Antrim stay in top division after Wexford draw
Allianz National Hurling League Division 1B: Antrim 1-21 Wexford 2-18
THE Antrim hurlers had to wait roughly 24 hours after their incredible draw with Wexford to learn they will be competing in Division 1B for a second consecutive season.
Kilkenny’s 10-point victory over rock-bottom Laois at Nowlan Park yesterday ensured the O’Moore men now enter a relegation play-off with Westmeath and that next week’s clash between Antrim and Laois at Corrigan Park is a dead rubber.
It’s a hugely impressive feat by Darren Gleeson and his players and given their gutsy win over Clare on the opening day of the season and Saturday’s epic draw with Wexford, securing their Division One status is fully merited.
There may have been only 450 supporters in Corrigan Park on Saturday afternoon but they made infinitely more noise than their paltry numbers in a game that ebbed and flowed from start to finish.
Despite the concession of two first-half goals, Antrim rallied in the second half with both sides reduced to 14 men at the final whistle. Matthew O'Hanlon was red-carded in the 46th minute after an altercation with Neil Manus.
The Cushendall man was issued a yellow card for his involvement in the fracas but picked up another yellow card as the game entered stoppage-time.
In the 11th minute of over-time, Dunloy’s Keelan Molloy grabbed a sensational equalising score that turned out to be enough for Antrim to stay in the top flight next season.
Asked if he felt the Antrim supporters were worth a couple of points to his side, Gleeson said: “I wish they were worth a point more. They were great. Isn’t it great to have that support behind you? Antrim people are passionate, it felt like a couple of thousand.”
Gleeson and his management team shook up their squad for the visit of Wexford with Eoin O’Neill and Conor Johnston earning starts in attack, while playing James McNaughton in midfield proved a brilliant move, with the Loughgiel man grabbing 0-7 (0-3) and claiming man-of-the-match.
On the periphery, Shea Shannon of St John’s made a dramatic impression from the bench by scoring a 65th minute goal and setting up Molloy for the equaliser.
“I wouldn’t entirely say injuries forced our hand,” insisted Gleeson.
“Players forced our hand and what we see all the time. I mean, Eoin O’Neill has been desperately unlucky not to start in games.”
Gleeson and Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald became briefly entangled on the sideline just before half-time which resulted in the latter being sent off.
But the pair embraced after the final whistle.
“Listen, all I’ll say to you is I’ve seen a lot of managers, big profile managers having it out one-to-one,” said Fitzgerald.
“The main managers wouldn’t be answering your question but me and that man [Gleeson] has said, we’ll keep that to ourselves. Are we big enough to shake hands afterwards? Yeah.
“There are two sides to everything. He’s his, I’ve mine. Have I anything against Darren Gleeson? 100 per cent not. Nothing but respect for what he’s done, but will I go at him if I think they’re wrong out there? I will.
“We’ll fight, but it is what it is. I suppose it’s your job to make a meal of it, so I’ll try and not look at any papers,” he said with a smile.
With Antrim having room to breathe now, they have 19 days to prepare for their Leinster Championship showdown with Dublin in Navan on June 26.