Allianz HL D1: Antrim defeat Clare
Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group B
ANTRIM 1-21 CLARE 0-22
By David Mohan at Corrigan Park
Stoppage time points from Neil McManus and Ciaran Clarke ensured it was a glorious return to the top flight for Antrim as they overcame Clare at a windy Corrigan Park.
The Saffrons were full value for their win as they grew into this game and took a firm grip, but were made to fight hard by a Clare side that was always in contention.
Clarke top-scored with 1-11, while Tony Kelly was the Banner's scorer in chief with 0-11, but it was that goal that would ultimately prove crucial for Antrim who just seemed to have a little bit more of a cutting edge in attack on the day.
With a stiff wind at their backs, Clare made the brighter start with David Reidy and Tony Kelly landing early scores.
The hosts gradually settled with Conal Cunning opening their account, but after an exchange of scores, Clare pushed on to hit six of the next seven scores to move 0-13 to 0-3 ahead on 13 minutes.
Antrim had been competing well, but just weren't clicking up front until that point, but it would change as they began to find their rhythm, halving the deficit with points from Ciaran Clarke, Neil McManus and Cunning.
The Banner replied with Shane O'Donnell and Diarmuid Ryan splitting the posts in quick succession, but the game was beginning to turn and Antrim were within two with another three points on the spin.
Tony Kelly replied for Clare, but the sides were level on 29 minutes as a great ball into Ciaran Clarke saw the Ballycastle man get clear and whilst his shot was half-saved by Eibhear Quilligan, the sliotar spun into the net to leave it 0-12 to 1-9.
Clare responded with points from Ryan and Kelly, with the sides trading scores late in the half to leave it Clare 0-16 to Antrim's 1-11 at the break.
The hosts wasted no time in drawing level early in the second period with Ciaran Clarke tapping over a free and then a 65 after Conal Cunning's shot at goal was deflected out.
Cunning was then denied a goal with a fine block as it became clear it was Antrim who had grabbed the momentum despite Tony Kelly edging Clare back in front from a free.
Eoghan Campbell tied the match and then the Saffrons took the lead for the first time with Keelan Molloy thumping over from out on the right.
The second period was very much nip-and-tuck with the sides going score-for-score, but it was always Antrim who were edging ahead in the exchanges as they were winning the breaks with hooks, blocks and some big challenges forcing turnovers.
Clarke was knocking over the frees with Kelly doing likewise, but when Diarmuid Ryan - moved into the forwards for the sec and half - pointed on the turn to level the game for the eighth time on 69 minutes, there was a sense this game may end up with honours ever.
However, Antrim just had that little bit extra and it was Neil McManus who hit the score of the day in stoppage time as he sold a beautiful dummy just outside his own 45 to jink onto his right and land a monster score to restore the advantage.
Clare battled for the equaliser, but were snuffed out and from a breakaway, Antrim won a free when Dan McCloskey was fouled and Clarke popped over the award to seal a fully deserved victory for the Ulster men.
Scorers for Antrim: Ciaran Clarke 1-11 (9fs, 1 65), Keelan Molloy 0-3, Neil McManus 0-3 (2fs), Conal Cunning 0-2, Conor McCann 0-1, Eoghan Campbell 0-1.
Scorers for Clare: Tony Kelly 0-11 (7fs, 1 65), David Reidy 0-3, Shane O'Donnell 0-2, Diarmuid Ryan 0-2, Cathal Malone 0-1, Colin Guilfoyle 0-1, Ryan Taylor 0-1, Aidan McCarthy 0-1.
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott; Stephen Rooney, Gerard Walsh, Damon McMullan; Eoghan Campbell, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Keelan Molloy, Neil McManus; Niall McKenna, James McNaughton, Michael Bradley; Conal Cunning, Ciaran Clarke, Conor McCann.
Subs: Eoin O'Neill for James McNaughton (47), Domhnall Nugent for Conor McCann (56), Conor Johnston for Michael Bradley (63), Dan McCloskey for Conal Cunning (70).
CLARE: Eibhear Quilligan; Paddy Donnellan, Conor Cleary, Paul Flanagan; Diarmuid Ryan, John Conlon, Aidan McCarthy; Cian Galvin, Tony Kelly; Cathal Malone, David Reidy, Colin Guilfoyle; Ryan Taylor, Aaron Shanagher, Shane O Donnell.
Subs: Liam Corry for Paddy Donnellan (HT), Rory Hayes for Aaron Shanagher (HT), David Fitzgerald for Cian Galvin (49), Shane Golden for Colin Guilfoyle (50), Jack Browne for Paul Flanagan (69).
REFEREE: Liam Gordon (Galway).