Antrim recover from poor start to cruise to Leitrim win
Allianz National Football League Division Four: Antrim 2-14 Leitrim 0-10
IT took them half-an-hour to get their head out of the clouds, to paraphrase Gearoid Adams, but Antrim proved superior to Leitrim for most of yesterday’s Corrigan Park clash.
The Division Four leaders were without hamstring victims Michael McCann and Justin Crozier, and looked as though they would sorely miss them when they trailed by 0-6 to 0-2 heading towards the interval.
But from the moment Tomás McCann found the net to bring them to life just before half-time, the hosts dominated and finished up deserving of their ten-point margin of victory.
Leitrim ought to have been further ahead from their own strong start. With Paddy Maguire getting a free run at Antrim from deep, the winless visitors created 18 chances in the first half – yet they finished the game without a single score from play.
They had two good goal opportunities, but Maguire saw his dipping effort fly just wide with Chris Kerr beaten before the Antrim ‘keeper got across well to stop James McGrail’s palmed effort from close range.
“We weren’t happy with the first 20 minutes. We basically didn’t go out,” said joint Antrim boss Gearoid Adams.
“The wee bit of publicity they’re getting maybe went to the boys’ heads for that short period of time. The 1-2 we got from play gave us a bit of a spur and we got reorganised at half-time and pushed on from there.
“We warned the boys that they had nothing to lose. They’d lost two games by a point and they were going to push us the whole way. They pressed up on our system and they put us under a lot of pressure.”
Two superb Kevin Conlon 45s and four frees from the otherwise quiet Emlyn Mulligan helped the threat of a shock grow, but with Niall McKeever taking command of the middle, Antrim turned it around.
The Portglenone midfielder won’t have the advantage of the ‘mark’ for a few months yet, but he didn’t need it as he displayed some fantastic fielding to give his side an attacking platform.
Marty Johnston was a very useful foil on the breaking ball as well, helping their side win the contested kickout battle 19-13.
James Laverty was outstanding throughout in the Antrim defence, making two brilliant blocks in Leitrim’s good spell, though the visitors also kicked seven wides and dropped two into Chris Kerr’s hands in the first period.
And they were made pay in the final moments of the half. A 31st minute turnover by early sub Niall Delargy started a move that Tomás McCann finished by rifling low past Brendan Flynn at his near post.
The Cargin man quickly added a free to level it at 1-3 to 0-6 and then kicked his side into an improbable half-time lead with another free late in the half.
“That wee bit of class from Tomás with the finish gave us the confidence we needed,” said Adams.
Some harsh words were still needed in the dressing room, and they helped a totally different Antrim side emerge. They dominated the second period in its entirety, though it was only in the final 10 minutes that they properly pulled away on the scoreboard.
Superb saves from Flynn to deny Conor Murray and James Laverty kept Shane Ward’s side in contention, but they went 34 minutes without a score but three Mulligan frees helped cut the arrears to four (1-10 to 0-9) four minutes from the end.
Antrim, and McCann in particular, found another gear. He added to his six pointed frees with two fine efforts from play in the dying moments.
But the best was saved until last as Brian Neeson somehow managed to lob the Leitrim ‘keeper from eight yards via the underside of the bar.
It isn’t the first time we’ve seen that stunning finish this year. That little bit of style added to their growing substance sees Antrim in pole position to finally emerge from Division Four.
Antrim: C Kerr; K O’Boyle, C Burke, S McVeigh; J Laverty, R Johnston, P McAleer; J Carron, N McKeever (0-1); C Murray (0-1), M Fitzpatrick, M Johnston; K Niblock (0-1), S Burke (0-1), T McCann (1-8, 0-6 frees).
Subs: N Delargy for McAleer (22), R Murray (0-1) for S Burke (42), P McBride for
M Johnston (42), M Sweeney for Niblock (50), B Neeson (1-1, 0-1 free) for Fitzpatrick (69).
Leitrim: B Flynn; R Gallagher, N Woods, M McWeeney; P Maguire, G Reynolds, S McWeeney; D Wrynn, S Moran; J Rooney, J McGrail, K Conlan (0-2 45s); C Gilheaney, E Mulligan (0-7 frees), R Kennedy (0-1 free).
Subs: A Crool for Moran (53).
Black cards: Woods replaced by M Murphy (48), S McWeeney replaced by B Prior (59).
Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh)