Persistence is awesome for Antrim’s bravehearted hurlers as they down Wexford at Corrigan Park

Antrim get over the line in memorable Leinster clash

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The Antrim hurlers celebrate beating Wexford on Saturday PICTURE: Seamus Loughran
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship round robin: Antrim 2-22 Wexford 2-20

From Brendan Crossan in Corrigan Park

YOU can’t beat a mother’s embrace. When Conal Bohill met his mother in the middle of the Corrigan Park field on Saturday, the pair never wanted to be pulled apart.

The Antrim hurlers had just pulled off a famous Leinster Championship victory over Wexford at the Whiterock Road venue – six days after suffering a 32-point hammering at the hands of Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.

This mother and son embrace painted more than a thousand words. All those training nights, gym sessions, long coach journeys and trying to be the best you can be – and always little to show for it.

It all boiled down to perfect moments like this.

Never truer words were spoken when George Zalucki coined the phrase: ‘Persistence is awesome – it is absolutely awesome’.

Antrim never gave up. Conal Bohill never gave up. They kept believing that their day would come. It arrived in the grittiest form possible – a hard-earned, nerve-shredding and fully deserved two-point win over a Lee Chin-inspired Wexford.

The kids in Corrigan Park will remember this feeling for a long, long time.

Playing on home soil, Bohill of St John’s was magnificent from the first whistle to the last.

So, too, were James McNaughton, Seaan Elliott, Gerard Walsh and Niall McKenna.

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Niall McKenna celebrates his second-half goal PICTURE: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

How can you have regrets when you leave everything of yourself on the field?

But that’s the thing about this Antrim team: they’ve bared their souls in Corrigan many times before under manager Darren Gleeson, but they could never close out the deal.

On Saturday, they did.

“This means everything,” said Bohill. “It’s the people you’re representing – my family and friends are all here with me – all the support they give us and the time we spend away from our families to put something on like that today, I’m over the moon. The atmosphere was electric.”

Gleeson and the Antrim backroom team went absolutely bonkers at the final whistle.

Selector and O’Donovan Rossa man Jimmy Close took aim at a helpless water bottle and booted it in the air. It arced beautifully and spun down the sideline.

The water bottle absorbed all the frustration felt by the entire management team after a decidedly difficult season.

Trailing by seven after 43 minutes, Antrim showed outstanding resolve going down the home straight.

They kept chipping away at Wexford’s advantage.

In those clutch moments, the visitors had no answer to James McNaughton’s penetrating runs, or Seaan Elliott’s savage desire to win break ball and find the target, or Gerard Walsh’s unbelievable sideline in stoppage-time from under the nose of the main stand that put Antrim one ahead before the Cool Hand Luke of this Antrim team, Conal Cunning, converted his seventh free and the last score of a pulsating afternoon in west Belfast.

Asked what was the the key to Antrim’s stunning win, Bohill replied: “Just pure desire to be honest with you. Getting to the breaks, making tackles, making runs that we probably weren’t making last week [against Kilkenny] – but getting to the breaking ball was the main thing and I thought that was a lot better today.

“I know last week wasn’t what we wanted,” added Bohill, now in his fourth year with the Antrim seniors.

“We just wanted it to be Saturday after Sunday last week and have a rattle at it again. And I think we showed the country what we’re about there today.

“Last Monday and Tuesday you probably didn’t want to be seen in public, but we trained on Tuesday night and just focused on this game.

“Walking around here and seeing everyone’s face, people that have been with you from no age and development squads – managers, selectors – it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

When the dust settles on this euphoric win, spare a thought for Wexford’s Lee Chin who produced an incredible performance.

Antrim could do nothing with him in the opening half. It wasn’t that Niall O’Connor, his marker in the first half, was poor – it was more that Chin was so good.

Wexford’s talisman hammered home a 27th minute penalty – a disputed award by Antrim – and in first-half stoppage-time he took on the entire home defence and buried the ball past Ryan Elliott in goal.

Wexford led 2-9 to 0-12 in a very even first half and just when Antrim needed a goal Niall McKenna raised a green flag in the 61st minute with a beautiful low drive after McNaughton outstripped the Wexford defence to find the Sarsfields man, which drew the home side level [1-20 to 2-17].

McNaughton was again the architect for Antrim’s second major two minutes later.

His blinding pace down the centre of the pitch and perfect off-load allowed Seaan Elliott to hammer home to edge the Saffrons in front [2-20 to 2-19].

Chin brought his match tally to a staggering 2-11 to level the tie in the first minute of stoppage-time.

And just when those hard-bitten Antrim supporters felt another dog-day afternoon was coming on, the Ulstermen ripped up the script with Walsh and Cunning finding the target to bury Wexford and some recent ghosts of the past.

Antrim: R Elliott; N O’Connor, R McGarry, P Burke; G Walsh (0-3, 0-1 sideline), C Boyd (0-1), C Bohill; S Elliott (1-3), E Campbell; N Elliott (0-1), K Molloy (0-2), J McNaughton (0-5, 0-2 frees); C Cunning (0-7 frees), N McKenna (1-1), C McCann Subs: A O’Brien for C McCann (31), C McKeown for N Elliott (47), M Bradley for N McKenna (73)
Blood substitution: F McCurry for K Molloy (24-27)
Yellow cards: C McCann (7), K Molloy (29), N McKenna (43)
Wexford: M Fanning; S Reck, C Foley, N Murphy; S Donohue, D Reck, M O’Hanlon; C Hearne, K Foley; L Og McGovern (0-1), L Chin (2-11, 1-0 pen, 0-7 frees), C Dunbar (0-1); C Byrne (0-4), C McDonald (0-2), R O’Connor (0-1) Subs: E Ryan for N Murphy (53), R Lawlor for C Dunbar (57), S Casey for C Hearne (59)
Yellow cards: R O’Connor (18), S Donohue (46), C Foley (56)
Referee: C Lyons (Cork)
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Seaan Elliott wheels away after scoring Antrim's second goal PICTURE: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)