Conal Cunning continues to impress for Antrim.
Conal Cunning continues to impress for Antrim.

Joe McDonagh Cup: Antrim win again

Joe McDonagh Cup

Antrim 2-22 Carlow 1-22

By David Mohan at Corrigan Park

A strong finish from Antrim saw them make it three wins from three in the Joe McDonagh Cup as they edged a tight contest against Carlow at a damp Corrigan Park on Saturday.

The visitors looked as though they were in position to claim a vital win when leading by two with nine to play, but six points in a row from the Saffrons swung the pendulum their way in a typically close game between these rivals.

Conal Cunning top-scored with 1-11 for the victors with his Dunloy clubmate Seaan Elliott adding three excellent points from play while Martin Kavanagh and Chris Nolan shone in attack for the Barrowsiders, but this was a day for rolling up the sleeves in a tough encounter that Antrim just managed to find the answers at the right time to prevail.

While Paddy Burke pointed the hosts into the lead on 16 seconds, they took a little while to get to grips with this game as after Martin Kavanagh tied matters from a free, Ryan Elliott was forced into a low save from Conor Kehoe who got through on goal too easily.

Carlow were crowding their defence and creating more, but poor shooting left the sides locked on 0-3 after 12 minutes when Antrim were in for their first goal as Ciaran Clarke made a good break and passed inside to Conal Cunning to do the honours.

A pair of Cunning frees stretched the lead, while Kavanagh's flick to John Michael Nolan's line ball at the other end flashed just over.

Goal number two for the hosts would come on 18 minutes and it was a beauty of a finish from Neil McManus who jinked inside and finished past Brian Tracey at the near post after the ball moved through Joe Maskey, Clarke and Conor McCann.

Two goals was the gap on 25 minutes when Carlow struck for one of their own as Eoghan Campbell missed a long ball and Chris Nolan gleefully gathered and sent an unstoppable shot past Elliott. Carlow's centre forward almost had another within seconds but this time Elliott made another stunning stop.

The momentum swung back to the Barrowsiders as mistakes crept back into Antrim's play as the rest of the half descended into something of a free-taking contest with Carlow just one adrift at the break, 2-8 to 1-10.

Carlow made a much better start to the second period with Nolan and Kavanagh pointing to nudge them ahead and while Elliott tied the game, further scores from Kevin McDonald and a Kavanagh free seemed the energise the visitors.

Antrim just couldn't seem to get going until a good run of scores from Cunning and Elliott edged them briefly back in front as the sides traded blows with neither able to shake the other off.

Chris Nolan and Richard Coady drilled over points to put Carlow two up and while Ciaran Clarke replied with his second of the afternoon, a John Michael Nolan point appeared to leave the Barrowsiders well placed on 61 minutes.

Just when it seemed this was a game that was getting away from Antrim, they summoned the reserves to roar back with Joe Maskey pointing and Cunning levelling from a free before a great piece of anticipation by Eoin O'Neill from the subsequent poc-out saw him read the play to intercept and return it over the bar on 68 minutes.

Conal Bohill then landed his second of the day to double the Antrim lead with a pair of Cunning frees giving them breathing space.

A late Martin Kavanagh free left a goa in it, but the chance to equalise just didn't look like coming as Antrim cleared one last ball on top of them to maintain their perfect record in the competition, while Carlow's hopes of reaching the final now hang by a thread.

Scorers for Antrim: C Cunning 1-11 (0-10 frees), N McManus 1-0, S Elliott 0-3, P Burke 0-2, C Clarke 0-2, C Bohill 0-2, J Maskey 0-1, E O'Neill 0-1.

Scorers for Carlow: M Kavanagh 0-11 (9 frees), C Nolan 1-4, K McDonald 0-2, D Byrne 0-1, F Fitzpatrick 0-1, R Coady 0-1, C Kehoe 0-1, JM Nolan 0-1.

ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Gerard Walsh, Niall O'Connor; Paddy Burke, Eoghan Campbell, Conal Bohill; Joe Maskey, James McNaughton; Conal Cunning, Neil McManus, Conor McCann; Seaan Elliott, Domhnall Nugent, Ciaran Clarke.

Subs: Michael Bradley for J McNaughton (46), Eoin O'Neill for N McManus (50), Daniel McKernan for D Nugent (57), Niall McKenna for C McCann (63), Arron Bradley for J Maskey (70+4).

CARLOW: Brian Tracey; Paul Doyle, Conor Lawlor, Michael Doyle; Jack McCullagh, Diarmuid Byrne, Richard Coady; Fiachra Fitzpatrick, Conor Kehoe; Sean Murphy, Chris Nolan, Kevin McDonald; John Michael Nolan, Martin Kavanagh, Paul Coady.

Subs: Jon Nolan for K McDonald (63), John Doyle for S Murphy (70+2).

REFEREE: Sean Stack (Dublin).