The drawn game in Tullamore between Offaly and Limerick was proof luck was Cork’s side, with Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s side now sitting in the promotion spot in Division 1B going into the final round of games.
However it could have been very different had Antrim been more accurate. Although Cork had the wind advantage in the second half they didn’t take the lead until the 61st minute and Barry-Murphy admitted his side was lucky.
“We maybe didn’t deserve to win,” he said. “We were very, very lucky. Antrim put it up to us and they will be very disappointed they didn’t get something out of that game.
The opening 10 minutes were fairly even with the sides sharing six points at 0-3 apiece. There were signs however that Antrim’s full-forward line could cause a bit of trouble when Matthew Donnelly’s sixth minute effort flew over the crossbar.
The sides were tied three times early on. Conor Lehane had opened the scoring, with a McManus free levelling matters. Horgan, who gave an exhibition of free-taking throughout, put Cork ahead before Donnelly’s goal attempt raised his side’s second white flag. Brian Hartnett and Conor Carson then swapped scores to tie the sides once more.
Fast forward 10 minutes and Antrim led by double scores, 0-6 to 0-3, with Barry McFall adding the pick of the scores from long range. Horgan, who finished with 0-11, cut the gap before a Conor Lehane brace either side of a Stephen McAfee free put just one between the sides, with Conor Johnson again serving notice to the Cork defence when forcing a great save from McCarthy.
The same margin separated the sides as the clock ticked into injury time. A long-range McManus effort dropped short for Donnelly to pounce on the breaking ball for the game’s only goal and give Antrim a deserved 1-9 to 0-8 advantage at the break.
Cork’s best goal chance arrived 40 seconds into the second half when Horgan’s effort was well saved by Chris O’Connell. The same player opened the second half scoring on 40 minutes, and accounted for the next three Cork scores. Antrim served up replies from Paul Shiels and McAfee to leave them leading by a point approaching the 60-minute mark.
Hartnett had the ball in the Antrim net but was harshly blown up for over-carrying, and Lehane then forced O’Connell into action again when pulling on the ground after a scramble at the edge of the square. Horgan pointed the resultant 65, and moments later converted a free to put Cork into the lead for the first time since the sixth minute.
Shiels added Antrim’s first point for 12 minutes but points from Horgan, Lehane and Patrick Cronin ensured Cork maintained their unbeaten record.
Antrim pressed for a late goal but couldn’t find a way through the Rebel rearguard. Antrim’s McManus saw red late on for a second bookable offence on Cian McCarthy.
Despite the loss, Antrim boss Kevin Ryan was full of praise for his side who face Offaly twice in the next two weeks, firstly in the final round of the league, and then in a relegation play-off.
“The one thing we are trying to do is to ignore the scoreboard and play the way we want to play. It’s not about how close we are to Cork, it’s about performing against them and I’d be very happy with the performance for the 72 minutes,” said the Waterford native.
“It maybe got away from us today but when we went out we weren’t talking about scores, we were talking about creating as many chances as possible and we did that. There are a lot of positives to take out of it, a lot of young fellas again got good hurling and that’s the company they want to be in, not just playing against the likes of Cork, but playing well against them.”
Scorers for Antrim: S McAfee (0-4, 2f), M Donnelly (1-1), N McManus (2fs), P Shiels (1f), C Carson (0-2 each), Barry McFall (0-1).
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan (0-11, 8fs, 1 65), C Lehane (0-4), P Cronin, B Hartnett, P Haughney (0-1 each).
ANTRIM: C O’Connell; Ciaran Johnson, C McKinley, O McFadden; N McManus, N McAuley, E Campbell; Barry McFall, D Hamill; C Carson, S McAfee, C McCann; Conor Johnson, M Donnelly, PJ O’Connell.
Subs: S Beatty for C McCann, J McGreevy for B McFall, N Elliott for PJ O’Connell, P Shiels for D Hamill, D McKernan for J McGreevy.
CORK: D McCarthy; S McDonnell, E Keane, K Murphy; S White, C Joyce, W Egan; L McLoughlin, P Cronin; B Lawton, S Harnedy, D Kearney; P Horgan, C Lehane, B Hartnett.
Subs: C McCarthy for S Harnedy, R O’Shea for L McLoughlin, P Haughney for D Kearny, A Cadogan for S White.
Referee: E Hassan (Derry)