Preview: Christy Ring Cup Final replay - Meath v Antrim
Christy Ring Cup Final Replay
Antrim v Meath, Croke Park, 5pm
By Colm Shalvey
The Christy Ring Cup Final Replay is down for decision at Croke Park on Saturday.
Meath were originally thought to have edged out Antrim three weeks ago at the same venue, but it was soon confirmed that the game had finished in a 2-17 to 1-20 draw, leading to the Central Competitions Control Committee deciding to call a replay.
Antrim flew out of the blocks on that occasion, taking a 1-7 to 0-1 lead by the 20th minute, although Meath grew into the game before half-time to cut their deficit to six points (1-10 to 0-7). Meath were hugely improved after the restart, with a Neil Heffernan goal igniting their challenge. Antrim stayed ahead until the closing stages, but Seán Quigley came off the bench to hit 1-1 late on for Meath and tie it up.
Having dropped out of the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time since their Christy Ring success a decade ago, Antrim put a turbulent spring behind them to take the direct route to the final and they are also through to yet another Ulster SHC decider after a comprehensive win over Derry last Sunday.
The Ulster champions saw PJ O’Mullan step down as manager after they failed to challenge for promotion from the Allianz Hurling League Division IIIA, losing their last three games. With former Antrim players Terence McNaughton, Dominic McKinley, Neal Peden and Gary O’Kane taking the reins (the former duo also having managed from 2007 to 2009), wins over Kildare, Roscommon and Down saw the Saffrons get back on track.
Meath have been consistent competitors in this competition and after four unsuccessful semi-final appearances – including three in a row between 2012 and 2014 – they finally jumped that penultimate hurdle last month. There were few precursors for this run in an underwhelming Allianz Hurling League Division IIIB campaign, but after a first-round win over Wicklow, they turned London over at Ruislip to go straight into the last four, where they righted their poor recent record against Kildare.
Antrim have been doing without players of the calibre of Liam Watson and Neil McManus, but Ciarán Clarke has hit 2-38 in three Christy Ring Cup games (including 2-10 v Kildare and 0-16 v Down). Conor Carson, John Dillon, Niall McKenna and James Connolly have also made important contributions, with Conor Johnston Eddie McCloskey capable of stepping up like they did in the drawn final with 1-2 and 0-3 from play respectively.
Meath have three players with tallies in double figures in this championship, namely James Toher (0-22), youngster Gavin McGowan (4-6), Adam Gannon (1-13) and Neil Heffernan (2-7). Steven Clynch – often Meath’s talisman in recent years – hit three points when he made a welcome return for their semi-final win, while Seán Quigley and Seán Heavey can also play key roles. Meath’s run has been put together in the absence of Jack Regan – the second-highest scorer in the Christy Ring Cup last year – after the rising star suffered a broken wrist during the league.
Antrim’s 7-78 scored to date is two points more than Meath’s 8-73, while they have also conceded slightly less (3-69 in total, compared to 4-69).
Tickets will cost €5 across the board for Saturday’s game and all proceeds will be divided between charities nominated by the competing counties.
Antrim Christy Ring Cup scorers 2016: Ciarán Clarke 2-38 (0-24f, 0-2 ‘65s); James Connolly 0-10; Conor Carson 2-3; Niall McKenna 0-9; Conor Johnston 1-4; Eddie McCloskey 0-5; John Dillon 1-2; Nigel Elliott 1-0; Eoghan Campbell, Conor McKinley 0-2 each; Michael Dudley, Seán McAfee, Ryan McCambridge 0-1 each.
Meath Christy Ring Cup scorers 2016: James Toher 0-22 (14f); Gavin McGowan 4-6; Adam Gannon 1-13 (0-5f); Neil Heffernan 2-7; Seán Quigley 1-2; Stephen Morris 0-5; Steven Clynch, Seán Heavey, Joe Keena 0-3 each; Kevin Keena, Keith Keoghan 0-2 each; Shane McGann (f), Damien Healy, Ronan Sherlock, Shane Brennan, Michael O’Grady 0-1 each.
Christy Ring Cup top scorers 2016:
Ciarán Clarke (Antrim) 2-38
Gerry Keegan (Kildare) 0-42
Christy Moorehouse (Wicklow) 1-21
Kevin O’Loughlin (London) 1-20
James Toher (Meath) 0-22
Antrim sharp-shooter Ciarán Clarke hit five points in the drawn final to move to the top of the Christy Ring Cup scoring charts, overtaking Gerry Keegan, who hit 0-42 in Kildare’s four games. Fellow free-takers Christy Moorehouse (Wicklow) and Kevin O’Loughlin (London) are in third and fourth, while James Toher’s 0-5 for Meath last time out took him into the top five.