Meath 4-21 Antrim 5-17, After extra-time
27th June 2016
Christy Ring Cup Final replay
Meath 4-21 Antrim 5-17, After extra-time
By Paul Keane at Croke Park
Veteran Steven Clynch emerged as Meath's super substitute at Croke Park with a 93rd minute winning point to claim a quite incredible maiden Christy Ring Cup title success for the Royal County.
Meath and Antrim returned to Croke Park three weeks after a controversial drawn final and didn't disappoint with a remarkable evening of hurling that went right to the wire.
Meath thought they'd done enough to claim victory in normal time when they led by three only for Antrim's Darren Hamill to net five minutes into injury time and force extra-time.
Antrim then scored a fifth goal to take a two-point lead with 89 minutes on the clock.
But Meath simply refused to be beaten and tied the game up again with points from Clynch, who finished with 1-3, and captain James Toher before Clynch hit the winner from a free three minutes into injury-time.
Meath's reward is a place in next year's Leinster Championship though it was tough on Antrim who hit a huge tally and still came up just short.
Ironically, it was Antrim who controlled the first-half of normal time and they sprinted into a 1-2 to 0-0 lead thanks in part to Ciaran Clarke's goal after three minutes.
He cut through the centre of Meath's defence with a probing solo run before firing off a volleyed shot to the right corner.
Meath responded with four points in a row from Toher but didn't score a point from open play until first-half injury-time.
That was partly down to Antrim's strong defending with captain Neal McAuley operating as a sweeper though Meath also registered eight first-half wides.
Antrim hit four points in a row including two beauties from Johnston to put daylight between the teams again and lead 1-6 to 0-4.
And the Saffrons finished the half strong with points from Clarke and Sean McAfee and Johnston's goal to move 2-8 to 0-6 clear at the break.
Johnston showed no mercy when he pounced on a parried clearance by the Meath 'keeper and fired it back with interest to the net.
The second-half was all about Meath as they returned a different team and hit 1-4 on the spin in the 10 minutes after the restart to leave just one point in.
Neil Heffernan scored the Meath goal and a second from the big full-forward in the 56th minute put them into a dramatic 2-12 to 2-9 lead.
They led by four with 10 minutes to go though the drama was just beginning as the lead swapped between both teams in a frantic finale.
Clynch's 68th minute goal for Meath put them three clear but Hamill pounced in the fifth minute of injury-time, tapping in from close range after Clarke's free was blocked on the goal line to force extra-time at 4-12 to 3-15.
A fourth Meath goal five minutes into the first-half of extra-time from Gavin McGowan left them with a two-point advantage at the interval.
But Antrim simply refused to give in and conjured 1-2 in the second-half to lead by two, forcing Meath dig so deep in that thrilling finale.
Scorers for Meath: J Toher 0-12 (0-11f), N Heffernan 2-0, S Clynch 1-3 (0-2f), G McGowan 1-0, A Gannon 0-2, S Quigley 0-2, S Morris 0-1, J Keena 0-1.
Scorers for Antrim: N McKenna 1-5, C Clarke 1-5 (0-2f, 0-1 65), C Johnston 1-2, D Hamill 1-0, J Connolly 1-0, D McKernan 0-2, N Elliott 0-1, E Campbell 0-1, S McAfee 0-1
Meath: S McCann; S Geraghty, R Sherlock, D Donoghue; S Brennan, K Keoghan, S Whitty; S Heavey, S Morris; J Keena, D Healy, A Gannon; G McGowan, J Toher, N Heffernan.
Subs: S Clynch for Brennan (h/t), S Quigley for Heavey (46), K Keena for Heffernan (65), M O'Grady for J Keena (73). J Keena for O'Grady (73).
Antrim: E Gillan; P Burke, T McCloskey, S McCrory; O McFadden, N McAuley, F Donnelly; E Campbell, E McCloskey; N McKenna, C Johnston, S McAfee; N Elliott, B McCarry, C Clarke.
Subs: PJ O'Connell for Elliott (40), D McKernan for McCarry (50), J Connolly for T McCloskey (56), D Hamill for McKenna (70). McKenna for Johnston (h/t e/t), J Dillon for O'Connell (92).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).