Bath time and thoughts turn to Cork at Corrigan Park for Eoghan Campbell
2022 Joe McDonagh Final: Antrim 5-22 Kerry 4-24
EOGHAN Campbell planted himself heavily on the chair in the press room afterwards. The Cushendall man was completely spent.
All the victorious Antrim captain could think of after lifting the Joe McDonagh Cup on the steps of Hogan on Saturday evening was getting a hot bath in his hotel room to try and mend his aching calves and tight hamstring.
Despite only one point between Antrim and Kerry at the final whistle of an incredible decider at Croke Park, Campbell had more faith in himself and his team-mates than the entire saffron support that must have bitten their nails down to the marrow.
Antrim allowed an 11-point advantage to be reduced to a point in the dying embers, but it's a vital win which sees the Ulstermen face Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final preliminary round at Corrigan Park next weekend as well as securing a berth in next season’s Leinster SHC round robin series.
“We always managed to keep them at arm’s length,” said the 27-year-old centre back.
“It’s a testament to the team because years ago that would have been us done. They were coming back at us but there was no stage in that game that I thought we were going to lose, which is a massive shift from what we used to be.
“[Before] The heads would be down and it is game over. Now we have people coming off the bench making an impact. Niall [McKenna], Dan [McKernan] and ‘Sammy’ [Eoin O’Neill] came on and got a point. That’s what Antrim needed.”
Although he felt they would always have an answer for Kerry, Campbell admitted they were perhaps going too direct in the second half that played into their opponents’ hands.
“We started lumping it in. Domhnall [Nugent] came on and we obviously see him as a target man and we went away from our game a bit.
“Kerry had Mickey Boyle back in there who catches everything in the air and it probably didn’t suit us. We have the players out the middle and we might have been better playing it through and taking our scores from range.
“Maybe some of us got caught up in the moment a bit but everyone had their eyes on the finishing line and we just wanted to get there.”
Manager Darren Gleeson also acknowledged afterwards that his side got “goal-greedy” in the second half – but also stressed the importance of celebrating Saturday’s victory because two years ago, when they beat Kerry to win their first Joe McDonagh title, they couldn’t let loose because of COVID restrictions.
Asked what he was looking forward to most after such a dramatic finale, Campbell immediately replied: “A bath!”
The winning captain added: “Cork are coming to Corrigan Park next week and we have made it a bit of fortress. But we’re not going out to make up the numbers or thinking it’s a day out for Antrim people – it’s a match we will be targetting and we have every thought of going out and winning it.”
Defeated Kerry manager Stephen Molumphy said the overwhelming feeling was one of pride but over time he probably would lament the small things that went against his side on Saturday evening.
“At the moment I’m proud but maybe later I’ll think how close we were,” he said.
“Their man [Daniel McKernan] trips himself and they get a free for it [which Antrim converted]; small things went against us. But that’s hurling.
“We kept going and with six minutes of extra time they didn’t panic. I’m proud of the way they fought. They kept coming back. I kept thinking a goal is coming. We just wanted one more chance but time was up.”
By virtue of reaching this season’s Joe McDonagh decider, Kerry will now host Wexford in an All-Ireland SHC quarter-final prelim game this weekend.
“We have come a long way together,” Molumphy added. “This is month five and 18 new players which is massive.”