Antrim claim goalfest to retain Ulster hurling title

Antrim 6-21 Armagh 4-14
Antrim had to work hard against a determined Armagh side as they claimed their 15th Ulster Senior Hurling title in succession at Owenbeg this afternoon.

Christy Ring finalists Antrim had the better of Armagh for the second time in six years in a final, as the Orchard County’s wait for a first title continues.

Just three points separated the sides with 11 minutes remaining, despite Armagh being reduced to 14 men, after James King was dismissed on a second yellow card.

The Orchard County found this numerical disadvantage tough, as Antrim drove on, with two goals from James Connolly in the closing seven minutes as Antrim claimed a 13-point win.

Both sides made changes to their line-up’s prior to throw-in, with James McKeague replacing Odhran McFadden in the Antrim defence, while Fiachra Bradley started in place of Cormac Toner for Armagh.

Antrim fired the opening two points, with Daniel McKernan and Eddie McCloskey off the mark inside the opening 90 seconds.

However Armagh took the lead soon after following a crafty goal from Declan Coulter.

Armagh’s lead was short-lived, as Antrim tagged on five of the next six points, including a line-ball effort from Ciaran Clarke to ensure a 0-7 to 1-1 lead by the 10th minute.

Armagh worked hard and with Ryan Gaffney impressive from placed balls, and scores also from captain Cahal Carvill and Eoin McGuinness they regained the lead after 22 minutes.

But Antrim’s opening goal arrived a minute later from John Dillon, and ensured the Saffrons took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish - despite Armagh pushing hard.

Conor Carson fired Antrim’s second goal inside three minutes, and when Ciaran Clarke completed his side’s hat-trick in the 30th minute, Antrim led by 3-9 to 1-8.

Antrim tagged on five points without reply, including two from Benny McCarry, with his second score coming in injury-time, after a goal effort was deflected over the cross-bar by Armagh keeper Simon Doherty.

12 points in arrears, Armagh faced a strong challenge to make a comeback, but they responded well.

James King cut through for the Orchard County’s second goal deep in first half injury-time to ensure a 3-14 to 2-8 interval score-line, while his side stormed out of the traps on the restart.

Antrim were hit with 1-2 unanswered inside the opening three minutes of the second half.

Ryan Gaffney, who sustained a blood injury late in the first half and was replaced by Petey McKearney, returned to action and helped his side put in a positive performance early on the restart.

The Na Fianna clubman was accuracy from a free and a 65 to cut the gap to seven points, before Eoin McGuinness fired Armagh’s third goal.

Just 3-14 to 3-10 behind, Armagh looked good to further reduce that gap.

However, neither side produced a score over the next six minutes - the quietest period in this game for the score-board operator.

UUJ student Ciaran Clarke added 1-1 without reply in the ninth minute to hand his side an eight-point lead, but Armagh continued to work hard.

A second McGuinness goal and a Conor Corvan point left just four points between the sides entering the final quarter.

Daniel McKernan and Ryan Gaffney swapped points before Gaffney slotted over his seventh point of the day after a foul on McGuinness to ensure a three-point gap with 11 minutes left of normal time.

However, Armagh were now reduced to 14-men following King’s dismissal and Antrim found an extra gear to kick on for victory.

Antrim outscored their opponents by 2-5 to 0-1 in the closing 10 minutes, with McCarry and Clarke continuing to impress, while Connolly added goals in the 63rd and 69th minutes on the way to victory.

After the game, Antrim captain Conor Carson accepted the Liam Harvey Cup.

There was double success for the Saffrons in Owenbeg, with Antrim’s Minor hurlers also capturing provincial honours thanks to a 2-15 to 0-11 win over Down in the curtain-raiser.

Scorers for Antrim: C Clarke (3f) 2-7; J Connolly 2-2; J Dillon 1-2; C Carson 1-1; B McCarry, D McKernan 0-3 each; J McKeague, E McCloskey, C McNaughton (1f) 0-1 each.

Scorers for Armagh: E McGuinness 2-2; R Gaffney (7f) 0-7; J King, D Coulter 1-0 each; F Bradley, C Carvill 0-2 each, C Corvan 0-1.

Antrim: C O'Connell; S McCrory, N McAuley, B Graham; F Donnelly, P Burke, J McKeague; E Campbell, D McKernan; E McCloskey, J Dillon, J Connolly; B McCarry, C Carson, C Clarke. Subs: O McFadden for McCrory (16), S Delargy for Graham (26), S McCrory for Donnelly (47), C McNaughton for McKernan (64).

Armagh: S Doherty; C Clifford, A McGuinness, C Devlin; J Corvan, N Curry, F Bradley; K McKernan, J King; R Gaffney, C Carvill, D Carvill; D Coulter, E McGuinness, C Corvan. Subs: P McKearney for Bradley (60), A Toal for D Carvill (68), O Curry for A McGuinness (68).

Referee: Eamonn Hasson (Derry).

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