Conor Carson and Nigel Elliott break Roscommon's resistance
Christy Ring Cup round 2A: Antrim 2-14 Roscommon 1-12
FOR 50 minutes or more, there were a few sweaty palms in Dunloy. The hurlers of Roscommon, unbeaten all year, looked like pulling off one of the shocks of the hurling season - until Conor Carson and substitute Nigel Elliott grabbed crucial majors to seal Antrim’s Christy Ring semi-final place.
Carson rippled Roscommon’s net in the 50th minute to level the tie at 1-11 each and the home side hit for home in impressive fashion, with Elliott following up with another three-pointer in the 63rd minute after great set-up play from the excellent Ciaran Clarke.
But up until Carson’s precise finish, Roscommon were arguably the more impressive team. They raced into a 0-3 to no score lead after nine minutes and they led 0-8 to 0-7 at the interval.
And just when the home crowd expected the second-half to be one-way traffic, Roscommon forged ahead by four points after Jamie Lawlor found the net in the 38th minute with the best move of the day.
The gutsy visitors still held a four-point advantage in the 48th minute after Jerry Fallon slung over a ’65 and only for a couple of poor wides by centre-back Michael Kelly, the Connacht men could easily have been still in with a shout in the closing stages.
“We were a bit lethargic in the first-half and we weren’t getting into the game at all,” said Antrim assistant Neal Peden.
“We weren’t getting the ball where we wanted it to go. In the second-half, when we got on top and we got the goal, we seemed to lift it a wee bit. But I thought we were a bit scrappy in defence and a bit loose, so we need to work very hard with our defence and we have to look at our delivery to our forward line."
Peden added: “I thought we did a lot of running on the ball when we maybe should have been putting it in a lot earlier than we did and we got penalised for that, they got turnovers there and got a couple of scores.
“They hit a few wides and, if they had scored those, we could have been in trouble, but we got the goals at the right time.”
Full-back Tony McCloskey and Neal McAuley were the pick of Antrim’s back-six, while Loughgiel’s Eddie McCloskey was the team’s driving force from midfield. As the game wore on, Antrim’s half-forward line got to grips with the Rossies defence, while Ciaran Clarke and James Connolly - excellent performers against Kildare a week ago - were again impressive, hitting a combined 0-11.
Saturday’s five-point victory didn’t come without cost to the Antrim panel though. Midfielder Ciaran Johnston was stretchered off in the first-half due to a nasty gash to his ankle, while Sean McAfee, Tony McCloskey and Paddy Burke limped out of proceedings.
The Saffrons have three weeks to prepare for their semi-final tie and, judging by their casualty list, they will need every day of that break: “We’ve got the skill and hurling ability - it’s about attitude,” said Peden.
“If our attitude is right, we think we can do well in the Christy Ring. I thought Roscommon came out hungry in the first-half, whereas we lacked that bit of hunger. There is no doubting the skill in our team. You can see it at times. We’ve got to be more consistent over a 70-minute period and, if we get that, we’ll do well.”
Roscommon raced out of the blocks on Saturday, with Jerry Fallon hitting three points in-a-row before Niall McKenna got the home side off the mark on 10 minutes. Corner-forward Cillian Egan was proving a slippery customer for Ryan McCambridge in the opening 35 minutes, hitting four points off the Cushendall marker.
At the other end of the field, Clarke was causing the Rossies back-line similar problems. The Ballycastle man, who hit a fantastic 2-10 against Kildare last week, was too quick and smart for the three different markers who were assigned to him throughout Saturday’s round two clash.
While it took Antrim a frustratingly long time to get to grips with the tie, Roscommon deserve immense credit. Indeed, their 38th minute goal was superb and exemplified their stylish attacking play.
Centre-forward Thomas Fetherston plucked a high ball out of the air and off-loaded to Adrian Murphy. He flicked the ball onto Lawlor, who showed stunning pace to fire past Antrim ‘keeper Chrissy O’Connell.
But it was in the final 20 minutes that Antrim found their rhythm and Roscommon tired: “We knew we were always going to be up against it coming up to Dunloy,” said Roscommon boss Justin Campbell.
“It’s tough to come up and play a game after four hours of a journey, but I’m very, very proud of our lads. To come from Nicky Rackard and to put it up to Antrim, who are a top team, I’m delighted we got so close to them.”
Roscommon gained promotion out of Division 3A by beating Donegal in a play-off last month, before taking Derry’s scalp in their Christy Ring opener: “We’ve won 13 games won in-a-row between league and Championship. We’ve been going well and we’ll learn a lot from today," Campbell added.
“We were always afraid of being opened up at the back because we know Antrim have class forwards and that’s the way it was.”
Antrim advance to the Christy Ring semi-finals with plenty to work on, while Roscommon enter the quarter-finals and are capable of making another charge at reaching the latter stages of the competition.
The Antrim management team dedicated Saturday’s win over Roscommon to St Gall’s clubman Gerry Barry, who passed away on Saturday.
Antrim: C O’Connell; P Burke, T McCloskey, R McCambridge; O McFadden, N McAuley, E Campbell; C Johnston, E McCloskey (0-1); N McKenna (0-1), C Carson (1-0), J Dillon (0-1); J Connolly (0-4), Sean McAfee, C Clarke (0-7, 0-4 frees); Subs: M Dudley for S McAfee (25 inj), N Elliott (1-0) for C Johnston (29 inj), F Donnelly for T McCloskey (64 inj), B Graham for P Burke (65 inj), C Duffin for N McKenna (67); Yellow cards: N McKenna (14), C Carson (45)
Roscommon: N Fallon; I Delaney, Peter Kellehan, L Kilcline; A Moore, M Kelly (0-1), J Kilkenny; E Flanagan, C Dolan (0-3); T Seale, T Fetherson, J Fallon (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-1 ‘65); C Egan (0-4), R O’Meara, A Murphy; Subs: J Lawlor (1-0) for T Seale (26), S Curley for A Moore (44), N Connaughton for J Fallon (56), G Keenan for A Murphy (60), T Doyle for R O’Meara (67); Yellow cards: J Fallon (36), A Moore (43), P Kellehan (66), N Connaughton (70)
Referee: J Keane (Galway)