Antrim comeback ousts Carlow

Antrim 2-18 Carlow 3-12

Antrim’s hurlers scored three late points as they came from behind to beat a gallant Carlow side at Casement Park today.

The Ulster champions notched clinching points through Karl Stewart, Karl McKeegan and substitute Eddie McCloskey to win this hard-fought All-Ireland phase 1 qualifier.

Craig Doyle’s two-goal blast had Carlow dreaming of a famous Belfast win, leading by 2-6 to 0-7 at half-time.

Kevin Ryan’s charges got the better of neighbours Laois last weekend and travelled with renewed confidence to a venue where they were edged out on a 1-11 to 2-7 scoreline in the National League in February.

Antrim also came into this clash on a high, following their facile 4-22 to 1-12 dismissal of Down in last Sunday’s Ulster final.

The early exchanges went the Barrowsiders’ way, with wing forward Doyle managing to find the net with his second attempt on goal after Antrim failed to clear their defensive lines.

Antrim’s response was swift as McKeegan, Stewart and Shane McNaughton cracked over points, however Doyle’s second goal gave Carlow a huge boost, facing into a stiffening breeze with a sudden 2-6 to 0-3 advantage. Free-taker Kehoe, Mark Brennan and Doyle landed some well-taken points.

Dinny Cahill’s charges were living off scraps of possession and Brennan, who was deployed in midfield, was winning plenty of puck-out balls for the Leinster men. Cahill reacted by introducing Simon McCrory and dropping PJ O’Connell back into midfield, and the switches had the deserved effect.

Liam Watson, going for goal, squeezed a shot over the crossbar for Antrim’s first score in 15 minutes, and the home side enjoyed their best spell coming up to half-time as three further points followed.

Neil McManus put his name to all three, two of which were from placed balls. The Cushendall clubman went close to testing Carlow goalkeeper Frank Foley, only to be dispossessed at the last second. He also had an earlier effort ruled out for a square ball.

While Carlow’s defending had been particularly effective during the opening 35 minutes, Antrim did hit eight wides and the worry for Ryan was how would his side cope if the Saffrons went on a scoring run?

Again though, Carlow made a whirlwind start on the resumption. After initial points from McManus and Shane McNaughton, Kehoe rasped home a third goal to end a scoreless run for Carlow which stretched back to the 26th minute.

A real turning point arrived for Antrim just three minutes later when they won a penalty which Watson powered to the net, putting three points between the sides at 3-6 to 1-9. Kehoe steadied Carlow with a free, before McKeegan blazed over the bar when a goal looked on.

Defender Richard Coady got forward to tee up a lovely point from Doyle but Antrim’s long ball tactic paid off when Ciaran Herron’s long drive was won by McManus, and corner forward O’Connell rippled the net from close range.

Doyle, comfortably Carlow’s best forward in open play, jinked his way through to score from 35 metres and keep the underdogs on course at 3-9 to 2-10. Shane McNaughton and McManus drilled the Saffrons level before Kehoe and John Rogers replied, setting up a nail-biting final 10 minutes.

McCrory pointed to put one between them at 3-11 to 2-13 and Antrim were back on terms when McKeegan crashed a shot over off the woodwork. The reliable Kehoe provided Carlow’s response, but Antrim crucially dominated the final five minutes.

McCrory was a central figure to Antrim’s comeback bid and he laid off for McKeegan to slot over the leveller in the 69th minute (2-15 to 3-12).

Carlow were suddenly struggling for possession and some neat build-up play, with McCloskey to the fore, allowed Stewart to point off his left.

Carlow’s brave bid wilted as the busy McCloskey helped himself to a deserved point and that was enough to see Antrim hold out for a character-building victory.

Scorers: Antrim: N McManus 0-5 (0-1f), L Watson 1-1, K McKeegan 0-4, PJ O'Connell 1-00, K Stewart, S McNaughton 0-3 each, E McCloskey, S McCrory 0-1 each

Carlow: C Doyle 2-3, P Kehoe 1-6 (0-4f), M Brennan, HP O'Byrne, J Rogers 0-1 each.

ANTRIM: C O'Connell; K McGourty, C Donnelly, S Delargy; P Shiels, J Campbell, C Herron; S McNaughton, K Stewart; C McFall, N McManus, T McCann; PJ O'Connell, L Watson, K McKeegan.

Subs used: S McCrory for C McFall, B McFall for McCann, E McCloskey for O'Connell.

CARLOW: F Foley; A Corcoran, S Kavanagh, D Shaw; E Coady, E Nolan, R Coady; J Hickey, D Byrne; C Doyle, M Brennan, HP O'Byrne; A Gaule, D Murphy, P Kehoe.

Subs used: J Rogers for Hickey, R Foley for Murphy, E Byrne for E Coady, A McDonald for D Byrne.

Referee: Anthony Stapleton (Laois)

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