Bradley pleased with Saffrons

ANTRIM footballers showed a lot of character and composure in Saturday’s closing stages to squeeze Carlow out of the race.

The Saffrons just about deserved their victory, but the Barrow boys can feel they let an unexpected win slip from their grasp as they produced a booming five-minute finish that just narrowly failed.

In a game they refused to bow out of and with players like Brendan Murphy around Antrim were pushed hard.

Murphy had been switched to full-forward earlier in the game and when an Antrim forward surge broke down in midfield he raced through and fired an explosive shot to the home net from 25 metres to leave just two points between the sides.

St Ledger reduced the margin to one as Antrim failed to find the distance with a couple of efforts that dropped short but the Saffrons held on grimly for a victory that, overall, they just about deserved.

“I’m just glad that we are into the next round,” said Antrim manager Liam Bradley.

“We missed a couple of chances after Brendan Murphy’s goal and in the first half we showed lack of composure. But we are now where an Antrim team hasn’t been for a long, long time.

“That was typical championship football and we showed that our panel is strong. After Carlow took the lead with Murphy’s goal, there was only one team in it and that was Antrim.”

There was bitter disappoint in the Carlow camp at losing but some silver lining in the clouds, too.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed that we didn’t press on after Brendan Murphy’s goal,” stressed team boss Luke Dempsey.

“We lacked composure but I’m so very, very proud of those lads who stuck with us when Sean Gannon, Alan Curran and John Paul Moore walked off the panel.”

Much of Antrim’s success can be attributed to the second-half introduction of former skipper Paddy Cunningham and Mark Dougan who immediately made their presence felt against a Carlow defence that had been steady until then.

Cunningham hit three points (one free) while Dougan snatched his team’s only goal of the game to send Antrim ahead by 1-9 to 1-7 on 54 minutes.

It was a major turning point, coming just before Carlow’s Ed Finnegan was sent off for a second yellow card offence, as Dougan flicked the ball to the net beating a dropping centre from Conor Murray.

Carlow looked positive during the opening-half with some nice passing movements and an edge around midfield but their final pass, as often as not, went astray and the positive build-up was lost. The visitors didn’t score from the 10th until the 34th minute with that dry period to cost them in the end.

The home side ran up a 0-6 to 0-2 lead by the 31st minute but could have been further ahead if chances had been taken. They also lost corner-back Kevin O’Boyle with injury in the 19th minute.

It was a hat-trick of points by Tomás McCann, Gerard O’Boyle and lively James Loughrey between the 27th and 31st minutes that stretched the winners’ lead before Daniel St Ledger brought Carlow bang into contention.

The lanky corner-forward bagged his own hat-trick in three minutes from the 34th to leave the half-time score at 0-6 to 0-5. St Ledger’s first point sailed over from a 45 with the other two from free-kicks of around the same distance.

One minute after the restart, Carlow were ahead. In a goalmouth melee two shots were blocked down but the ball ran loose to the unmarked St Ledger on the edge of the square and he had the easiest of tasks to slip the ball into an empty net.

Cunnigham’s arrival heralded more urgency in the Antrim attack and he screwed over a crucial point after Darragh Foley had increased Carlow’s lead from a free.

With the visitors leading by 1-7 to 0-9 came that 54th minute turning point as Dougan netted for Antrim and Finnegan went for an early shower.

Antrim took control with a series of points to be 1-13 to 1-8 up and were looking good for the next round with three minutes ordinary time left until the late drama.

Scorers for Antrim: M Dougan 1-1, P Cunningham 0-3 (1f), K Niblock, G O’Boyle (1 s/l), C Murray, T McCann (1f) 0-2 each, J Loughrey 0-1.

Scorers for Carlow: D St Ledger 1-4 (3fs, 1 45), B Murphy 1-2 (2fs), D Foley 0-2 (1f), T Walsh 0-1.

Subs for Antrim: A Douglas for K Boyle (inj. 19), P Cunningham for McCann (40), M Dougan for Healy (47), K Brady for Herron (62).

Subs for Carlow: BJ Molloy for A Murphy (43), T Walsh for Minchin (45), C Mullins for Ruth (54), J Murphy for Foley (57), T Bolger for Nolan (60).

Referee: E Kinsella, (Laois)

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