Antrim 1-13 Dublin 0-12
A buoyant Dublin side missed out on qualifying for the NHL Division One quarter-finals a round early as Antrim gained a gritty 1-13 to 0-12 win in Belfast tonight.
The first ever competitive hurling match to be played under the Casement Park floodlights went the way of the Saffrons as centre forward Neil McManus bagged the only goal.
McManus netted just before the interval - the home side had a 1-6 to 0-6 lead at half-time.
The Dubs dug deep but telling tallies from McManus (1-3) and Brian McFall (0-5), allied to the goalkeeping of Ryan McGarry, saw Antrim to their first league win.
The prophesy according to Tipperary boss Michael ‘Babs’ Keating rang true at Casement Park as Dominic McKinley and Terence McNaughton’s Antrim outfit handed the Dubs their first defeat of the current league campaign.
It had been 23 months since Dublin’s hurlers last lost a game in the league. There was sense of deja vu at the final whistle as the Metropolitans’ last league loss had come against Antrim at this very venue.
Unlike the previous occasion, there was something real at stake tonight - a place at the summit in Division 1B and entry into the quarter-finals was what Tommy Naughton’s men were longing for.
The Dubs had the right mentality in the opening moments and got off to the perfect start with two fine points from top scorer Kevin O’Reilly ensuring a 0-2 to 0-0 lead for them after six minutes.
However, Dublin suddenly fell asleep as Antrim sprung to life with rapid fire points from McManus and McFall squaring up the tie just two minutes later.
A third O’Reilly point sent Dublin back in front but Naughton and his management team got a sense of how hard a struggle this would be when Antrim racked up three fine scores in quick succession from Paul Shields, McManus and McFall.
Kevin Flynn and defender Derek O’Reilly, who overcame a leg infection to start, were trying their utmost to bring Dublin back into contention and although Antrim had nine wides in the opening half, they also took some good points.
White flags from Padraig O’Driscoll and Kevin O’Reilly levelled the contest for the third time but Antrim, who were full of energy and fight, had the lead in their sights before the interval.
McManus’ goal was the last action of the half and it sent the majority of the crowd, which numbered close to 3,000, into raptures as the Saffrons moved 1-6 to 0-6 ahead for the second half.
McManus took his goal well, his initial shot was well saved by Dublin goalkeeper Gary Maguire but the Cushendall clubman swooped onto the rebound to blast home.
The sides were evenly matched during the opening 11 minutes of the second half - Antrim took a five-point advantage with scores from McManus and McFall again before Dublin responded through Kevin O’Reilly and substitute Keith Dunne.
Antrim bounded back into a five-point lead once more by the 50th-minute, but with defences beginning to get on top, a treat was in store for the large attendance in the closing stages.
Dunne had his goal shot deflected over the bar by Antrim keeper McGarry before two pointed frees from the stick of Kevin O’Reilly cut the deficit to just two points, with less than ten minutes remaining.
Michael Herron and O’Reilly traded scores before a disputed Johnny McIntosh free was deemed wide by referee Ger Devlin in the 67th-minute.
Dublin began to pile on the pressure near the finish but two late pointed frees from the returning McIntosh sealed a much-needed win for the Ulster champions.
ANTRIM: R McGarry; B McAuley, M McCambridge, S Delargy; M Molloy, J Campbell, C Herron, B Herron, K McKeegan; M Herron (0-1), N McManus (1-3), K Stewart; B McFall (0-5, 0-4f), P Richmond, P Shields (0-2).
Subs used: N McAuley for Stewart (half-time), J McIntosh (0-2, 0-2f) for McFall (63 mins).
DUBLIN: G Maguire; P Brennan, S Hiney, T Brady; M Carton, R Fallon, D O’Reilly; J Boland, G O’Meara; T Moore, D Qualter, J Kelly; K O’Reilly (0-8, 0-7f), P O’Driscoll (0-1), K Flynn (0-1).
Subs used: G Bennett for Brennan (10 mins), K Dunne (0-2) for Moore (half-time), P Carton for Qualter (45), A De Paor for O’Meara (50).
Referee: Ger Devlin (Armagh).