Brilliant. Class. Savage. Proud.

By Brendan McTaggart

Brendan McTaggart was still on a high afer Saturday’s win over Offaly so he tried to put a few of his thoughts down on paper.

Saturday in Tullamore.  A win that was more than just a win.  It was a performance in a match that Antrim needed to win.  A performance that by the full time whistle had me shouting on the inside and punching the air in ecstasy.  It’s not quite journo etiquette to shout and roar during the game in the press box but I have to admit when Keelan Molloy scored the first and definitely Nigel Elliott’s 66th minute major, I for the want of a better way of putting it, lost the run of myself.  Following Antrim will do that to you.  You live the lows and they hurt but when the highs happen and make no mistake about it, Saturday was a high, in the words of Buff Egan you ‘drink it innnn maaaaannnnnn’. 

The mighty Buff Egan with a young Antrim fan at the game.

The scenes at the full time whistle was an outpouring of emotion.  Fans came onto the O’Connor Park surface to congratulate the players and management on their victory, our victory.  The players were full of smiles and living in the moment, despite going through 80 minutes of high intensity hurling.  When you win, the hurts and pains don’t feel as bad.  Adrenaline is a wonderful healer.  Maybe Sunday morning was a different tale.

It was clear from an early stage Antrim’s fitness levels were on a different level to that of Offaly’s.  After going a man down, they dug deep and went to a place I’ve never seen an Antrim team go before.  They hunted in packs like wolves after their prey and showed a desire, a hunger that eradicated the Offaly numerical advantage.  It was an incredible spectacle that at one stage in the first half I just sat back and admired.  The hustle, the intensity, the tackles, the never-say-die attitude.  Savage.

Going a man down so early, I got that all too familiar sinking feeling.  A wee voice inside my head yelling ‘here we go.’  I was engulfed with a sense of dread but how Antrim reorganised and began to take the fight back to Offaly soon got rid of that feeling.  As the first half progressed, it was never apparent Antrim had a man less on the pitch.  Again, performance and intensity levels = savage.

Timberrrrrr.

Having watched the match back again on the GAA Now website and yes I am that guy who will do that despite being there, the quality of hurling produced was better than I had lived the first time around.  Mattie Donnelly caught innumerable ball throughout the match among a crowd of Offaly hands and hurls.  It’s the best performance I’ve seen from the Ballycastle man and he produced it when Antrim needed it most.  McManus I described in my report as Cuchullain like, a play on words for the Cushendall man and a dry piece of humour but it was a phenomenal performance that makes you glad he wears a Saffron shirt.  James McNaughton, introduced at the end of the first half came on despite carrying a knock.  The Loughgiel starlet hit two of his four points before the half time break and with his trademark twisting runs, lead the Offaly defence a merry dance.  Keelan Molloy’s two first half goals highlighted his performance.  The Offaly defence couldn’t live with him in the first half and he put in a display that further enhanced his burgeoning reputation within the county and beyond.  Nicky McKeague put his body on the line so many times, rucking for ball in a top display epitomised when he went to block an Offaly players shot with his body having dropped his hurl.  Some may look at this and say it’s madness but essentially these Antrim players are prepared to so that for each other, for us and our team.  They’ve developed a unity, a bond and a togetherness that drags them together when the chips are down.  Maybe sharing the same living quarters during the training camp in Portugal wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

Togetherness! Two young talents who showed their class in Tullamore

The pain of the Laois defeat was nowhere to be seen after the game.  The players knew they’d let themselves down and didn’t hit the desired level to deserve the win.  They did that on Saturday… and then some.  Offaly were a wounded animal and were backed into a corner.  They performed better than they had in their previous two outings but Antrim were just better.  They played with more speed, guile, intensity and had more match winners when it mattered most.

I’ve covered Antrim matches were upon leaving, you leave with a sense of pride.  Galway last February, pushing the then All-Ireland champions to the pin of their collar but ending in defeat.  A savage performance against Meath in last year’s Joe McDonagh Cup, a team that had given me nightmares in championships gone past.  Leaving Páírc Tailteann that day was a fine day but nothing compared to Tullamore.

Nice to see our county sponsors out on the field after the game. They had good reason to be there yesterday

The 1st June, St Justin’s Day.  The day Antrim re-announced themselves to the rest of the hurling world.  Forget about the demise of hurling within the Faithful County.  This was the match, the performance and result that gave me my proudest moment in 30 plus years as a Saffron.

I’ve genuinely looked at the timing for Saturday in an attempt to make the Westmeath match.  My daughters First Communion is at 11am, the match at 2pm.  I’ve been told more than once that I’ve lost the run of myself.

I did that in Tullamore.  Aontrom Abu.

Super Saffrons storm to victory

Joe McDonagh Cup – Round 3 Saturday June 1

Antrim 3-23 Offaly 4-18

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.

Keelan Molloy celebrates after scoring Antrim’s opening goal.

It was such a good performance that to pick out individuals would do the rest of the team a disservice.  Having played with a man less for close to three quarters of an hour after losing Martin Burke for a straight red card in the ninth minute, the Antrim players to a man put in a monumental shift.  That being said, Neil McManus put in the type of performance on a warm afternoon that makes you think is he human at all.  The Ruairi Og man was Cuchullain like with a heroic performance, especially in the second half.  Ten points overall and a cliché yes, but McManus covered every blade of grass in O’Connor Park.  Nicky McKeague put in easily his best performance in an Antrim shirt, time and again putting his body on the line for the Saffron cause while Mattie Donnelly hardly put a foot wrong all match. 

Introduced before half time, James McNaughton tortured the Offaly defence in the second half along with Eoghan Campbell but it was visible how much fitter Antrim were compared to Offaly.  Even with a man less, they hunted in packs with desire and controlled aggression to look a step ahead of the home side. 

The turning point ultimately came in the 53rd minute when Conor Mahon was red carded for a heavy challenge on Donnelly.  Antrim were ahead by the minimum at that point and while Oisín Kelly’s second goal and Offaly’s third of the match gave the home side Offaly a one point lead with 15 minutes remaining, the Saffrons hit 1-6 without reply in the space of eight minutes to give Antrim an unassailable lead.

Offaly hit back in the closing stages, led by Sean Cleary scoring their fourth goal but Antrim held out to record a deserving win.

Neill McManus who gave an awesome display at midfield for Antrim in their win over Offaly

Strong Start

Showing four changes from the loss to Laois, Antrim made a strong and assertive start, Nigel Elliott and McManus (free) gave the Saffrons an early two point lead by the sixth minute.  There wasn’t much flow to the early stages with both sides coming to grips with each other and Antrim’s cause was harmed when Martin Burke saw red in the ninth minute.  After a melee, referee called Shane Dooely and Burke to one side, awarding the Offaly man a yellow card while ending Burke’s match after consultation with the linesman.

Antrim reorganised but Offaly took advantage by landing four unanswered points in the next ten minutes while substitute Conor Mahon was denied by a save from Ryan Elliott at full stretch.  The first goal came in the 25th minute with the home side holding a one point lead.  McManus playing a cross field ball to the lively Ciaran Clarke.  The Ballycastle man spotted Keelan Molloy free inside and the Dunloy man did the rest with a timely finish. 

The home side replied instantly with Oisín Kelly firing over his first of two goals.  Creating something from nothing, the Belmont man fired to the back of the net from an acute angle.  Offaly hit a purple patch, landing five points in as many minutes to Antrim’s one to open a four point lead but it was Antrim who finished the half on top.  McManus with a surging run through the Offaly defence and despite being fouled, the Cushendall man passed to Molloy and he found the top corner despite coming under pressure from the Offaly defence.

The Saffrons continued to remain on top and outscored the home side five points to two in the time that remained to take a two point lead into the short whistle. 

James McNaughton gets past the challenge of Offaly’s Cillian Kiely.

Half time: Antrim 2-10 Offaly 1-11

It was a superb end to a half that had everything for the Saffrons.  They reorganised after the loss of Burke and began to play some excellent hurling.  Early scores from Eoghan Campbell and McKeague stretched the Antrim lead to four points for the first time in the game before Offaly hit back.  A brace of points from Joe Bergin (free) and David Nally before scoring their second goal.  Peter Geraghty bringing the best out of Elliott between the posts only for Bergin to pounce on the rebound and give his side a one point lead once again.

The sides went toe to toe with McManus (four) carrying a major threat with Aidan Treacy and Bergin (free) responding to leave the Saffrons one point ahead before the Offaly red card.  Mahon’s challenge on Donnelly deemed wreckless by referee Liam Gordon and the Galway official sent the Kilcormac-Killoughey man to the stands.

The home side responded by scoring their third goal, Kelly making the most of some indecision in the Antrim defence before beating Elliott… but Antrim went up a gear.  Six points in five minutes with Campbell, James McNaughton, Joe Maskey and McManus with the scores to open a five point lead.  It could have been more but Campbell’s goal effort went to the wrong side of the post with Eoghan Cahill in the Offaly goal beaten.

Matty Donnelly, whose father Brian was a member of the Antrim team who beat Offaly in the All Ireland semi-final in 1989, was one of the stand out players in the Saffron’s win in Tullamore.

The Saffrons didn’t have long to wait before scoring their third and ultimately match winning goal.  Paddy Burke with a lung bursting run, fully 60 yards before finding Nigel Elliott running off his shoulder.  Elliott collected the sliotar and found the back of the net with a trademark finish to give the Saffrons an eight point lead with four minutes of normal time remaining.

Elliott’s major was the last score Antrim would record however as Offaly responded with an attacking assault that caused the Saffrons solid foundations to creek.  Cleary’s goal cancelled out Elliott’s major and while Offaly pushed for another major, three Bergin frees was all they had to show for their efforts.  Cleary had another goal chance with what proved to be the last action of the match in the sixth minute of injury time but Antrim defended heroically to earn the victory.

The result means Saturday’s match against Westmeath in Dunloy is effectively a semi-final.  Another performance akin to that of the Kerry and Offaly games and the Saffrons could be looking at a date in Croke Park on Leinster Final day.  One more step.

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 (7f); 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)

Antrim and Offaly at a crossroads

Joe McDonagh Cup – Match Day Three

Offaly vs Antrim @ O’Connor Park, Tullamore

Throw In: 3pm

Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)

By Brendan McTaggart

Those of us old enough to remember ‘that’ day, will always have a special place in our hearts for matches against Offaly in the championship.  30 years ago came the Saffrons greatest hour in Croke Park.  An All-Ireland semi-final win that saw Olcan ‘Clute’ McFetridge firing the sliotar to the back of the net at Hill 16 while on his knees, Jim Nelson paraded around Headquarters shoulder high and the Offaly players paying Antrim the greatest respect by forming a guard of honour as they left the field.  One of the greatest sporting moments of the century from the Faithful County, no matter what your persuasion of county origin.

30 years.  It’s incredible to think it’s been that long.

The great Clute McFetridge in action against Offaly on that famous day in August 1989 in Croke Park. Pic by John McIlwaine

Regardless of how many years go by, the story brings a smile to everyone who was in attendance.  It’s Antrim GAA’s JFK moment.  Everyone is said to remember where they were when they found out the news about the assassination of the American President.  Everyone in Antrim who is of age to know will have their ‘I remember moment’.  None more so than Curly himself.  A phone call with the Master Photographer and he can recall every swing of a hurl from the match.

The links to the Antrim team from yesteryear are still there.  Mattie Donnelly’s dad, Brian lined out on the three-quarter line while his uncle Dessie hurled in the corner of the defence.  In the other corner was Antrim coach, Gary O’Kane.

So to this weekend and Saturday in particular.  Neal Peden takes his side to Tullamore in search of their second win of the Joe McDonagh Cup.  The competition itself is proving to be every bit as close as was predicted but the Faithful County are under pressure already.  After their loss to Westmeath, they are now 0 from 2 despite their relegation from the Liam McCarthy Cup last year.  Worrying times for the Offaly men and they’ve reacted by ending Kevin Martin’s reign.  Martin’s time at the helm coming to an end six months short of two years with the Offaly County Board calling on the services of Joachim Kelly to step into the breach.  The Lusmagh clubman another link to ’89, hurling in midfield on the day, scoring 0-1 from play.

With a new manager will come a fresh energy within the squad with rumours circling of Kelly bringing in six new faces since taking the helm.  What has happened in the previous two matches for the Faithful County can be disregarded.  Kelly will be keen to get his tenure as Offaly hurling manager off to a winning start and a tough away match for the Saffrons has become significantly more difficult.  The new manager effect will give Offaly Bouncebackability and make them a different animal than what they were at the start of the campaign.  They will be without the services of Niall Houlihan, the half back given a straight red card in his sides 13 point defeat to Westmeath but it was 70 minutes to forget with the Faithful County heavily reliant on Joe Bergin for scores.  Of the 0-14 scored, Bergin landed 0-9 with six frees and one ’65. 

Antrim’s Ciaran Clarke in action against Offaly’s David King back in 2014. Clarke, Neill McManus, Conor McCann and Ryan McCambridge are the only members of Saturday’s panel who played that day.

Antrim come into the match after a defeat to Laois and another 70 minutes against the O’Moore County where they flattered to deceive.  Full of confidence after a morale boosting win and hugely impressive performance in the opening day win against the Kingdom, the Saffrons didn’t fire on all cylinders.  An eight point defeat was a stark reminder to the Saffrons of how difficult this competition can be but if we need a further reminder of the competitive nature, look no further than last weekend.

Westmeath, fresh from gaining promotion from Division 2 and a 13 point win over Offaly, were having a flawless 2019 until they hosted Kerry.  The Kingdom registering their first win of the competition meaning that after two rounds of fixtures, we’re still nowhere near close to finding out who will contest the Final as the curtain raiser to the Leinster Hurling Final.

Pos Team P W L D F A Diff PT
1 Laois 2 2 0 0 64 52 12 4
2 Westmeath 2 1 1 0 49 38 11 2
3 Antrim 2 1 1 0 50 44 6 2
4 Kerry 2 1 1 0 38 50 -12 2
5 Offaly 2 0 2 0 44 61 -17 0
                   

Antrim showed against a defensive Kerry side that they have the attacking prowess to cause Offaly problems.  With a full hand to pick from, they travel to Tullamore at full strength and with Eoghan Campbell and Nigel Elliott’s introduction and performance coming off the bench against Laois, Peden and his backroom team have decisions to make.  A nice headache to have.

Saturday will be a crossroads for Antrim and Offaly.  An Antrim win and the Saffrons can look at the rest of the campaign with hopes and desires of claiming a national title while the showdown in Tullamore is being billed as the biggest match in Offaly’s hurling history.  A defeat would see them in the midst of a relegation battle and the Christy Ring Cup looming large in the background, just two years after playing in the Leinster championship.  A staggering thought for a county with the hurling history of Offaly but one they could be faced with nevertheless.

70 minutes with the same work rate, desire, intensity and not forgetting skill displayed against Kerry on May 11and Antrim could well be leaving Offaly with another two points and their fate will be in their own hands.  An encouraging thought but for now, Tullamore direct.

The Antrim team who beat Offaly in the All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final in Croke Park on August 6th 1989. Back row, L-R, Brian Donnelly, Dessie Donnelly, Dominic McKinley, Niall Patterson, Terence Donnelly, Paul McKillen, Dominic McMullan, James McNaughton. Front, L-R, Terence McNaughton, Olcan McFetridge, Ciaran Barr (capt), Donal Armstrong, Gary O’Kane, Leonard McKeegan, Aidan McCarry. Pic by John McIlwaine

Antrim beaten in extra time

Bord Gais Energy Leinster U20 Hurling Championship

Carlow 0-25  Antrim 2-16

Antrim lost out in injury time to Carlow in Saturday’s Leinster U20 Hurling Championship at Abbotstown. For periods in the game it looked like the young Saffrons were in a good position to go on and win the game, but they could never really get a firm grip on the match and frustratingly let it slip. Overall it turned out to be a bit of a shoot-out between Antrim corner forward Seaan Elliott who scored 2-11 overall and Carlow midfielder Ciaran Wheelan who struck 14 points in all in a man of the match display.

Whelan appeared to have the game won for Carlow he put them three clear at the end of normal time, but in the time referee Chris Mooney added on Elliott brought the game to extra time when he fired a shot to Carlow net with practically the last puck of the game. Antrim went a point up at the end of the first half of extra time and were still one clear midway through the second period, but a great score from Carlow centre-forward Jason Flood and three pointed frees by Whelan saw them home.

Seaan Elliott celebrates after the injury time goal that brought the game to extra time.

On the perfect Abbotstown surface Carlow took an early lead with two points from corner forward Dan Shehan, but one Antrim settled they were soon back in the game and two Elliott points and one from his Dunloy club-mate Deaglan Smith had them 0-4 to 0-3 by the tenth minute. It was score for score for the remainder of the first half and though Carlow went 0-8 to 0-6 in from by the 25th minute a pointed free by Elliott and on from play by Dominic McEnhill tied up the scores at eight apiece by half time.

Carlow, who had lost left half forward Dean Tobin to a second yellow card just before half-time, went ahead early in the second half when Whelan pointed but Antrim’s Conal Bohill hit a great point to equalise and when Seaan Elliott took advantage of a mistake in the Carlow defence to rifle in a goal from the narrowest of angles thing suddenly looked promising for the Saffrons. The Antrim optimism was dispelled when Carlow came back with three points in quick succession to level matters once again. Two top class points from Seaan Elliott had Antrim two in front yet again but Carlow’s dominance of the midfield area was providing Whelan with a host of chances and three more from him edged Carlow one point clear again. Elliott levelled matters again with a pointed free but four from Whelan in reply to once from Antrim substitute Oisin Donnelly looked like it had wrapped it up for fourteen man Carlow.

Ciaran Whelan who broke Antrim hearts with a great free taking display.

Seaan Elliott had a 20 metre free turned around the post deep in injury time and when the resultant 65 went all the way wide it seemed the chance was gone, but there was one more chance and when a high ball into the Carlow square broke to Elliott he powered his shot to the back of the net to take the game to extra time.

The opening period of extra times saw Antrim squander three great chances to go ahead and Carlow took advantage to hit the front with a fine point by centre forward Jon Nolan. Two by Elliott ahead for the last time early in the second period of extra time but thy could not maintain their challenge and four without reply by Carlow saw them over the line.

CARLOW: James Kavanagh, Dylan Connors, Jack Ryan, Donal Jordan, Eoin Kavanagh, Tony Lawlor, Eanna Holland, Ciaran Whelan, Barry Hickey, Darragh O’Toole, Jon Nolan, Dean Dobin, Dan Sheehan, Ciaran Kavanagh, Jason O’Neill

ANTRIM: Paul McMulln, Aaron Crawford, Liam Gillan, Fred McCurry, Ryan McGarry, Conor Boyd, Conor McHugh, Scott Walsh, Ronan Molloy, Deaglan Smith, Conal Bohill, Cormac McFadden, Seaan Elliott, Dominic McEnhill, David Kilgore.

Subs – Ed McQuillan, Oisin Donnelly, Eamon Elliott, Oran Kearney, Michael Close.

Referee – Chris Mooney (Dublin)  

That one’s for you Seany

Joe McDonagh Cup – Round One – Saturday May 11

Antrim 3-19 Kerry 0-14

Brendan McTaggart reports from Pearse Park, Dunloy

Antrim dedicate win to late great Seany Burns who died this week

To say it was expected may be pushing the margins fantasy, for even the most ardent and blinkered Saffron fan.  But to say it was deserved, no one could argue.  Antrim got their Joe McDonagh Cup campaign off to the best start possible on a sunny but cold Pearse Park as they despatched the challenge of Kerry with 14 points to spare.

A comfortable margin of victory and every inch as comfortable as it sounds.  Despite leading by just a single score at the interval, Antrim pushed on in the second half and out fought, out manoeuvred and out hurled a side who have caused them problems beyond belief in the past. 

Kerry came to Dunloy as favourites but they were left chasing Saffron shadows for the majority of the match.  In our preview, Antrim manager Neal Peden told of his belief in the Antrim forward unit.  Some may have thought it as some psychology but Peden couldn’t have been more correct if he tried.  Out of their tally of 3-19, just six points came from placed ball while Antrim had 13 different names on the scoresheet. 

13.

Antrim’s Matthew Donnelly grabs a high ball. Pic by Cathal McOscar.

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Unlucky for some.  Kerry yes but most certainly not Antrim.  The Saffrons may have taken some time to hit their straps, in a scrappy first half where Kerry played with the substantial wind, the visitors to Pearse Park played very negatively.  Packing their own defence and leaving Jack Goulding as a lone target man.  At one stage in the opening 35 minutes there wasn’t a Kerry man within 45 yards of Goulding.  The Munster men looked to play short passes around their own half back line and midfield, trying to manoeuvre the Antrim defence but the Saffrons were a step ahead.  Ryan Elliott’s goal never looked threatened and but for the brilliance of Shane Conway from placed ball, it could have been an even more comfortable win for Antrim.

The Antrim forwards will take the plaudits but there’s no doubt the platform for the victory came from their defence.  Stephen Rooney impeccable, Conor Boyd imperious while his McQuillan’s clubmate Mattie Donnelly was a major contender for man of the match.  A strong performance throughout but Donnelly excelled in the second half and rarely put a foot wrong.

Kerry’s Michael O’Leary flies high win the ball in a challenge with Antrim’s Matthew Donnelly and Joe Maskey.

Antrim had to wait until the eighth minute before registering their first score of the match, Eoin O’Neill finishing a well worked move from wide on the left.  The visitors had already raced into a three point lead by that stage with Conway’s frees (two) and Michael O’Leary putting them into a good position after the opening exchanges.

The sides went tit for tat with James McNaughton (two frees), Ryan McCambridge, Keelan Molloy and Conor McCann getting their names on the scoresheet with Conway (two frees), Colum Harty and O’Leary keeping the Kingdom ahead before Antrim scored the opening goal of the game.  Nicky McKeague delivering a sideline ball into the direction of McNaughton.  The Loughgiel man collected among the crowd and passed to Ciaran Clarke.  The Ballycastle man raced clear and managed to fire the sliotar to the back of the net to give Antrim the lead for the first time in the match in the 32nd minute.

Both sides had been guilty of missing chances in the time before Clarke’s major.  Kerry reaching double figures (10) with their wide count while Antrim didn’t fare much better, returning eight in the same time frame but Clarke’s major gave the home side a lift for the remainder of the half.  A brace of Conway frees were answered to by O’Neill’s second white flag of the half, a superb score from wide on the right and with the angle against him, the Dunloy man had the last say of the half as Antrim took a one point lead into the interval.

Antrim 1-7 Kerry 0-9

The Saffrons would have been content with their efforts in that first period.  They weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders but they deserved to hold some sort of lead at the short whistle.  They took some time to come to terms with the negative tactics of Kerry and against the wind but they cut loose in the second half.

Tomas O’Connor and Conway (free) fired over either side of Conor McCann’s second point of the afternoon.  Antrim began to turn the screw however and the Kingdom were wilting under the Saffron pressure.  Paddy Burke left his half back berth to fire over before the home side hit their second major of the half.  Conor Boyd breaking free from the defence before passing to McKeague.  The Dunloy man launched the sliotar high into the heart of the Kerry defence but it took an awkward bounce in front of Martin Stackpoole. In the Kerry goal and bounced over his shoulder and high into the net.

Antrim’s Neill McManus in aciton against Kerry’s Tómas O’Connor.

A brace of points from McManus frees continued the Saffron charge and while Conway landed his eighth free of the match, it was a brief respite for the visitors as Antrim piled on the scores.  Clarke and Molloy firing over to open a seven point gap with 15 minutes remaining.

The frustration of the Kingdom was plain to see and their fate was effectively sealed in the 57th minute when John Buckley saw red for a dangerous foul on Donnelly.  Antrim took advantage of the open spaces as Kerry opened up in an attempt to get back into the game.  McManus landed his second monster free before substitute Nigel Elliott scored their third goal of the contest.  The Dunloy man collected the ball 50 yards from goal and rode a couple of heavy challenges using his pace and power to get him clear before finding the bottom corner with seven minutes remaining.

Substitute David Kearney added his name to the scoresheet before a brace of frees from Conway brought Kerry to with 10 points of Antrim with four minutes of normal time remaining.  Antrim kept their grip on the game and finished with points from the impressive Molloy, McManus’ fourth free of the match and white flags for substitutes Joe Maskey and Kevin Rice.  Icing and cherry added to the Saffron cake at the end of a second half where everything they touched turned to gold.

The perfect start and the dream starts once again.  A trip to Laois lies ahead for Neal Peden’s charges but the hope and dreams can start once again.  After the game the Saffrons manager dedicated the win to his friend and mentor Seany Burns who passed away during the week, a fitting tribute for a Saffron legend.  For now, all roads to Portlaoise in seven days’ time.

TEAMS

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Stephen Rooney, John Dillon, Phelim Duffin; Paddy Burke, Conor Boyd, Matthew Dillon; Neil McManus, Nicky McKeague; James McNaughton, Ryan McCambridge, Keelan Molloy; Ciaran Clarke, Conor McCann, Eoin O’Neill.

Subs: Nigel Elliott for J McNaughton (48); David Kearney for N McKeague (61); Joe Maskey for E O’Neill (61); Dan McCloskey for C Clarke (67); Kevin Rice for C McCann (68)

Scorers: Neil McManus 0-4 (4 f’s); Ciaran Clarke 1-1; Nicky McKeague 1-00; Nigel Elliott 1-00; Keelan Molloy 0-3; James McNaughton 0-2 (2 f’s); Conor McCann 0-2; Eoin O’Neill 0-2; Ryan McCambridge 0-1; Paddy Burke 0-1; David Kearney 0-1; Joe Maskey 0-1; Kevin Rice 0-1.

Kerry: Martin Stackpoole; John Buckley, James O’Connor, Evan Murphy; Sean Weir, Bryan Murphy, Tomas O’Connor; Colum Harty, Jack Goulding; Shane Conway, Michael O’Leary, Jordan Conway; Dan Goggin, Michael Boyle, Padraig Boyle.

Subs: Michael Slattery for O Boyle (50); Patrick Kelly for C Harty (59); Daniel Carroll for J Conway (63); Gavin Dooley for J Goulding (65)

Scorers: Shane Conway 0-10 (10 f’s); Michael O’Leary 0-2; Colum Harty 0-1; Tomas O’Connor 0-1.

Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)