#SaffronsWin Antrim 3-23 Offaly 4-18
2nd June 2019
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
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 25thminute 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.
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)