ALLIANZ NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION 2A
OFFALY 0-20, ANTRIM 2-14
Kevin Egan at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park (report from gaa.ie)
There were celebrations in two different corners of the country as Antrim struck late with two goals deep into stoppage time to salvage a draw in their league clash with Offaly at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park in Tullamore this afternoon. Neil McManus and Conor McCann broke Offaly’s hearts with goals in the 77th and 79th minute, completely transforming the lie of the land in the division.
Barring a defeat of cataclysmic proportions, Antrim’s place in the Division 2A league decider was assured regardless of the result here today. Offaly, however, needed to win to edge out Kerry on scoring difference, so the Kingdom were on the lookout for a favour from Antrim if they were to keep their promotion hopes alive.
For the vast majority of this game, it looked like they weren’t going to get it. Offaly burst out of the blocks with an incredible start, moving 0-8 to 0-1 clear after ten minutes. Eoghan Cahill, Brendan Murphy and Peter Geraghty all got some stunning points from the left wing as the Faithful County played some excellent hurling, using the wind and moving the ball at pace.
That fast start soon faded however as the contest descended into a much scrappier affair, with lots of rucks and throw ins. The majority of scores came from frees and that suited Antrim as they not alone stayed in touch, but worked their way back into contention, just 0-9 to 0-6 behind by the 25th minute.
Neil McManus was in excellent form from placed balls but outside of that, their attack struggled to gain any traction, with only McManus and Conor Johnson pointing from play in the opening half. James McNaughton and Keelan Molloy hurled a lot of good ball at midfield, but in most other sectors Offaly seemed to have the upper hand.
Yet Antrim were still very much in touch at the break, 0-13 to 0-9 behind with a strong wind to come.
Despite the aid of the elements, the Ulstermen never really kicked on from there, even though Conor Cunning and David Kearney added some impetus off the bench. Ben Conneely, David O’Toole Greene and Dan Doughan were all superb under the Antrim puckout, which time and again went down the middle, only to be gobbled up and returned by a superb Offaly back line. David Nally, Peter Geraghty and Seán Cleary picked off points from play and it seemed as if a rematch in the league decider was inevitable. Late chances were missed by Nally, Leon Fox and Liam Langton, but it seemed as if it was irrelevant as Offaly held Antrim at bay, still leading by six points deep into stoppage time.
No-one could have expected what was to follow. A high, hopeful ball into the Offaly square broke out to left and from a very tight angle, Neil McManus scooped up possession and in one fluid movement, whipped a shot into the roof of the net to reduce the gap to three.
With the six minutes of stoppage time expired, and a little more along with it, most supporters in the ground still felt that referee David Hughes would just blow his final whistle to confirm the result. Instead he allowed play to continue, Conal Cunning won the breaking ball at midfield and a foul allowed Ciarán Johnson the chance to drop one more long ball into the Offaly square.
Once the sliothar was allowed to hit the ground from the free, Conor McCann was on hand to flash his hurl and rattle the Offaly net for the second time, and the sides were tied up for the first time since the throw in. A shellshocked home side didn’t get the chance to respond, and they now face a long wait until the start of the Christy Ring Cup. For Antrim and Kerry, a much shorter turnaround is in store as they prepare to battle it out to see who will replace Carlow in the top tier next year.
Scorers for Offaly: Eoghan Cahill 0-11 (0-7f, 0-1 sideline), Peter Geraghty (0-1 sideline) & David Nally 0-3 each, Brendan Murphy, Seán Cleary & Brian Watkins 0-1 each.
Scorers for Antrim: Neil McManus 1-13 (0-10f, 0-1 ’65), Conor McCann 1-0, Conor Johnson 0-1.
OFFALY: James Dempsey; Michael Cleary, David O’Toole Greene, Ciarán Burke; Brian Watkins, Dan Doughan, Brendan Murphy; Leon Fox, David King; Jason Sampson, Peter Geraghty, Colm Gath; Seán Cleary, David Nally, Eoghan Cahill.
Subs: Ben Conneely for M Cleary (22), Ross Ravenhill for Gath (HT), Sean Dolan for Sampson (57), Liam Langton for Cahill (64), Oisín Kelly for S Cleary (70).
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliot; Matthew Donnelly, Phelim Duffin, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Ciarán Johnson, Aodhán O’Brien; Keelan Molloy, James McNaughton; Niall McKenna, Neil McManus, Ronan Molloy; Conor Johnson, Conor McCann, Donal Nugent.
Subs: Conal Cunning for O’Brien (40), David Kearney for R Molloy (55), Conor Boyd for Walsh (57), Eoin O’Neill for McNaughton (66), Alex Delargy for Conor Johnson (66).
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)