Only the league? Not for Antrim hurlers after late rally stuns Clare

Injury time points from Ciaran Clarke and Neil McManus saw the Ulster side stun the Banner to open the 2021 Allianz League with an unlikely win
Only the league? Not for Antrim hurlers after late rally stuns Clare

Eoin O'Neill of Antrim celebrates at the final whistle. Picture:  David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Antrim 1-21 Clare 0-22

Still only the league?

Tell that to the Antrim players who greeted the final peeps of referee Liam Gordon's whistle like a Championship victory, some falling to their knees with gratitude.

Having been priced up 10/1 for this game, it can definitely be classed as something of a middling-sized shock. The surprise here was just how fluent the hurling was and the mental strength shown by the home side as they kept nudging themselves in front – the teams were level on seven occasions after Ciaran Clarke's goal on the half-hour – only to be pegged back more often than not by a Tony Kelly free.

Clarke's goal was slightly fortuitous, a raking delivery crossfield and his marker Paddy Donnellan slipped with precious cover back. Clarke struck it across the body and goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan got the meat of his stick behind it, but still it spun into the net.

In previous finishes such as these, Antrim had an inclination to go a man down, or give away a series of frees as mental fatigue sets in. It's much too early to say if this outfit is particularly different, but with a massive Neil McManus points from around 80 metres on the stroke of full-time, added to by another efficient Clarke free, they take something down to Nowlan Park next weekend in their minds and hearts.

Ciaran Clarke of Antrim celebrates after scoring his side's goal. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Ciaran Clarke of Antrim celebrates after scoring his side's goal. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Clare looked on a different plane during the first 13 minutes, by which time they amassed a 0-9 to 0-3 lead. The huge gusts at Corrigan Park helped them to rain ball down and with Colin Guilfoyle and Ryan Taylor causing problems in the air it looked like it could be a long afternoon for Antrim.

That is until they got their foot in the door. A snatched break here, a block there, they felt their way into it and a trio of points from Clarke, a long-range free from McManus, and one from Conal Cunning left just a goal in it by the time of the first water break.

From then on, Clare fell further and further away. On the sidelines, they were strangely passive compared to the animation of Antrim manager Darren Gleeson, who contested one of a few dubious sideline calls to a linesman by pointing out, 'We are playing this way!'

Clarke's goal put them in a great position. Clare's response was mainly led by Kelly, with glimpses from David Reidy in attack. But they soon found themselves having to react; Rory Hayes sent on to detail Clarke, Liam Corry sent in as full-back, and Aidan McCarthy shuffled out of the half-back line to full-forward.

If it was won in the breakdown, then Antrim's half-forwards and midfield of Niall McKenna, Michael Bradley, McManus, and Keelan Molloy were ravenous. Playing in the unorthodox role of full-back, Gerard Walsh was a revelation. Despite having the luxury of seven substitutes, both teams opted for just four in a tight finish.

Clare manager Brian Lohan eventually emerged from the dressing room and was shortly addressed on the off-field strife. All the rows and fall-outs, disputes over the Centre of Excellence and so on. Had it any affect?

“I don’t think so,” he responded.

“Look, we took it seriously but, you know, we just weren’t able to respond to them. Obviously (they’re) very well tuned in, very well coached, and the players did excellently for Antrim out on the field so credit to them.” 

Antrim are now in the situation where they are relishing a trip Noreside to face Kilkenny next week. Clare instead have a further sideshow of Wexford and their manager Davy Fitzgerald coming this Sunday.

If there's a kick in this group, now would be the time to see it.

Scorers for Antrim: C Clarke (1-11, 9 frees, 1 65); N McManus (2 frees), K Molloy (0-3 each); C Cunning (0-2); E Campbell, C McCann (0-1 each).

Scorers for Clare: T Kelly (0-11, 7 frees, 1 65); D Reidy (0-3); S O'Donnell, D Ryan (0-2 each); A McCarthy, C Malone, C Guilfoyle, A Shanagher (0-1 each).

ANTRIM: R Elliott; D McMullan, G Walsh, S Rooney; E Campbell, P Burke, J Maskey; K Molloy, N McManus; N McKenna, J McNaughton, M Bradley; C Cunning, C McCann, C Clarke. 

Subs: E O'Neill for McNaughton (46), D Nugent for McCann (55), Conor Johnston for Bradley (64), D McCloskey for Cunning (70).

CLARE: E Quilligan; P Donnellan, C Cleary, P Flanagan; D Ryan, J Conlon, A McCarthy; C Galvin, T Kelly; C Malone, D Reidy, C Guilfoyle; R Taylor, A Shanagher, S O'Donnell.

Subs: R Hayes for Flanagan, L Corry for Taylor (both HT), D Fitzgerald for Galvin (48), S Golden for Guilfoyle (48). 

Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway).

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