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Allianz HL relegation play-off: Gritty Antrim survive

Ciarán Clarke, Antrim, and David King, Offaly, in Allianz Hurling League action at Páirc Tailteann.

Ciarán Clarke, Antrim, and David King, Offaly, in Allianz Hurling League action at Páirc Tailteann.

Allianz Hurling League Division One relegation play/off

Antrim 2-24 Offaly 2-17

By Paul Keane at Páirc Tailteann

Antrim will continue to operate in Division 1 of the Allianz Hurling League after blitzing Offaly in the second-half in Navan to secure their top flight status for another season.

Tied with 44 minutes on the clock, it looked as if this relegation play-off could go either way but Antrim took full control from there on to register a timely first win of the campaign.

James McNaughton and Keelan Molloy had already registered goals by that stage so it was the point-scoring power of the Saffrons that propelled them to a crucial win.

Darren Gleeson's men outscored Offaly by 0-13 to 1-3 in that final half hour or so to win largely at their ease.

Free-taker Conal Cunning finished with 10 points for Antrim who had nine different scorers in total.

Antrim led by 10 points in second-half stoppage time when Offaly pulled back a consolation goal from Eoghan Cahill who finished with 2-6 in total.

Antrim lost Niall O'Connor initially to a black card early in the second-half and then a red card late on after picking up a booking too.

As for Offaly, they finished with 13 players as Joey Keenaghan was red carded in the 66th minute for his second booking while Eimhin Kelly was black carded in the 77th minute.

The sides will do it all over again in mid-April when they meet in Round 1 of the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Antrim's strong display was all the more impressive in the absence of talisman attacker Neil McManus.

He'd scored heavily for the Ulster outfit in their first four games, returning 1-2, 2-7, 0-13 and 1-7 tallies, but a hamstring injury ruled him out of the trip to Navan.

Michael Bradley and Niall McKenna were missing with knocks too though there was no obvious dip in quality.

Ciaran Clarke opened the scoring for Antrim inside 90 seconds and McNaughton burst through for a terrific solo goal in the fourth minute.

Offaly fought back to level terms but, true to the pattern of a game that the Faithful could never quite get to grips with, they fell behind again.

Cunning powered over a series of Antrim frees and another score from Clarke, from way out on the left wing, helped to open up a four-point gap.

Offaly wiped out that deficit with points from Cahill, David Nally, Luke O'Connor and Jason Sampson but, again, they just couldn't nudge clear.

Antrim closed out the half strongly, reeling off 1-2 without response - Molloy with the stoppage time goal after good work by John Murphy - to deservedly lead 2-11 to 0-12 at half-time.

Offaly's positive start to the second-half yielded Cahill's first goal and they were back on level terms at 1-14 to 2-11 but from there on it was all Antrim and they won surprisingly at their ease.

Molloy, Joe Maskey, Eoin O'Neill and Clarke all tagged on points - leaving Offaly facing up to an immediate return to the lower tier.

Scorers for Antrim: Conal Cunning 0-10 (0-9f), Keelan Molloy 1-2, James McNaughton 1-2 (0-1f, 0-1 65), Ciaran Clarke 0-4, Eoghan Campbell 0-2, Gerard Walsh 0-1, Conor McCann 0-1, Joe Maskey 0-1, Eoin O'Neill 0-1.

Scorers for Offaly: Eoghan Cahill 2-6 (1-0 pen, 1-3f, 0-1 65), Jason Sampson 0-3, Luke O'Connor 0-3 (0-1f), David Nally 0-1, David King 0-1, John Murphy 0-1, Stephen Corcoran 0-1 (0-1f), Paddy Clancy 0-1.

Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Gerard Walsh, David Kearney, Stephen Rooney; Paddy Burke, Eoghan Campbell, Ryan McGarry; Joe Maskey, Keelan Molloy; James McNaughton, Ciaran Clarke, Conor McCann; Conor Johnston, Domhnall Nugent, Conal Cunning.

Subs: Niall O'Connor for Kearney h/t, Seaan Elliott for McNaughton 48-51 blood, Elliott for McNaughton 59, Eoin O'Neill for Johnston 65, Daniel McKernan for Nugent 70, Pheilim Duffin for McGarry 72.

Offaly: Stephen Corcoran; Jack Screeney, Ben Conneely, Joey Keenaghan; Leon Fox, David King, Killian Sampson; Adrian Cleary, David Nally; Brian Duignan, Liam Langton, Eoghan Cahill; John Murphy, Jason Sampson, Luke O'Connor.

Subs: Ciaran Burke for Cleary h/t, Eimhin Kelly for Langton h/t, Padraig Cantwell for Conneely 39-42 blood, Eoghan Parlon for Fox 58, Paddy Clancy for Duignan 58, Sean Cleary for O'Connor 64.

Referee: Rory McGann (Clare).