The Armagh official quickly pulled his head back so as to not cause a disruption, but he was far too late. He had already grabbed the lion’s share of the limelight.
London’s players and management were incensed by Hughes’ inconsistent display, which they believe leaned in favour of the visitors, who escaped from the Emerald Grounds with a two-point win thanks to Kevin Niblock’s 62nd-minute goal.
The Saffrons substitute rounded goalkeeper Evan Byrne to net, but looked to have taken too many steps, while there was also a suggestion of a throw ball in the build up to the goal.
“I think it’s a joke that an Ulster referee is appointed for a game between ourselves and an Ulster side,” said London captain Sean McVeigh, who was man of the match against his native county.
“A blind man would have seen that their (second) goal was a throw ball. Other things also didn’t go our way and the referee certainly didn’t help us, but you can’t dwell too much on it.
“We’re probably going to get the County Board in trouble for saying it but it has to be said. They (Croke Park) have to look at themselves.
“We’re not the whipping boys; we’re not here just to get walked all over. It’s a disgrace that an Ulster referee was refereeing a match like that.”
McVeigh’s comments were echoed by his manager, Paul Coggins, who was left fuming by some of Hughes’ decisions.
“I am the manager of London so I would be slightly biased, but I felt we didn’t get as fair as play as I would have hoped,” said Coggins.
“There were a couple of crucial decisions that went against us, and I am disappointed that they (Croke Park) fixed an Armagh referee for a game like this. Let’s take nothing away from Antrim and the way they performed, but the Antrim manager even said to me, ‘the better team lost’.
“All we ask for is fair play. We’re fair men, we work hard, we do our job.
The hosts looked dead and buried after the opening quarter, Aodhan Gallagher’s 18th-minute goal giving Antrim a five-point lead, while London had managed just one point when playing with the strong wind.
But the remainder of the half belonged to the home side, and they took a shock 2-5 to 1-5 lead into the dressing rooms after a stunning goal from Ciaran McCallion and a sweet finish by Eoin O’Neill from the final play of the half.
Antrim were level within six minutes of the restart, but were squandering a plethora of goal chances. Gallagher missed his second sitter of the day, before wing-back Tony Scullion found the net only to be penalised for taking too many steps.
London drew level midway through the half, but substitute Peter Finn then somehow failed to finish after rounding the keeper.
Despite that miss, three unanswered points put the hosts back in front, but the wind was knocked out of their sails when Niblock profited from a quick counter attack to net, and McCann made the game safe in injury time with his fifth point.
It was a disappointing end to McVeigh’s London career. He moves back to Ballymena next month, having taken up a teaching position in Belfast.
“I suppose it’s a good way to go out,” he said. “We lost the game but that performance was fantastic. We dug deep. A few things went against us, namely the referee, he wasn’t in our favour. But we didn’t let that get on top of us. We came back with two goals at the end of the first half, and we can be proud of the performance we put in.
“We aimed for a good performance after the Leitrim game and we did that. If they hadn’t had 16 men on the pitch, we could have won it.”
Scorers for Antrim: T McCann 0-5 (4f), A Gallagher, K Niblock 1-0 each, J Loughery, C Murray 0-2 each, M Sweeney, C Kelly 0-1 each.
Scorers for London: E O’Neill, C McCallion 1-1 each, M Mullins (1f), S McVeigh 0-2 each, S Kelly (f), J Scanlon, M Gottsche 0-1 each.
Subs for Antrim: K Niblock for Magill (47), P McBride for Sweeney (55), M Armstrong for Murray (69).
Subs for London: P McGoldrick for Kelly (40), P Finn for Crowley (52), M Carroll for Mullins (63), N Egan for O’Neill (67).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh)