Antrim U-21 hurlers make history

Antrim 2-15 Wexford 1-16

Antrim U-21 hurlers make history

Antrim 2-15 Wexford 1-16

Antrim became the first Ulster team ever to qualify for a Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland U-21 Hurling final, after a two-point win over Wexford at Semple Stadium this afternoon.

Ciarán Clarke top-scored with 1-5 for the Saffrons, in a game where Antrim led by eight points with 10 minutes remaining, and although Wexford piled on the pressure in the closing stages, the Ulster champions stood relatively firm in defence.

Antrim boss Kevin Ryan made just one change to his sides starting line-up from the match programme, with Padraig Sairseail clubman Niall McKenna coming into the half forward line in place of Chris McGuinness.

St Mary's College student McKenna delivered for Ryan's side with two points, one in each half in a game where, Wexford opened the scoring thanks to an Ian Byrne pointed free.

Once Stephen McAfee delivered Antrim's first goal 40 seconds later, the Saffrons stayed in front until the end, playing some superb hurling throughout.

Ballycastle man McAfee sending a speculative shot towards the goalmouth from distance and Wexford goalkeeper Brian Murphy failing to control possession, as the ball finished in his own net.

The sides swapped points on three occasions over the next eight minutes before Antrim exerted dominance.

The Saffrons bagged 1-1 inside 90 second with McKenna claiming his first point, before Clarke cut through for Antrim's second goal.

The Ballycastle man slicing the ball past Murphy in the 13th minute to ensure a 2-4 to 0-4 lead.

Wexford claimed three of the next four points, and indeed five of the next seven scores, as Jack Guiney and Gary Moore helped cut the gap to three points, with seven minutes to go before half-time.

Shane Dooey and McKenna blazed efforts wide of the target, but Antrim finished well with a Daniel McKernan point handing Antrim a 2-7 to 0-9 interval lead.

Wexford manager JJ Doyle had his charges quickly out for the second half, and while Antrim took a little bit longer in the dressing rooms at the break, they were well fired up for the second half.

Man of the Match McAfee bringing his personal tally to 1-3 from play inside 15 seconds of the restart, as Antrim opened up a five-point lead.

Wexford hit back with Barry Carton's only score of the evening, but Antrim were far sharper in front of the posts, while at the back the Saffrons had good performances from the likes of Matthew Donnelly, Paddy McNaughton and Ciaran Johnson.

The latter stepping up for a point in the 35th minute to hand Antrim a 2-9 to 0-9 lead.

Goalkeeper Ger Dixon also put in a huge innings, denying Gary Moore of goals in the 38th and 44th minutes.

Donnelly and McNaughton also put in superb blocks in a second half where Wexford were hungry for goals.

A second McKenna point handed Antrim an eight-point lead with 10 minutes remaining, and although Wexford kept up the pressure, and bagged a late goal from McDonald, Antrim held out, with jubilant celebrations at the full-time whistle.

Scorers for Antrim: C Clarke 1-5 (5f); S McAfee 1-4; J McGreevey, N McKenna 0-2 each; D McKernan C Johnson, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Wexford: J Guiney 0-7 (6f); C McDonald 1-1; I Byrne (1f), G Moore, R Clarke 0-2 each; L Chin, B Carton 0-1 each.

ANTRIM: G Dixon; T Coyle, M Donnelly, C Morgan; T Ó Ciaráin, P McNaughton, C Johnson; J McGreevey, E Campbell; N McKenna, S McAfee, S Dooey; D McKernan, C McCann, C Clarke. Subs: D Kearney for McKenna (58);

WEXFORD: B Murphy; G Foley, C Goff, E Conroy; Andrew Kenny, S O'Gorman, D O'Leary; L Chin, Aaron Kenny; J Guiney, I Byrne, G Moore; C McDonald, B Carton, R Clarke. Subs: A Nolan for Byrne (35); C O'Leary for D O'Leary (42); T Ffrench for Aaron Kenny (51)

REFEREE: Cathal McAlister (Cork).

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