Antrim spurn goal chances and lose out at home to Offaly

Offaly goalkeeper Ian Duffy prevents Antrim substitute Odhran Eastwood scoring a late goal at Corrigan Park. Pic: Mark Marlow
Offaly goalkeeper Ian Duffy prevents Antrim substitute Odhran Eastwood scoring a late goal at Corrigan Park. Pic: Mark Marlow Offaly goalkeeper Ian Duffy prevents Antrim substitute Odhran Eastwood scoring a late goal at Corrigan Park. Pic: Mark Marlow

Allianz Football League Division Three: Antrim 0-12 Offaly 2-12

GOAL chances not taken, 'points' and 'a clear penalty' not given - what looked for much of this match to be a routine win for Offaly offered up a number of talking points afterwards.

New Antrim boss Andy McEntee had a few complaints – including those scores not awarded – but he also had few complaints, accepting that the Saffrons simply didn't find the net when they should have, nor did they finish enough of the other opportunities they created.

"They had two half-chances and they got two goals. I think we had four good chances - and we got none," sighed the Meath man afterwards.

If that makes it sound like a close contest, it wasn't, at least not for much of the match.

Offaly, with the wind in the first half and under the direction of the vastly experienced Liam Kearns, looked very much in command, and led by nine points on two occasions either side of half-time, boosted by their first goal, snaffled in the 25th minute by Ruairi McNamee.

Yet, as Antrim had done in the first half, they then went 20 minutes without scoring. Unfortunately for the Saffrons, as soon as that observation about Offaly was voiced, the Faithful County made sure of the win, ending their drought thanks to their second goal, coolly and cleverly finished by substitute Bernard Allen.

Antrim had chipped away at their deficit, bringing it down to four points, 1-11 to 0-10 in the 62nd minute.

The hosts also had the clearer goal opportunities, both early and late in the half, including two gallingly just before their opponents found the net again.

Twice the Saffrons might have left the minimum margin between the teams, but two of their subs could not fire the ball to the net.

Patrick Finnegan of St Brigid's was involved on both occasions – first, he supplied Odhran Eastwood, but the St Enda's man's shot was saved at the near post by goalkeeper Ian Duffy.

Then impressive midfielder Conor Stewart and the second Ruairi McCann – the Aghagallon version, who had joined his namesake from Creggan on the pitch for the second period – combined to present Finnegan with what seemed a certain goal, but his palmed effort was turned off the goal-line by defender Rory Egan.

Patrick McBride did point, to leave just a goal between the teams heading into five minutes of added time, but it was Offaly who got the crucial second major score of the match a minute later, a long ball reaching Allen, who smartly scooped it over the advancing Michael Byrne and into the net.

Manager McEntee found some positives, but also noted that Antrim's shot selection was poor, contributing to a tally of a dozen wides and several efforts that dropped short into the goalkeeper's arms:

"You could see the lads are in good shape: their fitness and their ability to come back was commendable. But they were taking shots for points that weren't 'percentage shots', when there was three points in it. It could have been levelled very easily if we'd got the right fellas taking the shots from the right areas."

League debutants Joseph Finnegan at centre half-back and corner-forward Dominic McEnhill both showed up fairly well. The latter looked lively on limited possession before not returning for the second half, having been receiving treatment all week for a shoulder injury.

One Offaly man probably picked up a similar problem after he ran into the burly Finnegan, something he would have regretted, if he'd known who or where he was as he lay on the ground.

Stewart looks a player of promise at centre-field, having returned from a lengthy injury-enforced absence, and with Kevin Small of Creggan and Aghagallon's Ruairi McCann both coming on for the second half, both building up their match fitness, there's an increased physicality in the Saffron ranks.

Offaly early on perhaps exploited a lack of pre-season action for skippers past and present, Declan Lynch and Peter Healy, in the Antrim full-back line, the visitors opening up a two-point lead, but the hosts responded well and would have been level by the quarter hour mark except a free from goalkeeper Byrne came back off the left upright.

Offaly then took control, the stylish Peter Cunningham repeatedly carrying the ball out from the back. Indeed the Bracknagh clubman kicked a point and then set up the opening goal.

Antrim's kick-outs into the wind were coming under pressure and when midfielder Jack McEvoy caught one there was Cunningham to charge forward, exchange passes with Anton Sullivan, and although he was challenged, the ball dropped to Ruairi McNamee, who swept it high to the net.

Leading by 1-6 to 0-2, Offaly stretched that lead to nine points through the free-taking of Dylan Hyland, before Antrim ended a 22-minute gap without a score, and then quickly got another to leave it 1-8 to 0-4 at half-time.

It was score for score early in the second period, but then Creggan's Ruairi McCann – who had started instead of the Aghagallon one – was sent in to unleash a shot which Duffy seemed to block with his feet.

McCann got another sight of goal only to fire over but, controversially, that was signalled wide.

Offaly had their own bones of contention, Kearns insisting Ruairi McNamee should have been awarded a spot kick – although it didn't look to be foul from the stand.

The two Ruairi McCanns then joined forces for the Aghagallon to score, the first of four in a row from Antrim, although their forays forwards were leaving gaps at the back, only for Offaly to waste openings of their own.

Finally, though, the net rippled again, but it was the Faithful who took both points rather than having to share them with the Saffrons.

Antrim: M Byrne; P Healy (capt.), D Lynch, J McAuley (0-1); D McAleese, J Finnegan, M Jordan; J Dowling, C Stewart (0-1); P McBride (0-1), R Murray (0-3 frees), C Duffin; P Shivers (0-1), R McCann (Creggan) (0-1), D McEnhill (0-2, 0-1 free).

Substitutes: K Small for Dowling (h-t); R McCann (Aghagallon) (0-2) for McEnhill (h-t); P Finnegan for Duffin (49); O Eastwood for R McCann (Creggan) (58); P Mervyn for J Finnegan (65);

Offaly: I Duffy; C Donohoe, D Hogan (capt.), D Dempsey; R Egan, P Cunningham (0-1), L Pearson; J McEvoy, C McNamee; J Maher (0-1), R McNamee (1-1), S O'Toole Greene; N Dunne (0-2 frees), A Sullivan (0-3), D Hyland (0-4, 0-2 frees).

Substitutes: B Allen (1-0) for O'Toole Greene (h-t); C Farrell for Dunne (48); L Egan for Maher (62); J O'Brien for Hyland (72); A Brazil for Donohoe (73).

Referee: Conor Dourneen (Cavan).