Allianz Hurling League Division One Group B, round two
Antrim 1-19 Dublin 1-20
From Brendan Crossan at Corrigan Park
THE Antrim hurlers took gut-wrenching to a whole new level at Corrigan Park on Sunday afternoon.
As the home supporters spilled out onto the sunny Whiterock Road, they must have been absolutely mystified at how their team lost.
This was a gargantuan effort by Antrim that yielded nothing in the way of the hard currency of points.
In recent years, the Dubs have made a habit of slipping out of west Belfast with results they’ve barely deserved. From the jaws of defeat, they came up trumps – or rather, their hosts gifted them the win.
“This is only my second time coming up to Corrigan Park and it’s a really hard place to come,” said Dublin boss Michael Donoghue.
“Darren [Gleeson] has done a really brilliant job with that team - you can see his footprint on it. In fairness to our lads, they showed a lot resilience, just hanging in there and, yeah, it was a very lucky goal at the end, but we’ll take it.”
Antrim’s new goalkeeper Tiernan Smyth will have nightmares over his stoppage-time own goal.
The McQuillan’s man, who usually plays corner-forward for his club but is no stranger to keeping goal, initially saved Sean Gallagher’s pointed effort but fumbled the ball over his own goal-line.
It was a tragic moment for the young Ballycastle man, which gave Dublin an unlikely two-point cushion.
Antrim substitute Aaron Bradley fired over at the other end seconds later, but the final whistle sounded as soon as Dublin ‘keeper Sean Brennan launched the resultant puck out, and the home side, quite literally, couldn’t believe what the neon scoreboard in the corner of the ground read.
Home manager Darren Gleeson offered some consoling words to Smyth afterwards as did Antrim midfielder Eoghan Campbell.
“It’s a very lonely place,” Campbell said. “When a ball drops in there… Tiernan didn’t make one mistake all day and it’s just unfortunate with what was nearly the last puck of the game.
“But we’ll encourage him this week. He’s a fantastic young fella, we’ll drive on for next game [against Galway] and Tiernan will be 100 per cent ready for it.”
Up until that freakish event, Antrim had delivered one of the most accomplished displays under Gleeson - even though they’re missing a host of regulars.
“We’re striving for it every week in training – there’s a different focus from outside to what we’re doing,” said the Antrim manager.
“The players are working their arses off, every night of the week, even the guys who are injured are working to get back. You just felt they deserved something today and we didn’t get it and there are no excuses. It was our own fault.”
Defensively sound, brilliant in the middle of the field and inspiring in places up front, there was so much to admire about Antrim.
Ryan McGarry played the shirt off his back on the edge of the square last season. Moved to centre-back this year, the Dunloy man was exceptional in everything he did yesterday.
Eoghan Campbell and Niall O’Connor dovetailed perfectly at centrefield – O’Connor being the enforcer and Campbell the playmaker.
Niall McKenna returned to the wings and reminded Antrim fans of the quality they’d been missing there, winning break ball and showing incredible vision at times.
All the other forwards, including new recruits Joseph McLaughlin, Fred McCurry and Rian McMullan, had good moments – but the undoubted star of the show was Conal Cunning who notched a staggering 1-11 haul, and somehow still finished on the losing side.
And yet, the opening few minutes felt like a terrible continuation of last week’s Limerick game down in Semple Stadium where the Saffrons suffered a 27-point defeat to the All-Ireland champions.
Dublin’s scoring economy in the opening few minutes at Corrigan Park yesterday was ridiculous. Five shots, five points before Conor Donohue finally missed one in the eighth minute.
Antrim didn’t panic and soon found their rhythm. Cunning’s 25th minute major that levelled the game [1-7 to 0-10] was a work of art.
The livewire attacker caught Ryan McGarry’s beautiful pass down the stand side, he turned, leaving Dublin defender Daire Gray trailing in his wake.
Faced with a tight angle, Cunning hammered the ball into the corner of the net at the Whiterock Road end.
Dublin, though, always carried a significant attacking threat with 10 different players getting on the scoresheet in the opening half – the pick of which was the speedy Brian Hayes firing over back-to-back points from midfield.
Since hurling began, Antrim have conceded height and weight advantages to the Dubs.
The visitors looked bigger and stronger in most areas of the field and capable of breaking tackles.
But what Dublin couldn’t compete with was Antrim’s insatiable work-rate, how they hunted in packs and the number of times an Antrim player emerged triumphantly from untidy rucks with ball in hand.
The Dubs held a two-point advantage [1-8 to 0-13] going in at the break – but a Cunning ‘65 in the 48th minute saw Antrim forge ahead for only the second time in the tie.
Coming off a fantastic campaign with Cushendall, wing-back Scott Walsh rose to the occasion in the second half, hitting two brilliant scores and his club-mate Eoghan Campbell landed a beauty in the 51st minute.
Antrim were comfortable in one-v-one situations at the back too and which prompted Dublin boss Michael Donoghue to reach for his bench options first.
Rian McMullan and Joseph McLaughlin got on the scoresheet while the latter, who was making his senior debut, missed the target with a goal chance in the 67th minute which would have put Antrim four points ahead.
Dublin kept pecking away at their hosts’ narrow advantage, mostly through Cian O’Sullivan and just when it looked as though Antrim finally had discovered the necessary composure to win a tight game against their nemesis, their world caved in on 71 minutes.
The Dubs stole the points in Corrigan Park and a march on Antrim in Division 1B.
Gut-wrenching doesn’t get close to how Darren Gleeson’s players were feeling afterwards.
Plenty of positives were banked, but no League points for the luckless Saffrons.