By Cóilín Duffy
Meath, Mayo and Louth were all first time hurling champions in Croke Park this afternoon.
In their first Christy Ring Cup Final, Meath ensured a return to Liam McCarthy Cup action for the first time since 2004 with a stunning 1-20 to 2-18 win over Antrim.
A late salvo by substitute Sean Quigley sent the Royals on their way to victory, in a game where Antrim led by nine points after 26 minutes, but ultimately found it tough against a determined Meath outfit.
A Conor Johnston goal helped Antrim to a 1-3 to 0-1 lead after 14 minutes and his side moved six points clear, before James Toher replied with Meath’s second point.
Meath battled hard, but Antrim led by 1-10 to 0-7 at the break.
The Royals mounted a strong comeback with Neil Heffernan impressive, as they cut the gap to two points, before Quigley’s stunning finish.
Having been relegated from the Christy Ring Cup last Summer for the first time in their history, Mayo bounced back to take Nicky Rackard Cup honours with a 2-16 to 1-15 win over Armagh in the decider.
Four unanswered points in the closing stages ensured JP Coen’s charges took honours following a competitive encounter
Kenny Feeney registered 1-9 for the eventual winners, who got off to a super start after Darren McTigue fired a third minute goal, but were pushed hard throughout.
Louth dug deep to claim the Lory Meagher Cup title, with a strong final quarter helping them to a 4-15 to 4-11 win over Sligo.
Goals from Liam Dwan, Andrew Mackin and Shane Callan in the final three minutes helped the Wee County to victory, after a less than impressive start.
Diarmuid McCarthy’s charges trailed by 3-10 to 0-8 with 18 minutes remaining, but delivered a superb closing quarter.
Sligo staged an impressive first half display with Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch, Kevin Gilmartin and Matthew Davey firing a goal each on the way to a 3-6 to 0-5 half-time advantage.
Despite a 10-point gap at the interval, Louth had their fair share of possession, amassing 11 wides by the break.
The Wee County hit a strong spell midway through the second half, registering 1-7 without reply including a Seaghan Connelly goal to cut the gap to the minimum, before a superb finish.