Conor Johnston's late points help Antrim to win over battling Carlow
IT was a sweet victory for Antrim's hurlers over Carlow in the Joe McDonagh Cup on Saturday given they had to prevail in a dogfight against a team they had something of a point to prove.
Last year, Antrim's hopes of winning the Christy Ring Cup unravelled against the Barrowsiders at Croke Park, so it was no surprise they attacked with vigour from the off.
While the second half took on a life of its own with three Carlow players red-carded and as many Antrim players requiring hospital treatment, the Saffrons showed their mettle to thwart a late Carlow rally and centre-forward, Conor Johnston was one who hit two vital points late on to secure the win.
“It was massive to come out on the right side of it,” he said.
“Obviously, with them beating us in the Christy Ring final last year we wanted to get the win this time.
“It was also great to start building momentum after last week's win against Meath, so that's two wins from two now and we go onto the Laois game on Saturday.”
Antrim's win came at a heavy price with serious injuries to Neil McManus (groin), Michael Armstrong (arm) and Joe Maskey (foot), while Eoghan Campbell's red card means he will also miss out on Saturday.
“Yeah, there were some bad ones (injuries), but that's why we have the squad there for people to come in,” added Johnston.
“It makes it tougher this week, but injuries are just part of it.”
It was a mark of this Antrim team's resilience they could overcome those injuries to get over the line on Saturday.
The Antrim management have been quick to praise the efforts of the players this year who have developed a culture of hard work and that is starting to pay off in their McDonagh Cup campaign with two wins from their opening two games.
“You always enjoy winning and we just want to keep it going now,” stressed Johnston.
“Everyone has been putting their shoulder to the wheel this year and that's why we have been getting the results this year.”
Having gained some form of revenge of Carlow last week, it will be a similar story this Saturday as they host Laois in Dunloy (1.30pm).
Antrim twice faced the O'Moore County in the League, losing in Portlaoise before coming out the wrong side in the 1B playoff that condemned them back into 2A for next year.
Despite being the pre-competition favourites, Laois have lost their opening two games and will know that anything less than two points will mean they have no chance of reaching the final that already looks like a tall order as it stands, so Antrim will know they have a big test ahead.
“We have played them twice this year and they have beaten us twice, so we know what to expect,” Johnston said.
“We have to just try and push on if we can and try to get the win somehow.
“Come five o'clock on Saturday, I just want to be sitting with another two points on the board.”