Covid struck Saffrons face the Lake County in McDonagh Cup opener

Joe McDonagh Cup – Match Day One

Antrim vs Westmeath

Sunday October 25 – Corrigan Park @ 2pm & Live on Beo Sport

By Brendan McTaggart

The euphoria of promotion and elation of achieving their goal was plain for all to see on the Tullamore pitch last Sunday.  The Saffrons battled their way past the Kingdom and thoroughly deserved their promotion with a top performance when they needed it most.

They had a lot riding on that one game.  The year that has been, threw them a curve ball of a promotion decider seven months from their last competitive match.  You won’t get in another season, well, I hope we won’t.  Throw in the loss of Neil McManus before anyone could get dirt on their shirts and it looked like it was going to be another one of those days.  We’ve all seen them.  Where Antrim have come close but fell at the final hurdle.

Antrim celebrate last week’s win

This team are different. 

The loss of the Cushendall and Antrim talisman galvanised Antrim even further.  Conal Cunning and James McNaughton electric in attack, Matthew Donnelly and Paddy Burke resolute in defence and they had plenty of support around them and off the bench.

Antrim hurling is reaching to be in a good place and they are getting there.  Through hard work on and off the pitch by a group of players and management or are relentless in their pursuit of achieving their goals.  Our goals.  Last Sunday went some way to achieving that and will live long in my memory.  The sight of Conor McCann standing in the stand at O’Connor Park ready to receive the Division Two trophy and with a smile from ear to ear, I doubt there was another man in Ireland who was as proud as he was at that point.

James McNaughton in action in Tullamore.

Onto the next challenge.

A short turnaround and the Saffrons welcome Westmeath to Corrigan Park on Sunday.  The toughest match of the group and a side who Antrim haven’t defeated in league or championship since the Leinster Round Robin of 2014.  They’ve had plenty of chances and last year in Dunloy they had a ‘make or break’ tie against them for the chance to reach the McDonagh Cup final on Leinster Final day.

They came up short. 

Eight points separated the sides and Antrim were left with another case of what might have been.  But, Westmeath are a good side.  They have made strides in recent times but they will be without the services of Killian Doyle who moved to London during the first lockdown and is hurling for St Gabriel’s while their recent ‘signing’ Davy Glennon is ineligible for this years competition.

Antrim, have had their own problems since last weekend.  Positive cases of Covid have rocked their preparations and a confirmed from the official statement released on Thursday, six of their panel will miss this weekends game with the trip to Carlow also given the guidelines on how to handle the given situation.

It’s just such a 2020 occurrence really.  Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, this year has a habit of checking your stride or completely throwing you off the tracks altogether. 

However, the show goes on.  Darren Gleeson and his backroom team have shown faith in their panel and get ready to welcome the Lake County to west Belfast and a tilt at the McDonagh Cup.  Last Sunday was probably the perfect preparation for the McDonagh Cup.  Off course it was much more than that but it was a competitive match against strong opposition and a contest that Antrim won more convincingly than the final score suggested.

Antrim’s Joe Maskey clears from defence during Antrim’s win over Kerry in Sunday’s Allianz National Hurling League Division 2 final in Tullamore.

A win on Sunday won’t derail the Saffrons chances of progression in this competition.  They have three matches thereafter with trips to Carlow and Navan either side of another encounter with Kerry that will paint the eventual picture but a win against Westmeath would be monumental and add to the confidence that is oozing through the squad after winning promotion.

The end game this year is a double header with the Liam McCarthy final at headquarters.  Once upon a time, not that long ago, that would have been a packed Croke Park but there’s a lot of hurdles to clear before we get that length.  Sunday is perhaps the biggest of those hurdles.

McDonagh Cup Fixtures

Vs Carlow (a) Saturday 31st October @ 2pm

Vs Kerry (h) 14th November @ 1:30pm

Vs Meath (a) 28th November @ 1:30pm

Keelan Molloy in in action against Westmeath in last year’s meeting in Dunloy.

When they last met….

McDonagh Cup – Saturday June 8 2019

Antrim 0-21 Westmeath 0-29

John McIlwaine reports from Pearse Park, Dunloy

Antrim’s bid for a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final came up short in Dunloy today as the Saffrons failed to produce the heroics of last week’s win over Offaly while going down to a very good Westmeath side.

The home side were flat from the start and could not produce the form of the previous week and it was clear from the early stages that Westmeath had their homework done and executed their game plan perfectly as they closed down dangerman Neil McManus.  They were up for the fight from the start and in a stop-start game, free taker Killian Doyle gave an exhibition ending up with 17 points to his name, 11 from placed ball.  The free taking of McManus was also faultless with the Cushendall man accounting for the bulk of the Antrim scores with 13 points. 

Crowds on the Dunloy terracing at last year’s meeting with Westmeath. This time around the new Corrigan Park stand witll be empty

In their previous games in the competition, the Saffrons forwards scored some great goals, but this time around they never really threatened Conor Lynch in the Westmeath goal.  Things went from bad to worse for Antrim as they lost both Matthew Donnelly and David Kearney to second yellow cards but in truth there was little to suggest that either player warranted a red.

TEAMS

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, John Dillon, Stephen Rooney; Matthew Donnelly, Paddy Burke (0-1), Joe Maskey; David Kearney, Nicky McKeague (0-1, 1 ’65); Neil McManus (0-13 12f, 1 ’65), Ryan McCambridge, Keelan Molloy (0-1); Ciaran Clarke, Nigel Elliott (0-1), James McNaughton (0-3)

Subs: Eoghan Campbell for P Duffin (28); Conor Boyd for J Maskey (46); Daniel McCloskey for R McCambridge (51); Eoin O’Neill (0-1) for N Elliott (58); James O’Connell for C Clarke (68)

Westmeath: Conor Lynch; Darragh Egerton, Gary Greville, Liam Varley; Aonghus Clarke, Paul Greville (0-1), Shane Clavin; John Gilligan, Cormac Boyle (0-2), Killian Doyle (0-17, 9f 2’65), Joey Boyle (0-1); Robbie Greville (0-3), Derek McNicholas (0-1), Allan Devine (0-1)

Subs: Ciaran Doyle (0-2) for D McNicolas (46); Darragh Clinton (0-1) for A Devine (68); Shane McGovern for C Boyle (69); Conor Shaw for J Boyle (70+5)

Referee: Paul O’Dwyer (Carlow)

Strong Second Half Performance Sees Antrim Through

Antrim Minor hurlers followed the success of their U21 counterparts when they collected the Ulster Minor championship with a good win over Derry in Owenbeg on he 21st July.

Ulster Minor Hurling Final 2014

                                             Antrim 0-17  Derry 0-9

A srtong second half performance saw Antrim overcome the dogged challenge of a battling Derry in the Ulster Minor Hurling Final at Owenbeg last Sunday. The sides were level at half time but after the break the young Saffrons found anoither gear to pull away and win comfortably in the end.

Indeed Paul McKillen’s side should have won by much more but were wayward in their shooting, recording 14 wides in the second half to add to their 5 first half misses. Antrim now face Galway in the quarter-final and manger paul McKillen was adament after the game that this performance would simply not have been good enough to serioussly challenge the boys from Connaught.

With Loughgiel mid-field partnership of James McNaughton and Carthal McMullan to the fore, Antrim showed three changes from the side who defeated Down in the semi-final with James carey, Caolan McCaughan and Seaghan Shannon coming into the starting lineup.

A couple of early points from Cushendall’s Christy McNaughton gave Antrim the perfect start and James Carey marked his call to the side with another to make it 0-3 to 0-00. Another point from McCaughan saw the saffron lead 0-4 to 0-1 by the 9th minute and at this stage it all seemed to be going to plan.

Derry began to get to grips however and their ploy of dropping high ball in and around the Antrim square began to pay dividend as Pronsias Burke split the uprights to record Derry’s second score of the game. Christy McNaughton replied for the visitors to restore their three point advantage and when Darra Rocks added another the Saffrons looked to taking complete control once more.

Derry had other ideas however as they battled for every ball and they finished the half with a flurry with Eamon Magill, O’Reilly (0-2) and a superb long range free from Burke put them right back into contention with the sides level at the break on 0-6 each.

                                                 BACK IN FRONT

After the break Antrim seemed to step up a gear and Christy McNaughton pointed them ahead from an early free with Rocks following with his second of the game to move his side two in front. McNaughton added another massive free before Ciaran Steele opened Derry’s second half account to keep his side in touch.

Antrim were now beginning to create more space, aided by the strong breeze as McCaughan added a point and then Owens in the Derry goal pulled off a great save to deny McCurdy a certain goal, the Derry net minder coming bravely off his line to block  the corner-forwards close range effort.

Antrim were now calling the shots however as they hit three unanswered points to put further daylight between the sides and Christy McNaughton added two late scores to put a better look on the scoreline.

Antrim manager Paul McKillen will be trying to arrange a couple of friendlies prior to his sides forthcoming game against Galway and he knows that it will take a considerable improvement on this performance if his side are to make any impact against the lads from the West.

There were some fine individual performances with Ryan McNulty, Dara Rocks, James McNaughton, Eoin Conlon, Cathal McMullan and Christy McNaughton in fine form and if they can sharpen up in their finishing then they look well capable of giving hot favourites Galway a run for their money.

Seven Goal Antrim Overpower Down

The Summer of 2014 proved to be a fruitful one for Antrim hurlers with their Minor and U21 teams collecting Ulster titles. The U21 side were in superb for as they overcame Down at the Athletics Ground in Armagh and while Antrim manager, Kevin Ryan was happy with the result he certainly wasn’t happy with the decision of Ulster Council to bring the time of the game forward to accommodate a Reserve Championship game.

                                  Bord Gáis Energy Ulster U21 Hurling Championship Final

                                                          Antrim 7-17 Down 1-5

Antrim  manager, Kevin Ryan was scatching of the Ulster council after Wednesday night’s Ulster U21 Hurling final between Antrim and Down at the Athletic Grounds had been brought forward by half an hour to accommodate a Reserve Championship game.

“Some of our lads had to finish work at 3.30 in order to be here for this game. It’s a poor reflection on how the Ulster Council view the development of hurling” Ryan said.

However, while the Antrim supremo’s protests seemed valid he could have little complaint about his side’s performance as they systematically took an outclassed Down side apart to earn a place in the All Ireland semi-final against the winners of Cork or Clare.

In doing so Antrim won their sixth Ulster U21 hurling title in a row, overpowering Down in a very one-sided final at the Athletic Grounds.

The Saffrons actually conceded the opening two points of the game, from Down duo Peter Mason and Eoghan Sands, but they hit 1-7 before the break to lead by eight at half-time. Their opening goal came a few minutes before the break through substitute Seán McAfee.

Antrim found the net six times in the second half as they ran riot on Down. Niall McKenna and Saul McCaughan both landed goals shortly after the restart to effectively end the game as a contest, while further goals followed from McCaughan and Connor Burke (2).

Down substitute Conal Fitzsimons found the net for the Mourne County 10 minutes before the end, but it was a brief respite as Ciarán Clarke scored Antrim’s seventh goal mere seconds later to take his personal tally for the game to 1-6.

Antrim will play the winners of the Munster final (Clare or Cork) in the All-Ireland semi-final on August 23. They will be hoping to repeat their achievement of 2013, when they stunned Leinster champions Wexford with a 2-15 to 1-16 victory in the All-Ireland semi-final at Semple Stadium.

Scorers for Antrim: C Clarke 1-6 (2f), S McCaughan 2-1, C Burke 2-0, N McKenna 1-2, Sean McAfee 1-0, D McKernan 0-2, J McGreevy 0-1, M Dudley 0-1, D McCloskey 0-1, R McCambridge 0-1, Stephen McAfee 0-1, E McCaughan 0-1

Scorers for Down: C Fitzsimmon 1-1, E Sands 0-2, J McGrath 0-1, P Mason 0-1

ANTRIM: C Butler; T O Ciarain, P Burke, F Donnelly; J McGreevy, E Campbell, M Bradley; D McGuinness, M Dudley; D McCloskey, R McCambridge, N McKenna; C Clarke, D McKernan, A McAfee. Subs: Sean McAfee for McGuinness (23), S McCaughan for Donnelly (h-t), C Burke for McCloskey (44) E McCaughan for Stephen McAfee (48), M Connolly for Bradley (52).

DOWN: S Savage; M Conlan, M McCullough, G O’Neill; C Taggart, C O’Neill, J McGrath; J McManus, R Brannigan; P Mason, B Nicholson, C Egan; L Savage, S Mageean, E Sands. Subs: B Byers for G O’Neill (37), C Fitzsimmons for Savage (41), A Scott for McManus (55), J Doran for McCullough (55), D Mallon for Mageean (55).

Referee: A Nash (Derry)

                                                                                   CAPTIONS

21) Antrim celebrate after defeating Down in the Bord Gais Ulster u21 Hurling Final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Wednesday night.

Antrim’s Ryan McCambridge breaks clear of  C Taggart of Down during the Ulster U21 Hurling final at the Athletic Grounds on Wednesday night.

Down keeper, Sean Savage clears his lines.

No where to go! An Antrim forward is closed down by C O’Neill and M Conlan of Down.

Two goal Antrim hero, Saul McCaughan solos clear of  C Brannigan of Down.

Saffrons deny the Faithful with late, late majors

Allianz Hurling League

Division 2a

Sunday March 8

Antrim 2-14 Offaly 0-20

Brendan McTaggart reports from Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, Tullamore

The fat lady wasn’t exactly singing in O’Connor Park but she had cleared her throat a couple of times and was waiting for her autocue to start when Antrim staged the mother of all comebacks.

Six down with six minutes of injury time signalled, Antrim could have been forgiven for turning their thoughts there and then to a meeting with the Faithful County in a weeks time.  Not so.  The game entered the 77th minute when Neil McManus took his tally to 1-13 for the game, a gargantuan effort from the Ruairi Og man. Less than a minute later team captain, Conor McCann fired the sliotar to the back of the Offaly net, his second goal in as many games and with the final whistle coming from the resulting poc out, the natives were restless and Antrim breathed a sigh of relief.

The momentum is still there, albeit that same momentum stuttered in Tullamore.  Seven points down after the opening 11 minutes, they looked a shadow of the side that played so well against Kerry seven days earlier.

They had made six changes from that side, the majority of which were enforced as Darren Gleeson confirmed after the game but they lacked any fluency and struggled to cope with the intensity Offaly brought to the middle third.  The home side owned those opening exchanges and Antrim needed to make changes and bringing Domhnall Nugent to centre half back allowed Ciaran Johnston to adopt a sweeping role.

Neil McManus runs away in triumph after scoring his team’s first goal during injury time of Sunday’s National Hurling League draw with Offaly in Tullamore

The change stopped the Offaly siege and they kept the home side to just two points in the 20 minutes that followed.  They were getting little or no change from an excellent Offaly defence however and were reliant on the free taking ability of McManus.  He would go on to score seven of Antrim’s eight first half points, Conor Johnston’s 20th minute score the Saffrons first from play.  Offaly’s attack was blunted with Ciaran Johnston playing as a sweeper and the St John’s man played the role to perfection while Nugent’s work rate was incredible in that first half.

Antrim trailed by four points at the short whistle but such was the force of the wind at their backs after the restart, it was far from an insurmountable deficit.  They abandoned the sweeper system but couldn’t get any joy from the middle third as Offaly dominated from poc outs and adapted to playing into the wind much better while David Nally scored three excellent points after the restart.

Antrim kept in touch with McManus’ frees but they needed goals to re-ignite their hopes of maintaining their unbeaten record.  They came close when Nugent had a 21 yard free saved by James Dempsey between the posts and when they did manage to score through substitute Alex Delargy, the referee had already blown for an earlier infringement, much to the annoyance of the travelling Antrim support in O’Connor Park.

Antrim centre back Ciaran Johnston in action during Sunday’s Allianz National Hurling League Division 2 draw with Offaly in Tullarmore. Pic by John McIlwaine

The allocated injury time had already been played when Antrim scored their first goal.  Ciaran Johnston sending the ball deep into the Offaly defence and while the timber flew, the sliotar fell to McManus who swivelled and hammered to the back of the Offaly net from an acute angle.

The Antrim support had barely finished celebrating their goal when lightning struck once more.  Another Johnston free landing to the heart of the Offaly defence where they couldn’t clear the danger and McCann pulled first time, making no mistake and preserving Antrim’s unbeaten record as they look to a promotion play-off against Kerry next weekend.

It wasn’t Antrim’s finest 70 minutes but they managed to dig out an excellent result against a very good Offaly side.  The Faithful County will wonder how on earth they managed to let this one slip but for now, Antrim are one game away from their goal.  Promotion.

TEAMS

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Ciaran Johnston, Aodhan O’Brien; Keelan Molloy, Ronan Molloy; James McNaughton, Neil McManus, Niall McKenna; Domhnall Nugent, Conor McCann; Conor Johnston

Subs: Conal Cunning for A O’Brien (blood sub 40); David Kearney for R Molloy (55); Conor Boyd for G Walsh (57); Eoin O’Neill for J McNaughton (67); Alex Delargy for Conor Johnston (67)

Scorers: Neil McManus 1-13 (10f 1’65); Conor McCann 1-00; Conor Johnston 0-1

Offaly: James Dempsey; Ciaran Burke, David O’Toole-Greene, Michael Cleary; Brian Watkins, Dan Doughan, Brendan Murphy; Leon Fox, David King; Colm Gath, Jason Sampson, Peter Geraghty; David Nally, Sean Cleary, Eoghan Cahill

Subs: Ben Conneely for M Cleary (21); Ross Ravenhill for C Gath (HT); Sean Dolan for J Sampson (57); L Langton for E Cahill (64); Oisin Kelly for S Cleary (70)

Scorers: Eoghan Cahill 0-11 (7f); David Nally 0-3; Peter Geraghty 0-3; Brian Watkins 0-1; Brendan Murphy 0-1; Sean Cleary 0-1

Referee: David Hughes

Antrim close in on league final

Allianz Hurling League – Division 2A

Antrim vs Offaly

Date: Sunday March 8th @ 2pm

Venue: O’Connor Park, Tullamore

Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)

By Brendan McTaggart

It’s almost the perfect scenario.  Antrim head to O’Connor Park on Sunday with their fate in their own hands and also the fate of Offaly and Kerry.  Not only have they one foot in the league decider, they are holding the same door open for someone else.

A trip last weekend to the Kingdom yielded not only two league points but Antrim’s best performance of the league.   A six point win over Kerry in their own backyard is impressive on those facts alone but when you look a bit further, it starts to get better.  2-16 of their accumulated 2-20 came from play, 11 different scorers and options all over the field.

Keelan Molloy in action during last week’s win over Kerry in Tralee.

When Kerry looked like they could take a stranglehold of the game and go on the front foot, Antrim made changes.  Bringing Niall McKenna out to the three-quarter line and introduce Conor McCann to the edge of the square was the change they needed.  Bringing Conor Johnston into the attack gave the Kerry defence something else to worry about while Aodhan O’Brien looks more at home in a saffron jersey with every passing minute on the field.

Then there’s the one we’ve been waiting for.  Conal Cunning.  The Dunloy starlet has the hurling world in the palm of his hands and we’ve been waiting impatiently for his return to an Antrim shirt having made his debut in the Christy Ring Final defeat to Carlow almost three years ago.  Brought on with six minutes of the 70 remaining, ‘Coby’ scored with his first touch in the game and a glimpse of what is to come.  A trademark burst of pace to get the half yard required. 

Mattie Donnelly in action during the Kehoe Cup final against Offaly in January.

Considering all six of Antrim’s forwards scored as well, you get a better feel for the squad depth now developing.  The defence may not have been as imperious as they were in previous matches but make no mistake about it, Kerry are a test.  They needed the win and after last Sunday’s loss, they are third favourite’s to make the final in what is now a three horse race.

The permutations are simple…

  1. An Antrim win, draw of defeat by less than eight points and its an Antrim vs Kerry final
  2. An Offaly win by eight to 36 points and it’s Antrim and Offaly in the decider
  3. An Offaly win by anything over 36 points and the Faithful men will face Kerry for a place in 1b

Simple.

The last two meetings against Offaly have brought different fortunes for the Saffrons.  The McDonagh Cup match in Sunday’s venue last June was an immense performance.  One that Antrim struggled to reach the heights and intensity off in their matches after but good memories to look back on when they think on O’Connor Park.

Sunday will be eight weeks since the last time they met, Páirc Tailteann and the Kehoe Cup decider on that occasion.  Antrim weren’t at their best on the day and yet had chances to pull off one of the biggest robberies in the game of hurling.  Dan McCloskey with a late goal before Oisin Kelly scored the winner.

Conal Cunning who made his comeback after a long injury lay-off last week against Kerry

The difference between those two Offaly sides was there for all to see.  They were in disarray in the summer of 2019 while now they’re under the astute tutelage of Michael Fennelly.  The Ballyhale and Kilkenny legend dipping his toes into intercounty management and doing a fairly decent job of it into the bargain.

It’s not impossible but it is highly unlikely that Antrim won’t make the play-off for promotion.  Their starting 15 will depend on whether Gleeson and his team want to show their full hand or not against a side they could play in the Final or keep the momentum going they’ve gathered during the league.  Make it five from five and keep the good times rolling.

I described our performance on Twitter last weekend as: “…four from four and hurling a blinder.”  We did and we have.  Antrim have not only a foot in the decider and hold all the aces and they’ve improved with every game.  They have one more to negotiate before concentrating on the Division Final.

Niall McKenna in action during the Kehoe Cup final against Offaly in January

The last time they met….

Sunday January 12

Kehoe Cup Final – Antrim 1-15 Offaly 1-16

Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Tailteann, Navan

When Dan MCCloskey found the back of the Offaly net in the third minute in injury time, it looked like Antrim were on the verge of committing daylight robbery.  McCloskey’s goal brought the sides level for the first time in the match and the Saffrons looked like they could grab an unlikely win in a game where they were second best to the Faithful County.  Offaly looked more cohesive throughout with a strong defence led superbly by captain Ben Conneely and a potent attack that gave Antrim their fill and more.

The winner came two minutes after McCloskey’s major.  Oisin Kelly was a real handful for the Saffrons defence and it was he who struck what proved to be the winner and no one in an Antrim shirt could complain at the final score.  Offaly recorded 18 wides over the 70 minutes, 11 in the second half and some of those misses were criminal. 

Teams

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Conor Boyd, Eoghan Campbell; Keelan Molloy, Nicky McKeague; Michael Bradley, Neil McManus, James McNaughton; Domhnall Nugent, Alex Delargy, Niall McKenna

Subs: Conor Johnston for N McKeague (43); Ronan Molloy for A Delargy (43); Ryan McCambridge for M Bradley (46); Aodhan O’Brien for C Boyd (46); Dan McCloskey for N McKenna (55); Conor McHugh for S Rooney (67)

Scorers: Neil McManu 0-9 (5 f’s 2 ‘65’s); Keelan Molloy 0-5; Dan McCloskey 1-00; Niall McKenna 0-1

Offaly: James Dempsey; Brian Watkins, Damien Egan, Paddy Rigney; Michael Cleary, Ben Conneely, Dan Doughan; Brendan Murphy, Leon Fox; Shane Kinsella, Peter Geraghty, Oisin Kelly; Liam Langton, Sean Cleary, Thomas Geraghty

Subs: David King for B Watkins (ht); David Nally for B Murphy (49); Paul Kinsella for S Cleary (52); Brian Duignan for P Geraghty (62); Kevin Dunne for L Fox (65); Jason Sampson for S Kinsella (69); Ross Ravinhill for L Langton (inj)

Scorers: Liam Langton 0-4 (3 f’s 1 ’65); Brian Duignan 1-00; Leon Fox 0-2; Shane Kinsella 0-2; Peter Geraghty 0-2; Oisin Kelly 0-2; Sean Cleary 0-2; David Nally 0-2 (1 f)

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)

Joe McDonagh Cup

Round 3

Saturday June 1

Neil McManus lead the way when Antrim beat Offaly in last years Joe McDonagh game in Tullamore.

Antrim 3-23 Offaly 4-18

Super Saffs storm to victory

Brendan McTaggart reports from O’Connor Park, Tullamore

And so the dream continues.  Antrim went to Offaly with hope more than expectancy and left with the two points and effectively reaching the semi-final of the Joe McDonagh Cup.  They had two points to spare over the Faithful County after the home side rallied towards the end but Antrim were simply outstanding.  A breath-taking performance full of energy and a performance to live long in the travelling Saffron fans in a sun kissed O’Connor Park.

Goals from Keelan Molloy (two) in the first half and Nigel Elliott’s 66th minute punctuated the performance for the Saffrons but it was more than just goals that won this game.  Work rate, desire, drive, determination and skill.  Antrim had it in spades throughout and they outhustled, outfought and out hurled Offaly to record just their second win over the Faithful County in championship hurling.  Yes, the other win was 30 years ago.

TEAMS

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Stephen Rooney, Martin Burke, Phelim Duffin; Paddy Burke, Mattie Donnelly, David Kearney; Neil McManus, Nicky McKeague; Nigel Elliott, Ryan McCambridge, Keelan Molloy; Ciaran Clarke, Joe Maskey, Eoin O’Neill.

Subs: Eoghan Campbell for R McCambridge (35); James McNaughton for E O’Neill (35); John Dillon for D Kearney (58); Dan McCloskey for C Clarke (inj)

Scorers: Neil McManus 0-10 (7’s); Keelan Molloy 2-00; James McNaughton 0-4; Nigel Elliott 1-1; Ciaran Clarke 0-3; Eoghan Campbell 0-3; Nicky McKeague 0-1; Joe Maskey 0-1

Offaly: Eoghan Cahill; Ben Conneely, Dermot Shortt, Pat Camon; Cillian Kiely, Shane Kinsella, Mark Egan; Aidan Treacy, Paddy Murphy; Colin Egan, Joe Bergin, Peter Geraghty; Shane Dooley, Oisín Kelly, Kevin Connolly.

Subs: Conor Mahon for C Egan (16); David Nally for D Shortt (HT); Sean Cleary for S Dooley (HT); Kevin Dunne for P Murphy (41); David O’Toole-Green for P Camon (50)

Scorers: Joe Bergin 1-6 (2 ‘65’s, 4f’s); Oisín Kelly 2-2; Aidan Treacy 0-3; Sean Cleary 1-00; Peter Geraghty 0-2; Eoghan Cahill 0-1 (1f); Cillian Kiely 0-1; Paddy Murphy 0-1; Kevin Connolly 0-1; David Nally 0-1.

Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)

The story so far….

Antrim 0-20 Wicklow 0-11

Antrim 4-19 Mayo 0-7

Antrim 5-27 Meath 1-15

Antrim 2-20 Kerry 2-14

Offaly 0-26 Meath 1-21 played in St Patrick’s Park, Birr

Offaly 0-14 Kerry 2-11 played in Austin Stack Park, Tralee

Offaly 5-29 Mayo 1-13 played in Connacht Centre of Excellence, Bekan

Offaly 4-29 Wicklow 2-14 played in O’Connor Park, Tullamore

How they stand….

Allianz Hurling League Roinn 2A

Pos Team P W L D F A Diff PT
1 Antrim 4 4 0 0 119 56 63 8
2 Kerry 5 4 1 0 103 76 27 8
3 Offaly 4 3 1 0 125 77 48 6
4 Meath 5 2 3 0 100 126 -26 4
5 Wicklow 5 1 4 0 92 130 -38 2
6 Mayo 5 0 5 0 70 144 -74 0

Antrim scorers so far….

Neil McManus 2-31 (20 f’s, 1 ‘65’s); Niall McKenna 1-9; Eoghan Campbell 1-7; Dan McCloskey 1-5; James McNaughton 1-6; Alex Delargy 2-00; Keelan Molloy 1-5; Gerard Walsh 0-4; Domhnall Nugent 1-4; Conor McCann 1-1; Aodhan O’Brien 0-2; Ronan Molloy 0-2; Conor Johnston 0-1; Eoin O’Neill 0-1; Conor Boyd 0-1; Nicky McKeague 0-1; Joe Maskey 0-1; Paddy Burke 0-1; Michael Bradley 0-1; Conal Cunning 0-1