Allianz FL D3: Antrim safe, Cavan, Fermanagh and Offaly still chase promotion
Allianz Football League Division Three Results
ANTRIM 1-17 CAVAN 2-12
OFFALY 2-14 TIPPERARY 0-13
FERMANAGH 0-15 WESTMEATH 2-8
DOWN 1-19 LONGFORD 1-14
The landscape in Division Three of the Allianz Football League looks a lot clearer this evening after Down and Westmeath were eliminated from the promotion hunt, while Longford and Tipperary's relegation was confirmed thanks to Antrim's two-point home win over Cavan at Corrigan Park in Belfast.
That result also means that Cavan aren't yet officially sure of promotion, though with a 36-point scoring difference advantage over Offaly, it would take a remarkable set of results to deny Mickey Graham's men a place in Division Two for 2024.
Across all the divisions today, it’s hard to imagine a more eye-catching result than Antrim’s win over Cavan, given the comprehensive victory the Breffni men enjoyed at this venue in last year’s Ulster championship and the 31-point hammering that Antrim took last time out in Mullingar.
Graham did change his team somewhat, suggesting a modicum of confidence that this wasn’t a must-win fixture, and Antrim certainly took advantage when a goal from Rúairí McCann (Aghagallon) after six minutes got them out to a flying start.
Paddy McBride and Odhrán Eastwood were in sensational form, shooting nine points from play between them as Antrim moved ten points clear by the 50 minute mark, but the side that were reeled in by Down and crushed by late goals against Offaly and Fermanagh would have been excused a few nervous thoughts as Cavan rallied. Conor Madden found the net, Paddy Lynch cut the gap to the bare minimum in the fifth minute of stoppage time and there was to be one more point – but it was to come for McBride, who struck the heroic clinching score just two weeks after the tragic death of his sister Marie.
Tragedy was also in the air in FBD Semple Stadium, where the minute’s silence in honour of Liam Kearns was impeccably observed and keenly felt, particularly by his Offaly charges.
In an open and attractive game, it was there for the taking for both sides at half-time, with Offaly 0-9 to 0-7 in front and the wind set to favour the home team.
Jack Kennedy, Stephen Quirke and Mark Russell all chipped in with points as Tipperary pressed Offaly hard, forcing goalkeeper Ian Duffy to make two excellent saves.
Kennedy reduced the gap to just a single point going into stoppage time, but a wholesale counterattack cost them as they were caught with no-one left inside their own 20m line, leaving Rúairí McNamee with a simple finish for the first goal. Still shell-shocked, Tipp were then rocked by a second goal to a Rhode club man, this time it was Anton Sullivan who rounded off the scoring with a side-footed finish.
Darragh McGurn, Ultan Kelm, Ryan Lyons and Aidan Breen were all among the scorers as Fermanagh took a comfortable 0-9 to 0-4 lead into the dressing rooms at half-time in St. Joseph’s GAA club in Ederney, and they kicked on from there in the second half at the picturesque venue in the north west of the county to lead by 0-13 to 0-6 approaching the hour mark.
Westmeath, who have racked up some big wins this year but struggled in tight finishes, set up another tense finale when Kevin Maguire and David Lynch added goals, but Ultan Kelm and Che Cullen were able to get the late scores to ensure Fermanagh held on to win by one point and keep their fate in their own hands in advance of next week’s local derby with Cavan.
Those results meant that Down’s promotion chase was over before the ball was thrown in at Páirc Esler in Newry, and the home side was also rocked when midfielder Mark Walsh suffered a serious injury that necessitated him being carried off after lengthy stoppage.
Oran Kenny and Michael Quinn gave visiting supporters something to cheer about when they fired over outstanding points as Longford started brightly, but the team lost their way a bit in the second quarter and needed a flicked goal from Dessie Reynolds to ensure they were level at half-time, 0-9 to 1-6.
Jack Macken and Dylan Farrell (a free) pointed early in the second half to nudge Longford in front, but Down always had that bit more class up front through Pat Havern, Liam Kerr and Ryan Johnston. Havern and Johnston shot three points from play each while Kerr opened up the Longford defence on a couple of occasions with devastating runs, including one which earned a penalty, which he converted.
Longford continued to battle manfully and almost had a second goal through Daire O’Brien, who impressed after coming on to operate as a target man full forward, but a remarkable block from Finn McElroy summed up a difficult night, and a difficult campaign as a whole, for Longford.