Neal Peden’s Antrim almost landed the first major knock-out blow of the season, but the All-Ireland and league champions Galway finally found their form in the closing minutes to take the points at Pearse Stadium, writes Declan Rooney
In the end Galway delivered at the death, but Micheal Donoghue’s side needed big last ten minutes and five points in the space of three minutes to avoid a slip up.
John Hanbury, Davy Glennon and Cathal Mannion all made an impact for Galway off the bench, while Antrim were unable to deliver in the closing minutes after a powerful showing from Neal Peden’s side.
After winning the toss and electing to play with the aid of the strong Salthill breeze, Antrim caused huge problems for Galway before the break and only for a goal one minute from the break form debutant Brian Concannon they would have led at half-time.
Seven points from Neil McManus, including two excellent efforts from play, and another two from Nigel Elliott saw Antrim impose themselves on their hosts, although a couple of the five wides they hit in that opening 35 minutes could have been avoided too.
Galway, in their first outing as All-Ireland champions, were applauded onto the pitch by the sizeable Pearse Stadium crowd and a guard of honour from Antrim, but without any Walsh Cup games to warm up for the Division 1B campaign, Galway looked short of game-time and, understandably, a long way short of their September prime.
Despite this lack of accuracy in their play they still opened up a 0-6 to 0-2 lead by the 12th minute. Concannon’s work could have led to a goal from Paul Flaherty in the first minute, but a great save from Chris O’Connell denied Flaherty, although Conor Cooney landed the 65 for the opening score.
McManus points levelled matters in the second and sixth minutes, but Joseph Cooney’s point and three Conor Cooney frees put Galway in control.
But with Conor Johnston and Donal McKinley performing well around midfield, where Antrim crowded matters, the Ulster men landed three in a row as McManus and Gerard Walsh scored from play in the 15th and 16th minutes.
Aidan Harte was handed a sweeping role around Daithi Burke, and while he gathered a lot of possession, his distribution let him down on a couple of key times before half-time as McManus and Elliott punished him with scores as Antrim took a 0-10 to 0-9 lead in the 31st minute.
But a big hit from Conor Cooney on Paddy Burke forced a turnover in the 34th minute and after the St Thomas’ attacker carried well, he fed Concannon who hit the net from a tight angle to give Galway a 1-9 to 0-11 lad at the break.
Despite that setback and a good Joseph Cooney point to start the second-half, Antrim retook the lead in the 40th minute when Conor McCann’s low shot found its way past James Skehill – perhaps with the aid of a deflection off Daithi Burke.
Another McManus free put Antrim two points clear in the 44th minute, and although Eanna Burke replied, Conor Johnston and Elliott a hit points from play to stretch that advantage to three points.
But Galway came charging back as the prospect of defeat became a reality.
Substitutes Cathal Mannion, John Hanbury and Davy Glennon all hit good scores to go with Joseph Cooney’s effort, while Conor Cooney sealed the win in added-time for the Tribesmen.
Galway: J Skehill; M Donoghue; D Burke, J Grealish; A Tuohey, M Dolphin (0-01), A Harte; J Coen, E Burke (0-03); N Burke (0-01), J Cooney (0-03), P Flaherty (0-01); B Concannon (1-01), C Cooney (0-06, 0-04f, 0-01 ‘65), J Flynn.
Subs used: C Mannion for Concannon (30-32 Blood), S Loftus for A Harte (HT), Gearoid McInerney for Grealish (41), C Mannion (0-01) for Flaherty (47), J Hanbury (0-01) for Donoghue (50), D Glennon (0-01) for Flynn (60),
Antrim: C O’Connell; A Graffin, J Dillon, D Kearney (0-01); J Maskey, M Donnelly, P Burke; C McKinley, G Walsh (0-01); M Connolly, N McManus (0-10, 0-07f, 0-01 ‘65), N Elliott (0-03); C Johnston (0-01), C McCann (1-00), D McKinley.
Subs used: J Connelly for Connolly (27), J McNaughton for Elliot (65), E O’Neill for McKinley (67)
Referee: J O’Brien (Laois)