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Antrim hurlers push All-Ireland champs Galway all the way

Antrim's Nigel Elliott comes under pressure from Galway's Sean Loftus and Matthew Donoghue in Sunday's Allianz Hurling League game in Pearse Stadium, Salthill Picture by Seamus Loughran
From Declan Rooney in Galway

Allianz Hurling League Division 1B: Galway 1-19 Antrim 1-16

ANTRIM almost sprung a massive shock against Galway but a spirited display and well-structured performance fell short for the Saffrons against the All-Ireland and League champions in Pearse Stadium.

The Ulster side were huge underdogs on their return to Division 1B after two years at a lower level and they delivered a spirited performance that saw them leave Salthill will no points, but with plenty to build on a head of next week’s clash with Dublin in Dunloy.

Three points up with 14 minutes to go, Antrim could not live with Galway’s intensity in the closing stages as Conor McCann’s 40th minute goal and Neil McManus’s classy showing were not enough to take the win.

“We didn’t expect to be as close as we were, to be honest,” said Antrim joint-manager Terence McNaughton (left).

“I’m surprised with the result, with how good it was. I’m surprised with the character.

“A wee bit of hurling and a we bit cuteness and composure [were needed]. These are the things that young lads have to learn.”

In front of 3,977 supporters in Salthill, Galway played into a very strong wind in the first half but despite being outplayed, they managed to lead 1-9 to 0-11 at the interval, thanks largely to a goal a minute from the break from debutant Brian Concannon.

Only six of the team that started the All-Ireland final began this game, but manager Micheal Donoghue had his eyes on his extended squad, who finally pulled clear down the stretch.

“I was worried,” he said. “It hadn’t been a good hour. Look, with five or six minutes to go, the game was there and Antrim weren’t going away, testament to them. They brought everything to it.

“We’re at a stage where we have acknowledged that we’re behind the pack a bit in terms of our preparation and we have to use these games to look at some of the extended panel.

“We had some middling performances today, some poor performances and the biggest thing is that we go away knowing we have a lot of work to do.”

Conor Cooney had pushed Galway into a 0-6 to 0-2 lead after 12 minutes, but a McManus free after 14 minutes was added to brilliantly by Gerard Walsh on the sideline, while McManus hit a great score from play to push Antrim to within a point of their hosts.

Paul Flaherty and Niall Burke pointed for Galway either side of Nigel Elliott’s point, but four of the next five points went to Antrim as they punished plenty of sloppy Galway play.

Concannon’s goal from a tight angle gave Galway a lead they scarcely deserved at the break, but McCann hit back after the restart to restore Antrim’s advantage.

In their best period, Antrim fired four points in the next 11 minutes, which gave them a three-point lead to defend, but they couldn’t hold on.

A three-year break for the Ulster Championship has been confirmed and McNaughton has called for some help for the game in the province.

“Personally, I’ve been involved in Ulster hurling all of my life and the game definitely needs somebody to grab the bull by the horns and take it seriously,” said the Cushendall man.

“There’s things happening there that if they were happening in football, there’d be hell over it.

“I think Croke Park needs to look at that and do something about it. If they’re talking about promoting the game, there’s areas in Antrim and Ulster that love hurling.

“There’s a lot a lot of good volunteers in Ulster that are scratching their heads or banging their heads’ off the walls because they’re getting no help.”

Galway: J Skehill; M Donoghue; D Burke, J Grealish; A Tuohy, M Dolphin (0-1), A Harte; J Coen, E Burke (0-3); N Burke (0-1), J Cooney (0-3), P Flaherty (0-1); B Concannon (1-1), C Cooney (0-6, 4 frees, 1 65), J Flynn.

Subs: S Loftus for Harte (h-t), G McInerney for Grealish (41), C Mannion (0-1) for Flaherty (47), J Hanbury (0-1) for Donoghue (50), D Glennon (0-1) for Flynn (60).

Blood sub: C Mannion for Concannon (30-32).

Antrim: C O’Connell; A Graffin (0-1), J Dillon, D Kearney; J Maskey, M Donnelly, P Burke; C McKinley, G Walsh (0-1); M Connolly, N McManus (0-10, 0-7 frees, 0-1 65), N Elliott (0-3); C Johnston (0-1), C McCann (1-0), D McKinley.

Subs: J Connolly for M Connolly (27), J McNaughton for Elliot (65), E O’Neill for C McKinley (67).

Referee: J O’Brien (Laois)

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