ANTRIM fielded close to a second-string side against surprise packets Armagh in yesterday’s Ulster SHC final at Casement Park, but the management cast more than a few anxious looks towards the subs’ bench in the closing stages.
Armagh were contesting their first Ulster final in 65 years and were expected to be overrun by their more illustrious neighbours, despite the Saffron turnover in personnel since their last outing.
Paul Shiels and Darren Hamill were introduced in the final quarter to shore up the Antrim midfield as Armagh proved dogged opponents, punching well above their Christy Ring Cup and Division 3B status.
Whilst Antrim held the lead from the 10th minute onwards, when Colm McFall fired home the game’s first goal, Armagh trailed by just four points by the 61st minute and it took an injury-time goal from Joey Scullion to put a Saffron gloss on the scoreline.
Armagh certainly made them work for the silverware. Herron saw red in the 58th minute for a second yellow card offence, just seconds before Paul McCormack blasted through a crowded square to the Antrim net.
Armagh replied to McFall’s goal with a point from Gaffney and he stopped a run of five unanswered Antrim points to trail by seven, 1-9 to 0-6, 10 minutes before the break.
Scullion and Paddy Doherty extended the Antrim lead but Conor Corvan then flicked a Martin Moen delivery to the net just before the break to keep Armagh hopes alive. Barry McFall completed the first-half scoring with Antrim 1-12 to 1-6 to the good.
On the turnover, Armagh cut the gap to four through Gaffney and Kieran McKernan just after the restart. Antrim, however, extended their lead to seven midway through the half with Conor Carson and Eddie McCloskey joining the list of Antrim scorers.
Then the gap was reduced to four, 1-18 to 2-11, when McCormack fired to the net, and the same gap remained when Scullion and Gaffney swapped frees.
Scullion hit his seventh point and the same player scrambled the ball to the net in injury-time after his 40-yard solo run.
Scorers for Antrim: J Scullion 1-7 (5fs), K McKeegan, T McCann 0-3 each, C McFall 1-0, P Doherty (2fs), C Herron 0-2 each, B McFall, C Carson, E McCloskey 0-1 each.
Scorers for Armagh: R Gaffney 0-6 (5f), C Corvan 1-2, P McCormack 1-0, R McGrattan (f), K McKernan, J Corvan, C Carville 0-1 each.
ANTRIM: C Cunningham; C McGuinness, K McGourty, J McCouaig; K McKeague, M Donnelly, C Herron; B McFall, S McCrory; J Scullion, T McCann, E McCloskey; P Doherty, C McFall, K McKeegan.
Subs: K Molloy for K McKeague, C Carson for J Black, P Shiels for B McFall, D Hamill for T McCann.
ARMAGH: S Doherty; B Mallon, C Clifford, JJ Hughes; B McCormack, R McGrattan (0-1f), N Curry; K McKernan (0-1), J Corvan (0-1); C Carville (0-1), R Gaffney (0-6, 5f), M Lennon; M Moen, P McCormack (1-0), C Corvan (1-2)
Subs: D Carville for M Lennon, C McKee for JJ Hughes, M Maguire for M Moen
Referee: D Magee (Down).