Joe McDonagh Cup: Antrim edge thriller
Joe McDonagh Cup
ANTRIM 3-23 OFFALY 4-18
By Kevin Egan at Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park
Antrim are one home win away from claiming a place in the 2019 Joe McDonagh Cup final after they came through an incredible and dramatic clash with Offaly in Tullamore, their victory secured when they outscored Offaly by 1-6 to no score in response to Oisín Kelly’s 55th minute goal for the home side.
The stakes couldn’t have been higher for both counties coming into this game and new Offaly manager Joachim Kelly saw his charges get a huge early boost when full back Martin Burke was red carded.
Offaly tacked on four points in a row after that incident to move two points clear, with Mark Egan hoovering up a lot of ball as the sweeper. However, Antrim soon settled into the game, they started to hurl with more intelligence and patience, bringing Ciarán Clarke into the game with some good low deliveries. The Ballycastle McQuillans man scored three points of his own, set up a goal for Keelan Molloy, and kept Antrim in the game at a time when Offaly were dominating the battle for primary possession.
Oisín Kelly responded to Molloy’s goal with a powerful run and close range finish on the very next attack, and Offaly moved four points clear with some excellent scores from Peter Geraghty, Cillian Kiely and Kevin Connolly, but a second green flag from Molloy cut back the deficit. Antrim introduced Eoghan Campbell and James McNaughton in the 35th minute and that proved to be a crucial switch as McNaughton picked off two points in first half injury time to help his side into a 2-10 to 1-11 interval lead, while the duo scored 0-7 between them by the final whistle.
The second half exploded into life with a wonderful run and score from Eoghan Campbell right off the throw in, but Joe Bergin batted in a close-range goal to bring the sides back level and that was how they stayed for the third quarter, going score-for-score.
The game turned Antrim’s way when a hard hit from Conor Mahon on Matthew Donnelly meant both sides were now down to 14 men by the 53rd minute, and points from Neil McManus and McNaughton moved Antrim two clear.
Oisín Kelly again replied for Offaly with a typically barnstorming run and finish to edge Offaly back in front, but what followed was a spell of pure dominance from Antrim, with Neil McManus in imperious form sweeping up loose balls around midfield and half back. He rattled over a series of points from play and frees while a late goal from Nigel Elliot seemed to settle the tie as it put Antrim eight clear, but there was still time for more drama.
Substitute Seán Cleary struck a goal from a rebound, Joe Bergin added two frees and a ’65, and Offaly even engineered another late chance in the sixth minute of stoppage time, but Cleary’s late chance wasn’t cleanly struck and it crept wide of the near post.
Scorers for Antrim: Neil McManus 0-10 (7fs), Keelan Molloy 2-0, Nigel Elliot 1-1, James McNaughton 0-4, Ciarán Clarke and Eoghan Campbell 0-3 each, Nicky McKeague and Joe Maskey 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: Oisín Kelly 2-2, Joe Bergin 1-5 (3fs, 265s), Aidan Treacy 0-3, Sean Cleary 1-0, Peter Geraghty 0-2, Eoghan Cahill (f), Kevin Connolly, Cillian Kiely, Paddy Murphy and David Nally 0-1 each.
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Martin Burke, Stephen Rooney; Joe Maskey, Paddy Burke, Matthew Donnelly; Nicky McKeague, David Kearney; Neil McManus, Ryan McCambridge, Keelan Molloy; Eoin O’Neill, Nigel Elliot, Ciarán Clarke.
Subs: Eoghan Campbell for McKeague (31, blood), James McNaughton for O’Neill (35), Eoghan Campbell for McCambridge (35), John Dillon for Kearney (58), Daniel McCloskey for Clarke (70+3).
OFFALY: Eoghan Cahill; Ben Conneely, Dermot Shortt, Pat Camon; Cillian Kiely, Shane Kinsella, Mark Egan; Aidan Treacy, Paddy Murphy; Colin Egan, Joe Bergin, Peter Geraghty; Kevin Connolly, Oisín Kelly, Shane Dooley.
Subs: Conor Mahon for C Egan (15), David Nally for Shortt (Half time), Sean Cleary for Dooley (Half time), Kevin Dunne for Murphy (41), David O’Toole Greene for Camon (49).
REFEREE: Liam Gordon (Galway).