activity, as he was shown a second yellow card following a scuffle.

Antrm an Cork fans at the All Ireland quarter final in 2010

Though McManus sent over the free that Antrim had been awarded before that melee, Antrim were never going to pull it back and Cork advanced, Cathal Naughton rounding off the win with a fine individual point while sub William Egan also got in on the act. They will know, however, that a much sterner test awaits in three weeks’ time.

Cork: D. Og Cusack; S. Murphy, E. Cadogan, B. Murphy; J.Gardiner (0-3), R.Curran, R. Ryan; T. Kenny (0-3), C. Naughton (0-2); B. O’Connor (0-6), M. Cussen, N. McCarthy (1-2); P. O’Sullivan (0-3), A.

O’hAilpin (0-1), K. Murphy (0-4).

Subs: P. Horgan for O’hAilpin, P. Cronin for Cussen, W. Egan (0-1) for McCarthy

Antrim: C. O’Connell; K. McGourty, C. Donnelly, S. Delargey; P. Shiels, J. Campbell (0-1), C. Herron; S. McNaughton (0-1), K. Stewart; S. McCrory, N. McManus (0-9), T. McCann; P. J. O’Connell, L. Watson (0-6), K. McKeegan (0-1).

Subs: J. McKeague for Shiels, B. McFall for McCann, M. Herron (0-1) for McKeigue, D.Hamill for P. J. O’Connell, E. McCloskey for McNaughton.

Ref: M. Wadding (Waterford)

Team News

Cork (SHC): D Og Cusack; S Murphy, E Cadogan, B Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, R Ryan; T Kenny, C Naughton; B O’Connor, M Cussen, N McCarthy; P O’Sullivan, A Ó hAilpín, K Murphy.

Antrim (SHC): C O’Connell, Kieran McGourty, C Donnelly, S Delargy, P Shiels, J Campbell, C Herron, K Stewart, S McNaughton, S McCrory, N McManus, T McCann, PJ O’Connell, L Watson, K McKeegan

Saffron celebrations

Looking back at Saturday’s final for the last time we look at the players celebrations after the game. Many of them had family members join them on the field after the game. When the final whistle sounded some of the players didn’t know how to react. Relief more that elation was the first sentiment but soon it sank in what they had achieved and the celebrations soon got goin in earnest.

Conal Cunning receives the Man of the Match award from GAA Presdient Larry McCarthy

Saffrons edge Kingdom in thriller

McDonagh Cup Final

Antrim 5-22 Kerry 4-24

Saturday 4th June

Brendan McTaggart reports from Croke Park, Dublin

Relief? Ecstasy? Joy? It’s hard to quite put into words the wave of emotions that came across us all at Croke Park as Antrim edged Kerry in a ding-dong battle to claim the McDonagh Cup for the second time in their history.

One point separated the sides at the end of the 70 minutes when it looked like Antrim would win comfortably by half time.  Then, the Saffrons held a ten point lead and looked to have seen off a mini-Kerry revival but the Kingdom were relentless in the second half, led superbly by substitute Jordan Conway and Mikey Boyle in defence.

Ultimately it was the Saffrons ability to create and execute their goal chances.  Five in total, two for Ciaran Clarke, while James McNaughton, Seaan Elliott and man of the match Conal Cunning.  Coby would finish the game with 1-12 to his name in an excellent performance that was probably more notable for his defensive work in a second half where it was all hands on deck for those in an Antrim shirt.  Keelan Molloy playing in his own full back line also while Seaan Elliott made a couple of huge defensive plays at the death that could have been the difference on that day.

Antrim rarely looked like they could lose this one and the changes made in the second half all had the desired impact.  Niall McKenna, Daniel McKernan and Eoin O’Neill all chipping in with crucial scores but credit where it’s due to a Kerry side who showed incredible desire and never-say-die spirit, ultimately however, they ran out of time.

In a first half where Antrim largely dominated, the Saffrons made great use of the spaces in Croke Park and left Kerry chasing shadows.  Kerry couldn’t handle the slick movement and incisive passing of the saffrons in an opening half that saw Antrim take a 12 point lead after just 21 minutes, thanks largely to goals from Ciaran Clarke (5) and James McNaughton (10).

The Kingdom rallied and kept Antrim quiet for a ten minute period that saw them outscore 1-4 to 0-2, their goal coming from a Podge Boyle penalty in the 26th minute.  Boyle would finish the half with 1-6 beside his name, his penalty finding the postage stamp at the Davin Stand goals.

They threatened another major moments with Podge Boyle’s effort flashing wide after cutting inside and finding space.  With Ryan Elliott’s goal at his mercy, he fired wide.

Antrim responded however found their game once again in the closing stages of the half.  Conal Cunning ninth point of the half, seventh from place ball preceded a fine McManus point before Seaan Elliott scored their third goal.  Clarke with the vision to find Keelan Molloy in space and the Saffrons midfielder headed for goal.  His shot was low but saved by Louis Dee in the Kerry goals only for the sliotar to fall to Elliott who made no mistake.

Coby Cunning and Daniel Collins swapped scores in first half injury time to leave Antrim with a 10 point lead at the interval, Antrim 3-14 Kerry 1-10.

Both sides made great starts to the second half and Antrim’s lead was reduced to eight when Conal Cunning scored the Saffrons fourth major.  Gerard Walsh sending the sliotar long where McManus deflected the ball into the path of Cunning.  The Dunloy man read the flight of the sliotar perfectly, collected and made no mistake.

The Saffrons seemed to go more direct with their play as the second half progressed.  McManus on the edge of the square and later Domhnall Nugent as target men but the Kerry defence looked to have their number and two goals in the space of four minutes at the other end of the pitch has the hearts racing for those clad in Saffron.  Jordan Conway proving to be a thorn in the Antrim defence with his trickery, movement and expert finishing.

The Saffrons were given a lifeline when Paudie O’Connor was black carded for an illegal challenge on McManus with the Cushendall man bearing down on goal.  Clarke expertly dispatched the penalty in the 60thminute to put five between the sides but Antrim would only score four further points in the 10 minutes of normal time and six of added on by referee Sean Stack.

Kerry poured forward and all the momentum going their way in the closing stages.  They looked like carving open the Antrim defence for the major that would bring them back to parity while Domhnall Nugent looked to have a goal disallowed harshly for a square ball infringement.

Podge Boyle scored Kerry’s fourth goal of the game in the 76th minute, taking his own tally to 2-12 for the game but it was the last action of the final as Antrim held on to claim the honours.

The Saffrons certainly gave everything they had and at the end of the contest there was more than a few tired bodies on the Croke Park turf.  The celebrations will come and go quickly however as they look forward to welcoming Cork to Corrigan Park next weekend in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

TEAMS

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; David Kearney, Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke; Joe Maskey, Eoghan Campbell, Conal Bohill; Michael Bradley, Keelan Molloy; James McNaughton, Neil McManus, Ciaran Clarke; Conal Cunning, Conor McCann, Seaan Elliott

Subs: Daniel McKernan for C Bohill (50); Domhnall Nugent for C McCann (53); Niall McKenna for J McNaughton (62); Conor Johnston for C Clarke (64); Eoin O’Neill for N McManus (69)

Scorers: Conal Cunning 1-12; Ciaran Clarke 2-2 (1-00 pen); James McNaughton 1-1; Seaan Elliott 1-00; Neil McManus 0-2; Keelan Molloy 0-2; Niall McKenna 0-1; Daniel McKernan 0-1; Eoin O’Neill 0-1

Kerry: Louis Dee; Conor O’Keefe, Eoin Ross, Eric Leen; Sean Weir, Fionan Mackessy, Mikey Boyle; Michael Leana, Podge Boyle; Colin Walsh, Colum Harty, Paudie O’Connor; Gavin Dooley, Daniel Collins, Shane Conway

Subs: Jordan Conway for C Harty (25); Maurice O’Connor for G Dooley (45); Niall Mulcachy for C Walsh (49); Brian Lonergan for D Collins (63)

Scorers: P Boyle 2-12; Jordan Conway 2-1; Daniel Collins 0-3; Shane Conway 0-2; Fionan Mackessy 0-2; Gavin Dooley 0-1; Michael Leana 0-1; Maurice O’Connor 0-1; Paudie O’Connor 0-1

Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin)

Eoin O’Neill celebrates after scoring a late point against Kerry

See You All in Croker

Brendan McTaggart gives a few thoughts on Antrim’s McDonagh Cup journey ahead of the decider in Croke Park on Saturday.

A love-hate relationship that has defined the last four years.  That would be the best way to describe Antrim’s connection with the McDonagh Cup since its inception.

Every game a battle, every game fraught with danger, every game with permutations on down the line.  The McDonagh Cup has been a wonderful addition to the beautiful game but at the same time, you want to get out of there.

When the McDonagh Cup began, Antrim were instilled as favourites to be relegated to the Christy Ring Cup.  A sign of the progress that has been made on the pitch.

In seasons gone by in the McDonagh Cup, as Antrim supporters we looked at games in hope.  Hoping to pick up a win before a game in Mullingar or Tralee, Tullamore or Carlow.  This season has been different.  Such has been the hurling produced in recent times and the feel-good factor around the county, there’s been an expectation.  Expecting to beat Carlow, Down, Offaly and even Kerry last time out despite a number of ‘regulars’ missing.  A sign of the squad depth developed over the recent years.

Conor McCann lifts the McDonagh Cup after Antrim’s win over Kerry in December 2020

Two years ago in the month of December, Antrim claimed their maiden McDonagh Cup.  Conor McCann leading the Saffrons up the steps of the Hogan Stand with more pigeons than spectators in Croke Park.  Covid depriving the Saffron following from making the journey down the Jones Road.  On Saturday, that changes.  We now have a chance to watch Antrim play in Croke Park on one of the biggest days in the hurling calendar.  A potential stepping stone for 2023 while either Cork or Wexford lays in wait in the All-Ireland Qualifier.  A home draw dependant on the home venue, I read that somewhere in the small print during the week.  Get the hashtags ready again – Corrigan Or Nowhere.  Hopefully it doesn’t get that far and someone has the sense to know Corrigan Park is ‘fit for purpose.’

Saturday will be another battle.  Kerry proved two weeks ago in Corrigan Park they aren’t there to make up the numbers and Antrim will have to be at themselves to leave Croke Park with the Cup in hand.  They are a side who play an expansive brand of hurling and have changed plenty since that meeting in Croke Park back in December 2020.

Memories from that game, McManus making his long awaited return to make a huge impact off the bench.  Domhnal Nugent coping Darren Gleeson on his arse at the full-time whistle and Donal Og Cusack’s summarising of the final.  That last memory still raises the old blood pressure every time I think on it.

This years memories?  Eoin ‘Sammy’ O’Neill’s point against Offaly, ridiculously sublime and the type of thing only he could be capable off.  The Offaly support were in great voice until those closing seconds.  Great stuff in the Corrigan Park stand.  Ciaran Clarke’s goal (made by a great Joe Maskey run from the throw-in) against Down coming before I had lined out the page in my scribbling pad in Ballycran and checking if Dan McConnell’s twitter updates were accurate from Pairc Tailteann in the game against Meath.  A match I couldn’t attend due to other commitments but seven goals later and our place was secured in this year’s final.

Brendan McTaggrt and his dad Malachy. All being well both will be in Croker on Saturday evening

I wasn’t lucky enough to make that final given the Covid restrictions, I’ll be there on Saturday with my aul fella and daughters.  A family occasion.  One not to be missed, watching Antrim in Croke Park at any time should be embraced.  Any one I spoke to before our last McDonagh final ‘wished’ they could be there in Croke Park to watch Antrim play.  Now’s your chance.  A 4:30pm throw in, maybe doesn’t normally suit everyone, make it suit this time.  Let’s give this side the support their performances, effort, desire and commitment to the Saffron shirt deserves. 

Reaching their third McDonagh decider in succession, Kerry are knocking on the door.  Maybe light a Saffron candle tonight that the Kingdom doesn’t make it third time lucky.

Aontroim Abu.

Elliott: “Darren has raised the standards of the whole group”

By Brendan McTaggart

Ryan Elliott has cemented his place as Antrim’s number one in recent years and the prospect of playing in Croke Park again is one that excites the Dunloy shot stopper.  Known as ‘Jimmy’, Elliott has been one of Antrim’s top performers and he gave us a rundown on the Saffrons form in 2022: “We had a lot of disappointment in the league, there’s no point in dressing over it.  We ended up where we didn’t want to be, we didn’t want to be in the relegation play-off.  We came close to a lot of teams but ultimately, we didn’t get the points on the board.

“We’ve knuckled down though.”

Having played in Headquarter’s in the 2020 Final, the goals for this year was simple.  Retain top tier league status and book a place in Croke Park: “Our target was to stay in Division One and we’ve done that, we wanted to make the Joe McDonagh Final and we’ve done that.  Maybe we haven’t played our best in the Joe McDonagh but we’re in the final now.

“That’s what the aim was at the start of the year, to get back to Croke Park but there’s not much point in getting there if we aren’t going to win.  That’s the most important thing.”

Ryan Elliott

It’s been an extremely testing season for the Saffrons that has seen the depth of their squad tested to it’s fullest with an extensive injury list.  Performances could probably be best described as battling at times instead of the fluency we have been accustomed to and while Elliott acknowledged this, the team knows they have the capabilities to reach another level: “We’ve played in glimpses and haven’t really clicked yet, hopefully that comes on Saturday.”

As fate would have it, the last round of matches in the round robin stage proved to be a dress-rehearsal for Saturday’s final.  Antrim were in the privileged position of being able to make changes and pushed Kerry all the way with two late goals putting them within touching distance.  Despite this, the Antrim ‘keeper said they didn’t do themselves justice on the day: “We went into that match and we wanted to win.  We were disappointed not to have won regardless of who was in the 15.  We train together, we are one team and we didn’t play to our ability. 

“Darren’s raised the standards of the whole group and we’ve (players) increased them as well.”

With performances in Division One over the past two seasons has come a certain element of expectation within the Antrim squad and raising hopes of heady days in the Saffron support.  Elliott doesn’t see the expectation as pressure however: “We maybe do expect a lot from ourselves but that’s where we want to be, we want to be the best that we can possibly be and days like Saturday and playing in the senior All-Ireland is what we train for.”

Ryan Elliott with one of his nephews after the Promotion play-off win over Offaly in Navan.

Saturday brings a repeat of the 2020 final which saw Antrim win the McDonagh Cup for the first time.  Kerry looked to be out of the picture after suffering defeat to Down in the opening round of matches in Tralee and then Offaly in Tullamore but have reached the decider after Offaly suffered defeat to Carlow.  Elliott wasn’t too surprised with how the last round of results transpired, calling it the nature of the competition: “It was and it wasn’t.  You learn to expect anything in the Joe McDonagh with all the teams much of a muchness.  We played Carlow in Corrigan and they put it right up to us.  Looking at that match, we knew they’d do the exact same to Offaly.  We weren’t exactly sure how that game would turn out but we know Kerry inside out and they know us.  Next Saturday will be a different test for both teams.”