Antrim 3-23 Kildare 1-17
2nd July 2018
Antrim 3-23 Kildare 1-17
Saturday June 30
Brendan McTaggart reports from the Athletic Grounds, Armagh
An unnecessary job done. That was the immediate feeling at the final whistle in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday afternoon. The feeling surrounding this fixture in the build-up had garnered support for the hurlers of these Antrim and Kildare sides. The long and short of it, it was a fixture that neither side felt they warranted and if a game had to be played, the scheduling could have been kinder.
Antrim put in a professional performance against the Lilywhites to hold on to their Joe McDonagh Cup status for 2019 but before I eulogise over the performances of Neil McManus, Keelan Molloy et al, spare a thought for the Kildare men. The rules were set at the start of this year’s championship but to win your competition in a tiered system should ensure your promotion. Not so for Kildare. Madness. 12 points separated the sides at the end of 70 minutes in energy sapping heat with all three of Antrim’s goals coming in the first half. McManus hitting the back of the net either side of Conor McCann’s 33rd minute major to give Antrim control after an uncertain start. The Ruairi Og and Antrim talisman finished his county season with a personal tally of 2-10 while Keelan Molloy finished the match with 0-6 to his name in a performance that belittled his relative new comer status to the intercounty game. McManus and Molloy took the lions share of the scoring accolades but it was another fine team performance from the men in Saffron and while they have probably played better this year and lost this year, they won’t have played in a more important match.
This was a crossroads for Antrim. Win or bust. A defeat would have condemned them to the Christy Ring Cup in what would have been an incredible turn of events considering they could have been playing in the Final of the McDonagh Cup. With the rub of the green and a few breaks here and there, they could have been 70 minutes from re-entering the Liam McCarthy Cup. Such has been the fine lines of this tremendous competition but that’s a story for another day.
The Saffrons were a much more polished team than their Kildare counterparts. All talk of the three week break from their defeat to Kerry and Kildare’s six day turnaround from their success in Croke Park against London as being a decisive, telling factor is probably looking at this game too simplistically. This was a banana skin game for Antrim and one that had many fearing the worse. Kildare came to Armagh with the attitude that ‘everyone was against them’ but with momentum. A ‘backs to the wall’ attitude can raise a teams performance another 10-15% yet Antrim showed that they belong in the Joe McDonagh Cup as they overcome the early Kildare onslaught to run out convincing winners.
Antrim started like a team that hadn’t been playing for three weeks. Errors here and there, missed frees and stray passes. The fluency of their performances during the six weeks of the McDonagh Cup round robin was missing and while Kildare weren’t firing on all cylinders themselves, they already had one point on the board thanks to a James Burke free before Paul Divilly fired the opening goal of the game in the third minute. Antrim Captain Conor McKinley had shepherded Jack Sheridan down the left but the Kildare man managed to get across the byline before sending the sliotar high across the Antrim goals. Divilly met the sliotar first time and gave Ryan Elliott no chance. A dream start for the Lillywhites and a difficult task just got harder for the Saffrons. Their reply however was instant. A point from Ryan McCambridge was followed by a goal chance for Nigel Elliott, his strike from an acute angle well saved by Paddy McKenna in the Kildare goals. Points followed though with Conor McCann, McManus (free) and Molloy’s first of the match to tie the sides by the 11th minute.
Burke (free) and Divilly gave Kildare a two point advantage but Antrim were beginning to get on top all over the pitch. Molloy halved the arrears before they carved another goal chance. Nigel Elliott collecting a long pass from McCambridge before speeding clear of the Kildare defence. Through one on one, the expectant result never came. You would have put your mortgage on the Dunloy man finding the bottom corner but his shot went to the wrong side of the post.
A brace of points from Elliott and McManus (’65) restored Antrim’s lead by the 18th minute and after a water-break, they hammered home their advantage. A poc out from Ryan Elliott landed among the waiting group where McManus rose highest. He turned and bore his way to the Kildare holding off three challengers before emphatically raising the rigging. Kildare replied instantly with Burke landing a free but Eoin O’Neill and Molloy split the uprights to take the Antrim lead to five points in the 29th minute.
Kevin Whelan and Bernard Deay points breathed life into Kildare’s challenge but Antrim’s second goal came and underlined their superiority of the first half. McCambridge playing a cross field ball where McCann collected. The timing and intelligence of his run meant Kildare were chasing his shadow and the Kickhams man found the target with accomplished ease.
Divilly and Burke replied for the Lillywhites to leave four between the sides in first half injury time but the momentum swing in the closing stages was the deciding factor of this play-off. Kildare had a goal chalked off for square ball, Martin Fitzgerald’s deemed to be inside the small square when Sheridan played the sliotar square. 20 seconds later Antrim scored their third goal. McManus collecting a high ball before finding the onion bag again.
Burke’s fifth point of the half, fourth from a free ended the opening 35 plus minutes with the Saffrons in control. 3-9 to 1-9.
Looking at the first half, Kildare were dealt a cruel blow with two of Antrim’s goals. One after a water break and the other after they had a goal ruled out. From potentially going in to the half time break level, Antrim had a six point cushion.
If Antrim’s performance was clinical but stuttering in the opening half, they dominated after the restart. Éanna O’Neill fired the opening score in the second minute but three points from McManus (one free) and one from John Dillon opened a nine point lead after eight minutes.
Burke and Deay replied for Kildare but another brace of McManus points along with white flags from Nigel Elliott and Molloy’s fourth of the match reinforced the Antrim advantage. Both management teams began to freshen their sides, looking to the sub bench and while Chris Bonus and two Divilly frees reduced the deficit to eight points, Antrim never really looked like capitulating in the closing stages. Eoghan Campbell McCann dropping deeper and Simon McCrory were outstanding while McManus (two) and Molloy continued to pile the scores at the other end.
Divilly took his tally to 1-4 in the last minute of normal time but points from Molloy, McManus (free) and a point from James McNaughton after a sublime catch took the advantage to 13 points. A Paul Divilly free reduced the deficit to 12 points in the seventh minute of injury time at the end of the game but that was that as far as Kildare were concerned. An incredible hard luck story for the Lilywhites and an unnecessary job done for Antrim.
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Arron Graffin, John Dillon, Ryan McCambridge; Paddy Burke, Matthew Donnelly, Conor McKinley; Simon McCrory, Eoghan Campbell; Keelan Molloy, Neil McManus, Nigel Elliott; Conor Carson, Conor McCann, Eoin O’Neill
Subs: Donal McKinley for R McCambridge (50); James McNaughton for M Donnelly (63); Eddie McCloskey for E O’Neill (65); Stephen Rooney for S McCrory (inj); Daniel McCloskey for C Carson (inj)
Yellow Cards: Ryan McCambridge (12); Paddy Burke (44)
Red Cards: none
Scorers: Neil McManus 2-10 (7 f’s); Keelan Molloy 0-6; Conor McCann 1-1; Nigel Elliott 0-2; Ryan McCambridge 0-1; Eoin O’Neill; John Dillon 0-1; James McNaughton 0-1
Kildare: Paddy McKenna; Conor Gordon, John Doran, Paul Sulivan; Éanna O’Neill, Mark Moloney, Kevin Whelan; Niall O’Muineachain, Brian Byrne; James Burke, Paul Divilly, Bernard Deay; Mark Delaney, Martin Fitzgerald, Jack Sheridan.
Subs: Chris Bonus for B Deay (53); Diarmuid Cahill for K Whelan (53); Sean Gainey for J Burke (56); Barry McCormack for M Delaney (60); Shane Walsh for E O’Neill (67)
Yellow Cards: Bernard Deay (10); Jack Sheridan (34); Brian Byrne (36)
Red Cards: none
Scorers: Paul Divilly 1-6 (3 f’s); James Burke 0-6 (4 f’s, 1 ’65); Bernard Deay 0-2; Éanna O’Neill 0-1; Kevin Whelan 0-1; Chris Bonus 0-1
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)