A late rally by the Ulster side saw them rattle off nine points in-a-row to overturn a five-point gap but it took Shane McNaughton’s 56th minute score – their first from play – to spark them into life.
Up until that point, Kevin Ryan’s side were forced to rely upon the accuracy of team captain Neil McManus from placed balls. The Cushendall man had converted six up to that point to keep his side in the hunt as the tenacity ofCarlow stifled the Antrim attack.
“It’s more important than championship for us because we have plans we need to do over the next year or two,” said Ryan.
“Going into 2A would have put us back a year. I’m not saying it would have been the end of the road for us but it would make things harder. Obviously the shackles are off now and we will have a go at the championship but to me, that’s the most important game Antrim have played in a long time.”
ANTRIM: R McGarry; C McKinley, A Graffin, M McFadden; J McGreevy, N McAuley, P Shiels; M Donnelly, T McCloskey; S Beattie, N McManus (0-9, 8fs, 1 65), E McCloskey (0-2); S McAfee, C Carson, S McNaughton (0-3).
Subs: B McFall (0-1) for M Donnelly (ht), D Hamill for S McAfee (ht), S Casey for S Beattie (59), KB McShane for J McGreevy (70), K McKernan for D Hamill (70).
CARLOW: N Roberts; D English, E Nolan, D Shaw; A Corcoran, R Coady (0-2, 1f), J O’Hara; J Kavanagh, E Coady; C Doyle, S Kavanagh (0-5fs), S Murphy (0-2); A Gaul, M Brennan, JM Nolan (0-2).
Subs: M Kavanagh for C Doyle (62).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).