By Kevin Egan at St. Brendan’s Park
Offaly 2-18 - Antrim 2-21: Offaly are headed to the quarter-finals of the Allianz hurling league while Antrim are destined for a relegation playoff, but it was the Saffrons who were clearly the better side this afternoon at St. Brendan’s Park in Birr as they recorded a fully-deserved three-point win, their fifth victory in seven trips to the South Offaly venue.
After the game manager Neal Peden paid tribute to Eoghan Campbell who put in a man-of-the-match display in a sweeping role, as he orchestrated the entire game and set in motion a number of excellent attacking moves that led to twelve different Antrim players scoring from play over the course of the afternoon’s hurling.
Offaly played with the breeze in the first half but showed none of the urgency and crispness that saw them record wins over Dublin and Laois already in this campaign, and fell behind when confusion in their back line allowed Daniel McCloskey to nip in and score one of the easiest goals the Loughgiel Shamrocks man could ever hope to score.
Offaly responded well and they drew level when Peter Geraghty rounded off an excellent attacking move to blast the sliothar past Ryan Elliot a couple of minutes later, but that type of incisive hurling was all too rare from the perspective of the home side as they struggled to get good ball into their forward division, hitting far too many aimless deliveries down the throat of Campbell.
Antrim, in contrast, kept the ball in hand and worked it up through the lines with some good support play and crisp short-range stick passing, avoiding the tackle and picking off score after score, the majority from the right flank of the attack.
Joe Bergin struck some excellent scores while Cillian Kiely also hit the target twice from range for the Offaly men, but they still trailed at the interval, 1-10 to 1-9.
The first two points after the break went to Antrim and for most of the half the visitors held Offaly at bay, with Campbell and Joe Maskey (twice) on target from distance as they took full advantage of their extra man at the back.
Offaly drew level when Shane Dooley, on as a half time sub, got a touch to Liam Langton’s high ball for the Faithful County’s second goal, but they just couldn’t get their noses in front.
James McNaughton came off the bench to strike two wonderful points for Antrim but the tie was still there to be won for both sides when Shane Dooley struck his fifth point from a free at the end of normal time, making it 2-17 to 1-20.
Neal McManus edged Antrim back in front with a free and the tie was settled when Offaly pushed up in search of an equaliser and Antrim were able to send a long ball towards Nigel Elliot, who used the space close to goal to fire the ball to the net from twelve metres out.
A late Dooley free rounded off the scoring but didn’t take the gloss off a fine win for Antrim, who will be in fine fettle now in advance of their crucial relegation decider against Laois.
Scorers for Offaly: Shane Dooley 1-6 (0-6f), Joe Bergin 0-5 (0-2f, 0-1 ’65), Peter Geraghty 1-1, Cillian Kiely 0-2 (0-1f), James Gorman, Liam Langton, David King and Dermot Shortt 0-1 each.
Scorers for Antrim: Neal McManus 0-7 (0-4f), Daniel McCloskey & Nigel Elliot 1-0 each, Eoghan Campbell, Joe Maskey, Conor McCann, Conor Johnston & James McNaughton 0-2 each, Donal McKinley, Michael Armstrong, Conor MCKinley & Ryan McCambridge 0-1 each.
OFFALY: Conor Slevin; Tom Spain, Dermot Shortt, Paddy Rigney; David King, Dan Doughan, Jordan Quinn; Damien Egan, Shane Kinsella; Ciarán Cleary, Cillian Kiely, Peter Geraghty; Liam Langton, Joe Bergin, James Gorman.
Subs: Ronan Hughes for Cleary (HT), Shane Dooley for Bergin (HT), Sean Ryan for Kinsella (HT), Conor Mahon for Kiely (56), Thomas Geraghty for P Geraghty (62)
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliot; Aaron Graffin, John Dillon, Ryan McCambridge; Joe Maskey, Paddy Burke, Conor McKinley; Gerard Walsh, Eoghan Campbell; Conor Johnston, Neal McManus, Michael Armstrong; Donal McKinley, Conor McCann, Daniel McCloskey.
Subs: Stephen Rooney for Graffin (HT), Nigel Elliot for Armstrong (40), David Kearney for Walsh (58), James McNaughton for McKinley (62), Conor Carson for McCloskey (67) Ref: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)