Saffrons show a stubborn streak to overcome Carlow

DINNY CAHILL hailed a victory for heart and character as stubborn Antrim struck at the death in Belfast to eventually secure their place in Phase III of the All-Ireland qualifiers.

Amazingly, the Saffrons trailed from the fifth minute of the game, after the first of two Craig Doyle goals for Carlow, until the 56th minute. The newly-crowned Ulster champions drew level for the first of three times at that stage but even at that they didn’t actually move ahead until the 69th minute.

In the end, three injury-time points in a row from Karl Stewart, Karl McKeegan and influential substitute Eddie McCloskey finally sealed victory for the hosts at Casement Park.

They now go into an open draw with fellow Phase 1 winners Tipperary and will meet a winner from next weekend’s Phase 2 games on July 17.

“The character is there in this team,” insisted Cahill. “The lads have really trained exceptionally well and when you have put the hard work in you don’t want to go out of the Championship.

“They were fighting right up until the last ball. Even the sub we brought on (Eddie McCloskey), he scored the insurance point and set up Karl Stewart for one as well. There were some great passages of play. You get your moments of dominance and you have to be able to punish them when you are dominant. I think we did that when we were dominant in the second-half.”

Doyle struck fifth and 13th minute goals for Carlow and sniped three fine points to finish the day with 2-3. His early goals helped Carlow into a 2-6 to 0-7 half-time lead.

But Antrim, buoyed by six unanswered points either side of half-time, had been battling both the wind and referee Anthony Stapleton who ruled out a 16th minute Neil McManus goal for a square ball infringement and gave eight frees against them, three of which Carlow’s Paudie Kehoe converted.

Cahill had a word with Stapleton at the break but claimed: “I was just asking him what way the wind was blowing! I suppose we weren’t happy with some of the decisions but that’s the way games go. Maybe Carlow are saying the same thing.

“We knew Carlow were going to be a tough nut to crack because we looked at their win over Laois in the preliminary round and it was a tremendous performance. Then they got the two first-half goals so we really had an uphill task but we’re just delighted to get through.”

Liam Watson’s 44th minute goal from a free – though an Antrim player appeared to over carry the ball in the build up – was integral to their fight back. Corner-forward PJ O’Connell grabbed their second goal seven minutes later when he hammered home a breaking ball in the goalmouth.

But their key forward was Ulster final hero Karl McKeegan who hit 0-4, including the 69th minute leveller and another injury-time point while subs McCloskey, Barry McFall and Simon McCrory all impressed.

ANTRIM: C O’Connell; K McGourty, C Donnelly, S Delargy; P Shiels, J Campbell, C Herron; S McNaughton (0-3; 1f), K Stewart (0-3); C McFall, N McManus (0-5; 2 65, 1f), T McCann; PJ O’Connell (1-0), L Watson (1-1; 1-0f), K McKeegan (0-4).

Subs: S McCrory (0-1) for C McFall (30), B McFall for McCann (49), E McCloskey (0-1) for PJ O’Connell (67).

CARLOW: F Foley; A Corcoran, S Kavanagh, D Shaw; E Coady, E Nolan, R Coady (0-1; 1f); J Hickey, D Byrne; HP O’Byrne (0-1), M Brennan (0-1), P Kehoe (1-6; 5f, 1 65); C Doyle (2-3), A Gaule, D Murphy.

Subs: J Rogers for Hickey (30), R Foley for Murphy (h/t), E Byrne for E Coady (42), A McDonald for D Byrne (46), A Brennan for Gaule (51).

Referee: A Stapleton (Laois).

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