Darren Gleeson guided Antrim to Joe McDonagh Cup glory at Croke Park.
Darren Gleeson guided Antrim to Joe McDonagh Cup glory at Croke Park.

Gleeson delighted with Antrim's grit

By Paul Keane

Antrim manager Darren Gleeson admitted that winning the Joe McDonagh Cup the hardest way possible gave him a little extra satisfaction as a former goalkeeper.

The Tipperary man and 2016 All-Ireland winning netminder has guided the Saffrons to Tier 2 success, and a place in next season's Liam MacCarthy Cup, at his very first attempt.

They beat Kerry in competitive fare for the fourth time in just nine months though this was the tightest of the lot, the two-point winning margin even less than the three that separated them in October's Division 2A League final.

Antrim had a goal cleared off the line and their wides count made it into double digits so they could have been more comfortable winners but part of Gleeson enjoyed the dogfight.

"I was delighted we dogged it out," he grinned. "I actually got great satisfaction out of that. There are two defenders in the backroom also, Johnny (Campbell) and Jim (Close), and they were delighted as well, I'll tell you that. They don't like the forwards getting all the praise all the time so I can tell you we're delighted with digging out a result like that."

Gleeson battled out in the Tipp senior setup for the number one jersey with Brendan Cummins for several years.

This time around they were in opposite camps as Cummins is part of the Kerry backroom while Gleeson has just completed a successful first season with Antrim.

"You play hurling with someone for 10 or 12 years and you're together for three or four nights a week, the pity about the whole thing then is that we all move on to different parts of our lives," said Gleeson. "We had a good chat before the game on the pitch walk, we didn't give away too much to each other but we have a good respect for each other."

Antrim, beaten Christy Ring Cup finalists in 2016 and 2017, will be back at hurling's top table in 2021 and with the Leinster championship moving to a six-team format, they will be hopeful of retaining their status beyond next season.

"That's up to me and the county board to really sit down and discuss how we can bring it forward," said Gleeson. "The players are there and they're willing to do whatever it takes. We need to get in and raise the platform again because we're going to a higher level."

Kerry manager Fintan O'Connor pointed to the third quarter when his team was outscored by 0-7 to 0-1, conceding six points in a row at one stage, as the pivotal period.

"We were leading at half-time and okay, it probably wasn't pretty at times but we were trying to keep it tight," said O'Connor, who dropped men back in an attempt to curb Antrim's attack. "It wasn't pretty but we thought it was giving us our best chance. I thought that period just after half-time, you can't be chasing a team like that. You can't be giving them a six-point start on you as we did."