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Antrim dig deep in epic Corrigan Park battle with Sligo to move to the top of Division Four North

Antrim's Paddy Cunningham celebrates with his team-mates after scoring the winning point in the Saffrons' Allianz Football League Division Four match with Sligo at Corrigan Park on Saturday Picture: Hugh Russell
From Anthony Gunning at Corrigan Park

Allianz Football League Division Four North: Antrim 3-13 Sligo 3-12

THREE Sligo goals from penalties, two black cards, one red card and a last-gasp winner from Paddy Cunningham was crammed into 70-plus minutes of high drama at Corrigan Park as Antrim secured top-spot in Division Four North.

For the second week running, the Saffrons had to dig deep late on to turn the game around and they did just that to settle an epic battle.

The visitors benefitted from the new rule on cynical play by being handed penalties with the third coming deep in stoppage time after it appeared Eunan Walsh's goal at the other end had settled the argument.

Just when it appeared Sligo would return home with a draw, up popped Cunningham to dissect the posts from a tight angle on the left as only he can to ensure Antrim will reach the Division Four semi-finals.

"It was a very lively game and last week's (against Louth) was the same - it was nip-and-tuck," said Antrim's assistant manager Stephen O'Neill.

"You had two very competitive teams who were going toe-to-toe for promotion what would be everyone's aim at the start of the year.

We are just delighted to get the win, but we are under no illusions that we have a lot of work to do to get to the level.

"There were three penalties and I thought a few were dubious enough, but that's the way it goes."

It appeared Antrim were well on course for victory early as they made the better start with Odhran Eastwood finding the net on seven minutes after Kevin Small's initial shot had been saved before Marc Jordan thumped home a second major after 13 minutes to put the hosts 2-1 to 0-2 up.

Sligo dug in and with Sean Carrabine and Niall Murphy finding their range from frees, they were just three adrift on 27 minutes when they got their first penalty as Antrim goalkeeper Michael Byrne appeared to be penalised for a push that infuriated the hosts, but Murphy stepped up to find the top corner to level.

It was 2-6 to 1-9 at the break with Antrim temporarily down to 14 as Ryan Murray was black-carded for a body check on Darragh Cummins.

The teams kicked two points each early in the second period before Sligo were awarded a second penalty when Patrick O'Connor went down under a Dermott McAleese challenge.

Murphy drilled home and when Darragh Cummins kicked a point straight after to leave four in it, it seemed Sligo were on their way.

But Antrim chipped away at the gap with a pair of Ryan Murray frees and a fisted effort from Patrick McBride leaving the minimum between the teams.

Sligo's Niall Murphy was them shown a second yellow and Antrim made this count as Murray thumped over the leveller.

The Saffrons were then in front as Eunan Walsh burst in on the right and palmed to the net after initially losing control, but Sligo were awarded a third penalty immediately after courtesy of the new advantage rule. This time is was Nathan Rooney who stepped up and drilled home the equaliser.

There was still time and Antrim worked the opening for Cunningham to split the posts to win the game for his team.

"Our performance today wasn't good," admitted O'Neill.

"For long periods we didn't play how we wanted to. Our handling was poor and decision making too, but when things aren't going well, the only thing you can control is what you bring to the game and we can't fault the lads' work-rate, determination and perseverance to keep going to the end, so we are delighted with that aspect."

There were no complaints from Sligo manager Tony McEntee who felt the hosts deserved their win, but the former Armagh player did think his team had done enough to snatch a draw with their late penalty goal.

"Antrim were good value for the win and fought right to the end," he said.

"When we went down to 14 men late on, they attacked and attacked. We got the benefit of the (advantage) rules today and got every break, but I think after getting the last penalty - there may have been five or six minutes of injury-time played at that stage - a draw would have been a fair result."

ANTRIM: M Byrne; R Johnston (0-1), D Lynch, P Healy; M Jordan (1-0), J Laverty, D McAleese; C Stewart, N McKeever; R Murray (0-4, 0-3 frees), A Loughran, R McCann (0-1 free), Odhran Eastwood (1-3, 0-1 free), K Small, C Murray (0-1).

Subs: P McBride (0-1) for A Loughran (29), J McAuley for D Lynch (h-t), E Walsh (1-1) for K Small (h-t), T McCann for M Jordan (58), E McCabe for D McAleese (65), P Cunningham (0-1) for O Eastwood (65).

Black cards: Ryan Murray (35+5), James Laverty (70+7)

SLIGO: E Kilgannon; R Feehily, E McGuinness, E Lyons; K Cawley, P McNamara, D Cummins (0-1); P O'Connor, P Kilcoyne; D Quinn, C Lally (0-1), C Griffin; S Carrabine (0-5, 4 frees), N Murphy (2-4, 2-0 penalties, 0-3 frees), R Óg Murphy.

Subs: N Rooney (1-1, 1-0 penalty, 0-1 free) for C Griffin (29), M Gordon for D Cummins (55), N Mullen for S Carrabine (55), C McGovern for E McGuinness (63), D Conlon for R Óg Murphy (65), G Gorman for P O'Connor (67), P Naughton for K Cawley (70+1).

Red card: N Murphy (68)

REFEREE: Conor Dourneen (Cavan)

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