Hurling & Camogie

Antrim hit a new low in home defeat to Carlow

Carlow's Denis Murphy is tackled by Antrim's Conor McKinley in Sunday's NHL game at Ballycastle <br />Picture by Seamus Loughran&nbsp;
Carlow's Denis Murphy is tackled by Antrim's Conor McKinley in Sunday's NHL game at Ballycastle
Picture by Seamus Loughran 

National Hurling League Division 2A: Antrim 1-11 Carlow 1-17

JUST when you thought Antrim hurling was already at rock bottom, it found a new low.

Heavily favoured to reach a promotion play-off this season, Antrim are out of the running with still a round of games to play in Division 2A after losing at home to Carlow on Sunday. It’s unfathomable to reflect on the fact that Westmeath, Carlow and London - now in a three-way chase for promotion - have eclipsed Antrim hurling.

Sunday’s six-point defeat was the kind of performance that almost rendered their manager speechless: “I can’t explain it,” said PJ O’Mullan.

“I can’t put it into words. Carlow were better, stronger and won their own ball. Our discipline was poor and the game-plan that we’d set out wasn’t adhered to. I’ll make no bones about it, our season has been a failure. I’m there to lead it; I’ll put my hands up. Nobody feels this pain more than I do.

“It’s hard enough to stand here and talk to you. Maybe some of the players need to feel the pain as much as we’re doing. It’s hurting. We showed a bit of what we can do for 10 minutes in the second half but the better team won, hands down. It’s maybe a reality check for people who think Antrim should be in a better place.”

Antrim ended a miserable day with 13 men. Barry McFall was sent-off for a second yellow card offence after just 19 minutes while Neal McAuley saw red in the dying embers.

“You can’t legislate for a man getting sent off after 19 minutes in an important game like that,” O’Mullan said.

“I thought his first booking was harsh – he slipped into the man. But it’s best not to say anything about the referee.”

While McFall’s early dismissal damaged Antrim’s prospects, Carlow looked the far superior side from the first whistle. Before Antrim were reduced to 14 men, the visitors had already eased into 1-5 to 0-3 lead. They looked sharper, physically stronger and hungrier for first and second balls. They also had fine shooters all over the field, with centre-back David English and midfielders James Doyle and Jack Kavanagh hitting monster scores from distance.

Denis Murphy gave an exhibition of free-taking in the first half for Carlow while Martin Kavanagh blasted to Antrim’s net in the 10th minute after latching onto Kevin McDonald’s clever knock down. From an Antrim perspective, it was a very avoidable major.

At the other end of the field, the Carlow backs had little trouble keeping tabs on the Antrim attack. Liam Watson was subdued throughout while Eddie McCloskey and midfielder Kevin McKernan were the only two Antrim players to score from play in a desperately poor first-half showing from the home side. Ciaran Clarke and Conor Johnston tried hard, but with little reward.

Carlow had built up a wind-assisted 1-12 to 0-6 half-time lead but seemed intent on sitting back on their advantage in the second period. Second-half substitutes Michael Dudley, James Connolly and Saul McCaughan undoubtedly improved Antrim.

Dudley got on the scoresheet, McCaughan’s urgency and pace caused Carlow problems while Connolly showed great tenacity to find the net in the 53rd minute after catching Eddie McCloskey’s long diagonal ball out of the sky. The O’Donovan Rossa man’s goal left Antrim trailing 1-14 to 1-8 and back-to-back scores from Dudley and Conor Johnston made it a four-point game with six minutes left on the clock.

Despite playing poorly, Antrim were somehow still in the game. But their momentum was broken by a close-range score from Carlow substitute John Michael Nolan in the 66th minute and, seconds later, Neal McAuley was harshly sent off after an altercation with Martin Kavanagh.

For Carlow boss Pat English, the key to Sunday’s victory was down to one thing - work-rate: “We chased everything,” he said.

“We should have been a few more points up at half-time but we were focused right from the start. You can never be over-confident coming up to play Antrim. But we played well and we’re going home happy.”

O’Mullan plans to make “five or six changes” ahead of the Christy Ring and obviously rued the absences of the Cushendall contingent and long-term injury victim Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels.

Asked about the high-profile absentees, the Loughgiel man said: “We’re short of some players, and they’re key players who are leaders.

“It’s very hard to ask a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old to lead a team. No other county would cope with the calibre of players we’re missing - ‘Shorty’ [Paul Shiels], [Neil] McManus, [Ryan] McCambridge, Eoghan Campbell, Paddy Burke, Arron Graffin - especially the teams in Division 2A.

“If Carlow or Westmeath were missing those players… but, look, that’s irrelevant. We have 15 men out there. Are they good enough? They are. Did they show it today? They didn’t. We’ve a lot of work to do if we want to go forward.”


Antrim: C O’Connell; S McCrory, T McCloskey, O McFadden; N McAuley, C McKinley, B McFall; K McKernan (0-1), J McGreevy; N McKenna (0-1), Conor Johnston (0-3, 0-1 free), S McAfee; C Clarke (0-2 frees), E McCloskey (0-1), L Watson (0-2, 0-1 ’65, 0-1 free) Subs: M Dudley (0-1) for J McGreevy (40), S McCaughan for K McKernan (45), J Connolly (1-0) for L Watson (45), D McCloskey for N McKenna (66); Yellow cards: B McFall (7), L Watson (30), S McAfee (50); Red cards: B McFall (19, second yellow), N McAuley (68)

Carlow: J Barron; G Coady, M Killen, A Corcoran; D Byrne, D English (0-1), J O’Hara; J Doyle (0-2), J Kavanagh (0-1); K McDonald, M Kavanagh (1-1), S Murphy 

(0-2); D Murphy (0-8, 0-7 frees), S Murphy, S Whelan (0-1) Subs: JM Nolan (0-1) for S Whelan (47), R Kelly for S Murphy (63); Yellow cards: D Byrne (11), S Murphy (29), G Coady (35), M Killen (64), M Kavanagh (68), JM Nolan (70), S Murphy (70)

Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny)