Win keeps Antrim in Division 1B

Antrim 1-18 Offaly 1-14

Win keeps Antrim in Division 1B

Antrim 1-18 Offaly 1-14

Antrim secured their Division 1B status with a 1-18 to 1-14 win over Offaly at Ballycastle.

Offaly led by 1-9 to 0-4 after 26 minutes, aided by Stephen Quirke's early goal.

But the Saffrons hit 1-4 without reply, inspired by midfielder Paul Shiels. Conor Carson's goal closed the gap to 1-11 to 1-8 by the break.

The second half was nip and tuck but Antrim, with Shiels in super form, scored the final three points for a deserved victory.

Nine points from the stick of Dunloy clubman Shiels provided the platform for an Antrim comeback as they got the better of the Faithfuls in this hard-fought Allianz Hurling League relegation play-off.

The visitors got off to a flying start in blustery conditions, with Quirke firing to the net after five minutes. Kevin Brady intercepted an Antrim pass and sent a low ball across the square for Quirke to knock the sliotar into the net.

The lively PJ O'Connell replied for the home side but it was Offaly who were in control with Joe Bergin pulling the strings and by the quarter hour mark, all six of their forwards had scored when Brian Carroll stroked over for a 1-7 to 0-4 lead.

Two Bergin frees extended their advantage to eight, before Shiels sparked the Antrim revival, firing over his side's first score for 16 minutes. The same player then added a superb effort from long range before Carson's goal had Antrim right back in contention.

A Neil McManus free broke on the edge of the square and Carson pulled to the net to cut the gap to three on 30 minutes.

A point separated the sides two minutes later when Shiels and McManus both raised white flags, but two Carroll points saw Offaly head towards the dressing rooms with a three-point cushion - 1-11 to 1-8.

Within six minutes of the restart, the sides were level, with Shiels, McManus and Carson all on target.

A score-for-score exchange had the sides level on two more occasions by the 55th minute mark, but Antrim accounted for five of the final six points to seal the win with the final score of the day coming from O'Connell after a great ball from Ciaran Johnson.

Offaly's last throw of the dice came from a Bergin free which was dropped in short, but the Antrim defence was equal to it and referee James Owens blew the whistle to signal the start of the Saffron celebrations.

Offaly now face a must-win battle against the winners of the Division 2A final between Carlow and Kerry who meet at Thurles next Sunday.

With just three points and two wides to show for 35 minutes' hurling in the second half, manager Brian Whelahan knows that Division 1 hurling is far from a formality for the Faithfuls in 2015.

ANTRIM: C O'Connell; Ciaran Johnson, C McKinley, O McFadden; E Campbell (0-2), N McAuley, P Shiels (0-9, 0-4f, 0-1 '65'); D Hamill, C McCann; C Carson (1-1), M Donnelly, S McAfee; N McManus (0-3, 0-1f), PJ O'Connell (0-3), Conor Johnson.

Subs used: B McFall for McAfee, N McKenna for McCann, C Clarke for Donnelly, D McKernan for Conor Johnson, J McGreevy for Clarke.

OFFALY: J Dempsey; N Wynne, G Healion, J Rigney; C Parlon, C Egan, C McDonald; K Brady, T Geraghty; J Bergin (0-5, 0-4f), C Mahon (0-1), S Dooley (0-1); B Carroll (0-3), D Currams (0-2), S Quirke (1-2).

Subs used: S Cleary for Brady, K Connolly for Carroll.

Referee: James Owens (Wexford)

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