McCaughan and Johnston fire Antrim into Ulster decider

Antrim's Conor Johnston was introduced as a half-time substitute and scored 2-2
From Anthony Gillan in Ballycastle

Bord Gais Ulster U21 Hurling Championship semi-final: Antrim 6-22 Armagh 0-7

ANTRIM eased into the final of the Ulster U21 Hurling Championship with a whopping 33 points to spare over Armagh in Ballycastle last night.

The game was effectively over by half-time as the Saffrons had opened a 15-point gap which could have been much more but for some poor shooting, with eight shots drifting wide and several into the goalkeeper’s hand in the opening period.

Saul McCaughan led the way in the scoring stakes, but was eclipsed by half-time substitute Conor Johnston (pictured), who registered 2-2.

Antrim opened much brighter in the Ballycastle sun and raced into an early three-point lead.

Cormac Ross sent them on their way with his effort followed by scores from McCaughan and Niall McKenna before Armagh registered through Ruairi Fullerton.

The Orchard lads kept pace with Antrim for a while until the first goal arrived through Patrick McBride on 13 minutes.

This really opened the floodgates as the Saffrons piled on the scores through McCaughan, James Connolly and the impressive McKenna.

McBride then turned provider for McCaughan who blasted home as Antrim had taken over and continued to pile on the scores through Maol Connolly, Declan Traynor and McKenna to ensure Antrim’s front six had all registered as they opened a 2-13 to 0-4 lead at the break.

Ciaran Johnston – introduced at the break – kept the scoreboard ticking over for Antrim 10 seconds after the restart but the Saffrons were misfiring up front for long spells until the younger of the Johnston brothers, Conor, hit goal number three on 50 minutes.

The floodgates opened as Antrim piled on the scores with Conor Johnston hitting two points and then seeing his shot at goal saved by Davy McCreesh, with brother Ciaran on hand to poke home the rebound.

James O’Connell then got among the goals when soloing in from the left and following points from O’Connell and Ross, Conor Johnston completed the rout with Antrim’s sixth major to seal the win.

“It’s a start. People might ask what’s the point in it but it’s an easy way to get fellas together and interested in it,” said Antrim manager Kevin Ryan.

“You are delighted to get fellas into it but then they will be going to a different pace [later in the Championship] and we didn’t see that in the second half. They were shooting from all over the place.

“You won’t get away with that further down the road.

“We are happy to get this out of the way and look towards the final.”

Armagh manager Sylvester McConnell admitted it was a tough night for his side but said there were several performances that filled him with hope, none more so than captain Stephen Renaghan, who had a fine game.

“We are in the ‘B’ All-Ireland and it was hard for us to get lads out after the Nicky Rackard final, but the lads who played out there fought hard,” he said.

“That’s a strong Antrim team but we had three or four who held their own. Armagh’s probably better than the scoreboard says, but then that tells its own story.”

Antrim: C Heyden; T Burns, P Burke, J McGoldrick; E Campbell, R McCambridge, M Connolly (0-1); N McKenna (0-3), M Dudley; P McBride (1-0), J Connolly (0-4, 0-2 frees), J O’Connell (1-2); D Traynor (0-1), S McCaughan (1-4, 0-1 free), C Ross (0-3)

Subs: Ciaran Johnston (1-1) for M Dudley (HT), Conor Johnston (2-2) for S McCaughan (HT), T Ó Ciaran (0-1) for R McCambridge (HT), D O’Hara for D Traynor (36), S McBride for E Campbell (43).

Armagh: D McCreesh; J O’Connor, M Moore, M Cartmill; R Conway, T Nevin (0-1), P Lappin; P McKearney, S Renaghan (0-2); G Duffy, L Oliver (0-2), C McCann; B Shortt, R Fullerton (0-2, 0-1 free), C Gorman.

Sub: P Duffy for D McCreesh (48)

Referee: Alan Nash


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