Saffrons stun Galway

Galway should have seen this coming.

Saffrons stun Galway

With their dreadful record in the All-Ireland football qualifiers, a spin up to Casement Park was the classic ambush waiting to happen.

Antrim’s victory may have come in dramatic circumstances, with two injury-time points from Tomas McCann and substitute Deaghlan O’Hagan, but this latest setback for Galway football was of their own making.

The home side played with a great purpose and a solid game-plan. The players knew what they were doing and they stuck to it.

The same, unfortunately, could not be said of Galway, whose winless streak in the back-door now stretches back to 2004.

With the exception of Meath in 2007, all their back-door defeats have been by a point.

Westmeath (’06), Donegal (’09), Wexford (’10) and Meath again (’11) have all pipped them at the post and it happened again at Casement Park on Saturday.

“We always knew it would be difficult,” said manager Alan Mulholland.

“A lot of people under-estimated them but we knew what we were getting in to here. I have no problems with the players or the way they played.

“I think the performance was much better today than against Sligo, we were more disciplined and organised. But we’ve still gone another year without beating a team outside of Connacht.”

Mulholland suggested Antrim’s defensive strategy had made his side look slow and laborious, particularly in the first half.

“It’s hard to play football against that shape but more and more teams are playing that game,” he said.

“It looks like you’re not getting going, but what’s the alternative? To kick the ball to an Antrim lad in the full-back line? We have no excuses. We had our eyes open that we’d have to confront that and unfortunately we weren’t able to break them down.”

Antrim played a forward, Mark Sweeney, as a sweeper in front of his full-back line but there was still plenty of opportunity for Galway if they had wanted it enough.

With Sweeney playing so deep, Johnny Duane was a spare man for Galway but they used him poorly and he rarely pushed forward. Time after time in a dull first half, Antrim invited Galway on to them and then stripped them of possession.

Michael Meehan, starting his first championship game of the year, was still some way off his best and missed three frees while Paul Conroy missed another.

Justin Crozier did a good job on Meehan but the Galway star looked rusty, the ball bouncing out of his hands a few times at critical stages.

However his side had done just enough to take a one-point lead in at the break, 0-5 to 0-4.

A good burst from Antrim early in the second half saw them reel off three points in a row from play, including a brace of sweet long-range efforts from Michael McCann.

Galway responded well with their best spell in the game, outscoring the home side by four points to one in a 15-minute period to reestablish their lead.

With Sean Armstrong ineffective and withdrawn before the break, it was left to old hand Padraic Joyce to lead the way in the tense closing stages.

Fellow sub Danny Cummins was also lively and caused trouble as the game opened up, but Joyce who fisted over the point which put Galway’s noses in front again, at 0-9 to 0-8, in the 61st minute.

Tomas McCann had been misfiring with free-kicks in the first half and Antrim missed the accuracy of axed forward Paddy Cunningham.

But McCann came good with two crucial points from play, the second of which cancelled out Joyce’s point.

A Joyce free gave Galway the lead again in the 70th minute, but they couldn’t hold on, McCann and O’Hagan inflicting the damage.

“We knew going in today that we weren’t going to be far away,” said jubilant Antrim boss Liam Bradley.

“While people in other counties who were beat in the first round were jumping on planes and going to Boston, we had 35 fellas training the following Tuesday after we lost to Monaghan. We always had the belief we could go far in the qualifiers.”

“This was perfectly set up for us for a big hit.”

Scorers for Antrim: T McCann 0-4 (2fs), M McCann 0-3, A Gallagher, J Loughrey, C Kelly, D O’Hagan 0-1 each.

Scorers for Galway: M Hehir 0-3fs, P Joyce (1f), M Meehan (2fs) 0-2 each, P Conroy, G O’Donnell, C Doherty 0-1 each.

Subs for Antrim: A Gallagher for Kelly (20), M Magill for O Gallagher (47), M Armstrong for Murray (67), D O’Hagan for Healey (69).

Subs for Galway: D Cummins for Armstrong (34), T Flynn for Bergin (45), K McGrath for Fahy (46), P Joyce for Hehir (60), G Sweeney for Doherty (67).

Referee: Derek Fahy (Longford).

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