Allianz HL D1B: Spirited Antrim claim the spoils
Allianz Hurling League Division 1B
ANTRIM 2-21 OFFALY 2-18
By Kevin Egan at St. Brendan’s Park
Nothing changed at St. Brendan’s Park this afternoon, in that Offaly will still take their place in the quarter final line up of the 2018 Allianz National Hurling League while Antrim will still face a relegation final, despite their fully-deserved three-point win at the south Offaly venue.
However the Saffrons will take plenty of momentum into that clash with Laois after they produced a superb display to record their fifth win in their last seven league visits to Birr.
Despite playing into a fresh breeze, the Ulster men took control of the tie right from the off, with Conor McCann and Conor Johnston on the scoresheet before Daniel McCloskey took advantage of confusion in the Offaly back line to register the game’s first goal after 10 minutes.
Offaly responded well and they drew level when Peter Geraghty rounded off an excellent attacking move to blast the sliothar past Ryan Elliot a couple of minutes later, but that type of incisive hurling was all too rare from the perspective of the home side as they struggled to negotiate a way past Eoghan Campbell, who played the role of sweeper in this contest to perfection.
Antrim kept the ball in hand and worked it up through the lines with some good support play and crisp short-range stick passing, avoiding the tackle and picking off score after score, the majority from the right flank of the attack.
Joe Bergin struck some excellent scores while Cillian Kiely also hit the target twice from range for the Offaly men, but they still trailed at the interval, 1-10 to 1-9.
The first two points after the break went to Antrim and for most of the half the visitors held Offaly at bay, with Campbell and Joe Maskey (twice) on target from distance as they took full advantage of their extra man at the back.
Offaly drew level when Shane Dooley, on as a half time sub, got a touch to Liam Langton’s high ball for the Faithful County’s second goal, but they just couldn’t get their noses in front. James McNaughton came off the bench to strike two wonderful points for Antrim but the tie was still there to be won for both sides when Shane Dooley struck his fifth point from a free at the end of normal time, making it 2-17 to 1-20.
Neil McManus edged Antrim back in front with a free and the tie was settled when Offaly pushed up in search of an equaliser and Antrim were able to send a long ball towards Nigel Elliot, who used the space close to goal to fire the ball to the net from 12 metres out.
A late Dooley free rounded off the scoring but didn’t take the gloss off a fine win for Antrim, who will be in fine fettle now in advance of their crucial relegation decider against Laois.
*Scorers for Antrim: *Neil McManus 0-7 (4fs), Daniel McCloskey and Nigel Elliot 1-0 each, Eoghan Campbell, Joe Maskey, Conor McCann, Conor Johnston and James McNaughton 0-2 each, Donal McKinley, Michael Armstrong, Conor McKinley and Ryan McCambridge 0-1 each.
*Scorers for Offaly: *Shane Dooley 1-6 (6fs), Joe Bergin 0-5 (2fs, 165), Peter Geraghty 1-1, Cillian Kiely 0-2 (1f), James Gorman, Liam Langton, David King, and Dermot Shortt 0-1 each.
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliot; Aaron Graffin, John Dillon, Ryan McCambridge; Joe Maskey, Paddy Burke, Conor McKinley; Gerard Walsh, Eoghan Campbell; Conor Johnston, Neal McManus, Michael Armstrong; Donal McKinley, Conor McCann, Daniel McCloskey.
Subs: Stephen Rooney for Graffin (HT), Nigel Elliot for Armstrong (40), David Kearney for Walsh (58), James McNaughton for McKinley (62), Conor Carson for McCloskey (67).
OFFALY: Conor Slevin; Tom Spain, Dermot Shortt, Paddy Rigney; David King, Dan Doughan, Jordan Quinn; Damien Egan, Shane Kinsella; Ciarán Cleary, Cillian Kiely, Peter Geraghty; Liam Langton, Joe Bergin, James Gorman.
Subs: Ronan Hughes for Cleary (HT), Shane Dooley for Bergin (HT), Sean Ryan for Kinsella (HT), Conor Mahon for Kiely (56), Thomas Geraghty for P Geraghty (62).
REFEREE: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).