Five-star Antrim hurlers blow away 13-man Meath
NHL Division 2A: Antrim 5-27 Meath 1-15
A GLANCE at the team statistics might suggest that two first half sendings-off for Meath played a huge part in the outcome – but Antrim effectively had this game won even before those dismissals.
The two green flags raised for the Saffrons in the opening 10 minutes, goals from their midfielders Keelan Molloy and Eoghan Campbell, were as influential on the result as the two red cards shown to the Royals’ Alan Douglas and Luke Moran.
Playing against a fierce wind, the winning of this game was done by the hosts carving out a nine-point lead when the sides were still level in terms of personnel, before going on to almost treble that advantage by the end with more majors from James McNaughton and a Neil McManus brace.
The only criticism might be Antrim’s tally of 18 wides plus some more goal opportunities spurned. Manager Darren Gleeson acknowledged that aspect, as well as expressing some sympathy for the opposition losing players, but paid full credit to his team:
“The high tackle is a big thing in hurling now. It’s an automatic yellow card, in some cases a red. Meath were caught a couple of time for high challenges, they paid the price, and we reaped the reward off the back of it.
“I thought our lads stuck at it well first half, first 10 minutes of the second half good as well, then lulled a bit for 15 minutes – but overall you couldn’t be much happier coming out of here today.”
Indeed, having pushed Offaly all the way in Birr and troubled Kerry in round three, Antrim had anticipated another tough test from their rivals of recent seasons.
That’s how it started too, on a perfect-looking Portglenone pitch. With the win at their backs, Meath’s centre-forward Padraig O’Hanrahan converted two early frees.
Yet once Antrim simultaneously opened their account and went in front, through a well-taken fourth minute goal by Keelan Molloy, they had a lead they never lost.
Alertness from corner-forward Dan McCloskey, intercepting a stray pass from Meath midfielder Patrick Potterton, sent Campbell in for a goal to stretch the lead.
Antrim’s desire to battle for possession pleased Gleeson, who commented: “You have to win your ground first to open up the hurling and I thought we did that well, playing against the breeze as well. Everyone performed the roles they were asked to do, really happy with that.
“We had a few changes there, different guys in, like Conor McAllister [in goals], Matthew Donnelly [full-back], and Joe Maskey back as well, so I was pleased with how everyone went about their business.”
McQuillan’s man Donnelly was impressive, repeatedly powering into possession, with Paddy Burke also dominant at centre half-back, and subsequently Meath’s scoring threat was largely limited to that man O’Hanrahan.
However, his opposite number McManus grew into the game, and added himself more and more to the score-sheet, including a 32nd minute point taken despite a high hit by Meath full-forward Douglas. Having earlier earned a first yellow card for arguing about a ‘square ball’ call against him, the Trim man was cut from proceedings.
The Royals’ already difficult task was made even harder by wing-back Moran also going off the pitch shortly before the half-time whistle for another clumsy challenge as McManus burst towards goal.
Goalkeeper denied him, but McManus pointed the subsequent ‘65’ for an 11-point half-time lead, 2-13 to 0-8.
Up against 13 men, with the wind, the second half seemed set to be a stroll for the Saffrons, especially when McNaughton soloed through for a goal inside 30 seconds of the re-start.
Antrim extended their lead to 18 inside 10 minutes, 3-18 to 0-9, before Meath showed some admirable spirit. Pushing up, harrying the home defenders, they notched five of the next seven scores.
Some sloppy shooting from the Saffrons was a factor too, as Gleeson admitted: “The thing is, it was unopposed striking, we were hoping they’d be punishing [Meath]. Maybe the areas of the field they were taking the shots on from wasn’t ideal.
“They should have known in the second half that the wind was coming left to right – and all our wides went to the right hand side…So, it’s basics, but it happened when we lost concentration.”
McManus made sure that the chance to boost scoring difference wouldn’t go to waste, though. First he netted after a brave assist by the industrious Michael Bradley, then he finished off a neat assist from Maskey.
Meath sub Nicky Potterton fired in an injury-time goal but that quite rightly did not take the gloss off a fine performance for Antrim boss Gleeson:
“Look, the main thing is that the scoreboard says Antrim with a handsome score beside it and we’ll work on the wides. It’s always nice for me to have something to work on. We’ll take a lot of positives from today”.
Antrim: C McAllister; P Duffin, M Donnelly, S Rooney; G Walsh (0-1), P Burke, J Maskey (0-1); E Campbell (1-2), K Molloy (1-2); J McNaughton (1-2), N McManus (2-9, 0-2 frees, 0-2 ‘65s’), M Bradley (0-1); D Nugent (0-2), N McKenna (0-2), D McCluskey.
Substitutes: A O’Brien (0-2) for Walsh (44); N McKeague (0-1) for Campbell (44); C Johnson for Donnelly (50); A Delargy for McNaughton (62); R Molloy (0-2) for Bradley (66)
Yellow cards: Campbell (3); Nugent (18); Johnson (52); McManus (53).
Meath: C Ennis; S Geraghty (capt.), S Brennan, S Morris (0-1); K Keoghan, J Toher (0-2), L Moran; M Burke, P Potterton; D Healy, P O’Hanrahan (0-9, 0-6 frees), J Regan; M Mullen, A Douglas (0-1), E O Donnchadna.
Substitutes: S Whitty for P Potterton (h-t); J Kelly for Mullen (h-t); N Potterton (1-2) for O Donnchadna (45); C O’Sullivan for Regan (66); P Slevin for Morris (66).
Yellow cards: Douglas (13 and 32); Moran (31 and 39, first half); Keoghan (63)
Red cards: Douglas (32, second yellow); Moran (39, first half, second yellow).
Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin).