Honours even between Antrim and Louth in dry run for final
National Football League Division Four: Antrim 0-12 Louth 1-9
ANTRIM finished their NFL Division Four campaign undefeated, but had to rely on a Tomas McCann free deep into stoppage-time to rescue a point at Corrigan Park on Sunday.
While the result mattered little in the grand scheme of things given both sides had already secured promotion to Division Three for next year, it was an opportunity for some fringe players on both sides to stake their claim for a place on the starting team when these sides meet in the Division Four final on April 23.
The game itself was lacking that bit of bite, but was still fairly entertaining nonetheless with a storming finish that saw Louth grab a goal through Gerard McSorley in the final minute of normal time, but there was still time for Antrim to engineer an equaliser through the boot of McCann.
“I suppose when they went a point in front we could have lay down, but we got back and gave ourselves the chance to equalise which is a good positive,” said Antrim joint-manager Frank Fitzsimons after.
“A couple of lads stepped up well today, a few not so much, but there is plenty of time between now and the final in Croke Park to see where they are at.”
Louth made the brighter start to the game with Eoin Lafferty kicking them into a fourth minute lead, but Antrim hit back with Michael McCann pointing a free a minute later. Frees from Conall McKeever and Colm Judge put the Wee county back ahead, but Antrim gradually grew into the contest with Brian Neeson pointing before he flashed a shot across the face of goal moments later.
Antrim had another goal chance on 23 minutes when Neeson turned provider as he played in Michael McCann, but the Cargin man’s shot shaved the top of the crossbar. Neeson raised two further white flags, while Robert Curran and Judge converted frees for Louth to leave the sides tied at 0-5 at the half.
After half-time substitute Tomas McCann and McSorley traded points after the break, Antrim really took control, hitting five in a row to move 0-11 to 0-6 clear on 54 minutes, but they did lose Neeson to a black card on 51 minutes, while John Carron hobbled off injured.
Antrim couldn’t close the game out, however, as the visitors ate into their lead to leave them just two adrift with the game entering the closing stages and they then hit the front when McSorley was played in on the left and fired his shot high into the net as the clock ticked towards 70 minutes.
Antrim still had time and were awarded a free three minutes into stoppage-time that McCann pointed to rescue a point: “I’m a bit disappointed with how it finished,” said Fitzsimons.
“I said last week this was going to be a bit of a chess match and it was, but I suppose we finished the league unbeaten. If you had said that to me at the start of the year, I would have taken it with both hands. It’s not often Antrim teams get to Croke Park, but we have three weeks to get ready for that.”
Louth goalscorer McSorley also said it was a bit of a disappointment not to get the win, but acknowledged it will be a very different game when the sides lock horns in three weeks: “We probably would have wanted the win, but at least we got something out of it,” said the corner-forward.
“This is a big game coming up on April 23 and we all want to have a chance to play in that. It’s great to get the chance to go to Croke Park for a final and we will hopefully get a result there.”
Antrim: R Hanna; R Johnston, S McVeigh, K O’Boyle; P Gallagher, M Johnston, P McAleer; N McKeever (0-1), J Carron; M Sweeney, M McCann (0-3, 0-1 free), M Armstrong; B Neeson (0-3, 0-1 free),
K Niblock, P Kelly; Subs: N Delargy for Kelly (35), T McCann (0-4, 0-3 frees) for Armstrong (h-t), D McAleese (0-1) for McAleer (h-t), C Murray for Carron (47), M Fitzpatrick for Gallagher (65); Black card: B Neeson replaced by P McBride (51).
Louth: N Gallagher; D O’Finn, D Quigley, J Bingham; A Williams, R Curran (0-1 free), E Lafferty (0-1); D O’Connell, T Durnin; R Moore, C Judge (0-2 frees), C Bellew; G McSorley (1-1), C McKeever (0-1 free), C Doyle; Subs: J Caiff (0-1 free) for Durnin (41), R Burns (0-2, 0-1 free) for Doyle (41), J Stewart for Bellew (45), M Rafferty for Moore (52), C Grimes for O’Connell (57), D Byrne for Williams (65).
Referee: S Heir (Galway).