Antrim edge 14-man Carlow

Antrim 1-13 Carlow 2-9

Antrim 1-13 Carlow 2-9

Antrim did just enough to get by 14-man Carlow in an exciting All-Ireland SFC second round qualifier at Casement Park.

This well-contested tie turned in Antrim’s favour with a fisted 54th-minute goal from Mark Dougan and the sending-off of Carlow’s Ed Finnegan immediately afterwards.

Three points on the trot from Daniel St Ledger had erased the Saffrons’ early lead, giving Carlow plenty of hope as they went in at half-time just 0-6 to 0-5 in arrears.

Pat Hickey’s 36th-minute goal catapulted them ahead, but the introduction of substitute Paddy Cunningham, who kicked three important points, and Dougan’s effort saw Antrim take control.

Gerard O’Boyle and Kevin Niblock looked to have wrapped up the result as the scoreboard stood at 1-13 to 1-8. But Brendan Murphy’s brilliant goal from the 21-yard line revived Carlow’s fortunes.

St Ledger then converted a free to make it a one-point game. However, the scores dried up and Antrim held on for a win that they deserved on the balance of play.

Liam Bradley’s men were 1/7 favourites to progress here, a key factor being that they were playing two divisions above Carlow in this year’s Allianz Football League.

A pre-match shower made way for sunny conditions as the game got underway, with a late change to the Carlow team seeing Eoghan Ruth replace Thomas Walsh at centre-forward.

Former Armagh goalkeeper Willie McSorley made his debut for Antrim, standing in for Sean O’Neill who is due to play for Crusaders in the Europa League against Fulham next Thursday.

Conor Murray pointed the Saffrons ahead in the first minute after Carlow coughed up possession. Both sides turned over decent ball and hit bad wides in a competitive but poor quality opening quarter.

Daniel St Ledger and Murray posted wides and Carlow’s Pat Hickey was crowded out as he tried to get the visitors off the mark.

Centre-fielder Darragh Foley got the Barrowsiders level and nudged them ahead in the 11th minute, pointing a free which he won himself.

Tomas McCann, taking on the free-taking duties in the absence of Paddy Cunningham, got Antrim back on terms at 0-2 apiece.

Amid a scoreless spell, Antrim captain Kevin O’Boyle limped off to be replaced by Aaron Douglas. Despite that setback, Bradley’s charges sprung forward to set up Kevin Niblock for the lead score.

McCann tapped over Antrim’s fourth point, profiting from a string of short passes, and a terrific 50-yard delivery from the impressive Tony Scullion set up James Loughrey for a well-taken point.

Loughrey got loose again to pop over his second on the half hour mark and Carlow, after missing a series of chances, hit back through St Ledger from a late ‘45’.

Luke Dempsey’s side put the Antrim defence under increased pressure with a series of forceful carries from Brendan Murphy and company.

St Ledger lobbed over a long range free to close the gap to two points, and further Antrim indiscipline saw the corner forward make it 0-6 to 0-5 at the break.

Carlow kept on the front foot on the restart, with Paul Cashin and Kieran Nolan building an immediate attack. Brendan Murphy struck the woodwork and after a goalmouth scramble, Hickey poked the ball home for a 1-5 to 0-6 lead.

Liam Bradley reacted by introducing Cunningham into the fray, however a superbly-struck free from Foley stretched Carlow’s advantage to three points.

Cunningham garnered a much-needed point for the home side and Murray finished off a pacy move to whittle it down to 1-6 to 0-8.

As the quality of football improved, substitute Thomas Walsh hit back for Carlow with just their second point from play. Cunningham cancelled that out with a close-in free.

The game was on a knife-edge when Scullion pumped the ball forward and just as Carlow goalkeeper Trevor O’Reilly rose to claim it, substitute Dougan managed to knock it out of his hands and into the empty net.

It was a hugely significant score and Carlow suffered another setback when referee Eddie Kinsella, who was playing an advantage for the goal, dismissed Finnegan for an apparent elbow on Gerard O’Boyle.

Brian Murphy split the posts with a free to steady Carlow at 1-9 to 1-8, but it was all Antrim for a short while after that. Cunningham delighted the crowd with a tremendous score from the left.

The Ulstermen added three more points to their tally, including a sideline from Gerard O’Boyle. In between, McSorley pulled off an excellent save to deny Brendan Murphy a certain goal.

Nonetheless, the Carlow midfielder got what he wanted in the 67th minute when he collected a pass from Walsh and found the top right corner of the net with a cracking shot.

The Carlow support, which included Leinster and Ireland rugby star Sean O’Brien, really got behind their team in an edge of the seat climax.

Speedy substitute Cormac Mullins showed a clean pair of heels to the Antrim defence and won a free which St Ledger sent through to the posts, leaving the game tantalisingly poised at 1-13 to 2-9.

Unfortunately for the visitors, their passing and decision-making let them down in injury-time and it is the resilient Saffrons who march on into round 3.

Scorers: Antrim: Mark Dougan 1-1, Paddy Cunningham 0-3 (0-1f), Conor Murray, Tomas McCann (0-1f), James Loughrey, Kevin Niblock 0-2 each, Gerard O’Boyle 0-1 (0-1sl)

Carlow: Daniel St Ledger 0-4 (0-3f, 0-1 ‘45’), Pat Hickey, Brendan Murphy 1-0 each, Darragh Foley 0-3 (0-2f), Thomas Walsh, Brian Murphy (0-1f) 0-1 each

ANTRIM: Willie McSorley; Colin Brady, Ricky Johnston, Kevin O’Boyle (capt); Tony Scullion, Justin Crozier, Anto Healy; Sean Burke, Aodhan Gallagher; Conor Murray, Tomas McCann, James Loughrey; Gerard O’Boyle, Brendan Herron, Kevin Niblock.

Subs used: Aaron Douglas for K O’Boyle, Paddy Cunningham for T McCann, Mark Dougan for Healy, Kevin Brady for Herron, Martin Johnston for C Brady.

CARLOW: Trevor O'Reilly; Aidan Murphy, Conor Lawlor, Brendan Kavanagh; Paul Cashin, Shane Redmond (capt), Kieran Nolan; Brendan Murphy, Darragh Foley; Pat Hickey, Eoghan Ruth, Ed Finnegan; Brian Murphy, Willie Minchin, Daniel St Ledger.

Subs used: Paul McElligott for A Murphy, Thomas Walsh for Minchin, Cormac Mullins for Ruth, John Murphy for Foley, Tony Bolger for Nolan.

Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)

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