Preview: Christy Ring Cup Final - Antrim v Carlow
Christy Ring Cup Final
Antrim v Carlow, Saturday, 5.00, Croke Park
By Colm Shalvey
When previous champions Antrim and Carlow meet in Saturday’s Christy Ring Cup Final, it will be their fourth encounter this year, with a return to the Liam MacCarthy Cup on offer for the winners of this one.
These teams competed in Division IIA of the 2017 Allianz Hurling League, where they played out a draw in February on the way to both qualifying for the final, which Antrim won by three points.
They were drawn together again for the opening round of the Christy Ring Cup, where a high-scoring shoot-out went to extra-time at Netwatch Cullen Park, with Antrim once again coming out on top in the end; this time by the narrowest of margins. If that encounter is anything to go by, a classic final could be in store.
Antrim have taken the direct route to their second final in a row via a brace of derby wins at home to Down. The Saffrons had 13 points to spare in the first of those, before stretching the margin to 20 at the semi-final stage. Antrim also retained the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship title earlier this year – their 16th in a row – so they are bidding for their third piece of silverware of 2017.
Carlow recovered from their first-round defeat with a hat-trick of comfortable wins, as they knocked out Mayo, Kildare and Wicklow to reach this stage for the first time since they made it back-to-back titles in 2009.
Carlow have been regulars in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship since then, reaching the quarter-finals in 2013. They effectively relegated Antrim in 2015 when they won their Leinster round-robin series clash.
That ’09 decider was Carlow’s third in the space of four years, with wins over Westmeath and Down following a fairly one-sided defeat against Antrim in 2006. Antrim haven’t won this competition since, although they can’t get much closer than they did in controversial circumstances 12 months ago.
Meath were originally presented with the trophy as one-point winners, but it was subsequently confirmed that the match was a draw on the scoreline of Meath 2-17 Antrim 1-20.
The replay, from which all proceeds were donated to charities nominated by the counties, was an epic that went to extra-time, with Meath eventually coming out on top by 4-21 to 5-17. That was the first Christy Ring Cup Final to go to a replay, but another five finals have been decided by margins of three points or less since the competition began in 2005.
Carlow have the competition’s top scorer to date in Denis Murphy, who has tallied 0-34. James Doyle, Marty Kavanagh and Paul Coady have also contributed well on the scoreboard for Carlow, while John Michael Nolan and Gary Bennett could also play central roles as Colm Bonnar’s side bid to make a quick return to the top tier.
Ciarán Clarke and Neil McManus have been in prolific form for Antrim, with Clarke hitting 4-16 in three games and McManus racking up 1-17 in just two games. Conor and Ciarán Johnston, John Dillon, Niall McKenna and Paul Shiels should also be to the fore for Antrim, who are managed by the trio of Dominic McKinley, Terence McNaughton and Gary O’Kane.
Antrim have scored an impressive 10-58 in their last three outings, giving them an average score of almost 30 points per game (29.33). That means they have an average winning margin of more than 11 points as they have conceded 2-48 in that run (18 points per game). Carlow are not far behind with their average score of 27.75 points, having scored 8-87 to date. They have conceded just slightly less on average than Antrim, with their 7-50 against in four games working out at 17.75 points.
With both attacks in such fine fettle, a high-scoring game is in prospect. The winners will enter the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship qualifiers in the preliminary round against Laois on the weekend of June 24-25.
Antrim’s Christy Ring Cup scorers 2017: Ciarán Clarke 4-16 (0-12f, 0-1 '65); Neil McManus 1-17 (0-10f, 0-1 '65); Conor Johnston 2-3; Ciaran Johnston 2-0 (pens); Niall McKenna 1-2; Conor McCann 0-5; Conor McKinley, Eoghan Campbell 0-3 each; Paddy McGill, Conor Carson, Paul Shiels 0-2 each; Paddy Burke, James McNaughton, Simon McCrory 0-1 each.
Carlow’s Christy Ring Cup scorers 2017: Denis Murphy 0-34 (27f, 2 ‘65s); Marty Kavanagh 3-12 (0-2f); James Doyle 3-4; Kevin McDonald 2-2; Paul Coady 0-8 (1f); Chris Nolan, Jack Murphy, John Michael Nolan 0-6 each; Jack Kavanagh 0-4; Edward Byrne, Diarmuid Byrne 0-2 each; David English 0-1f.
Christy Ring Cup top scorers 2017
Denis Murphy (Carlow) 0-34
Ciarán Clarke (Antrim) 4-16
Kevin O’Loughlin (London) 1-21
David Reidy (Kildare) 0-24
Marty Kavanagh (Carlow) 3-12
Carlow and Antrim have the two top scorers going into Saturday’s final, with Denis Murphy six points clear of Ciarán Clarke. Carlow players bookend the top five, with Marty Kavanagh just three points behind joint-third-placed Kevin O’Loughlin (London) and David Reidy (Kildare). Another Antrim man, Neil McManus, is just a point further back on 1-17.