Antrim hold off Offaly fightback to make it two wins from two in Division Three

Antrim’s Niall Burns  and Offaly’s Kevin McDermott during Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division 3 match at Corrigan Park in Belfast.
Antrim’s Niall Burns and Offaly’s Kevin McDermott during Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division Three match at Corrigan Park in Belfast. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN
Allianz Football League Division Three: Antrim 2-5 Offaly 1-7

IT’S perhaps a measure of the progress Antrim’s footballers have made that they managed to hold on for victory over Offaly at Corrigan Park on Sunday.

Twice in 2023 they came up empty from healthy positions, but they seem to have learnt the lessons as when the Faithful surge came after they lost Conor Hand to a red card, they still saw it out.

Last week in Limerick, they saw their lead whittled to one but steadied and kicked on and although they didn’t quite do the same this time despite having late chances to ease the nerves, the points were banked to make it two wins from two to begin their 2024 campaign.

It all played out in dreadful conditions that ensured it was a scrappy game and certainly not one for the forwards, but Antrim just found a way in the end and over the 70-plus minutes probably deserved their win.

“We were definitely hanging on,” manager Andy McEntee admitted after.

“I think we invited them into the game in the first place. We were pretty much in control, gave up sloppy possession and they got a goal when we were seven points up and it brought it down to four (at half-time).

“We get a couple of scores early in the second half and think you’ve started that well. I suppose the sending off didn’t help and they kicked a couple of haymakers, so in that regard, we hung in well but we we still hanging in.

“We’d two breakaways at then end when you could say there were goals on offer and we didn’t take anything from them. Usually when you don’t take chances like that you pay the price, but thankfully we got across the line.”

They adapted better to the stormy conditions early on with Eoin Hynds and Niall Burns judging the wind to perfection to score.

It would get better on 13 minutes as Eunan Walsh again was the insitgator as he broke through the Offaly defence to find Ronan Boyle who swivelled and netted.

A Marc Jordan point followed as the Saffrons looked on their way, but Offaly eventually settled and came into the game with two Cian Farrell points.

Just as it seemed they were gaining the upper hand, Kavan Keenan forced a turnover as Jordan raced clear and passed to Dominic McEnhill who was bundled over for a penalty he would tuck away.

But Offaly got back into it before there half as they put the squeeze on that forced a turnover of their own and the four-on-two situation ended with Anton Sullivan crashing home to cut the hosts’ lead to 2-3 to 1-2 at the half.

Conditions managed to deteriorate with sheeting rain now driving across the field in the second period, but Antrim pushed on with a Michael Byrne free and Niall Burns effort.

They looked comfortable entering the final quarter when Hand was given his marching orders and Offaly took advantage with their own sub, Nigel Dunne cracking a beauty followed in kind by Jordan Hayes seconds later.

Their tails were up and the visiting support sensed it, but were dealt a blow of their own on 64 minutes as Jack Bryant was shown black just two minutes after he had been introduced for a body check on Eunan Walsh.

Still, they narrowed the gap to the minimum entering stoppage time through Dunne and McNamee, but they couldn’t find a leveller as Antrim held on with Offaly now still in search of their first points of the campaign.

ANTRIM: M Byrne (0-1 f); R Boyle (1-0), E Walsh, K Keenan; M Jordan (0-1), J Finnegan, D McAleese; C McLarnon, P McAleer; E Hynds (0-1), N Burns (0-2, 1 f), R McCann (Creggan); P McBride, C McGettigan, D McEnhill

Subs: C Hand for C McGettigan (48), D Lynch for D McAleese (70+3), O Doherty for N Burns (70+3)

OFFALY: I Duffy; A Bracken, D Dempsey, L Pearson; R Egan, J Furlong, J O’Brien; M Tynan, J Hayes (0-1); P Cunningham, R McNamee (0-2), C Egan; C Farrell (0-2, 1 f), A Sullivan (1-0), K O’Neill.

Subs: N Dunne (0-2) for C Farrell (45), K McDermott for R Egan (53), J Bryant for K O’Neill (64)

REFEREE: P Faloon (Down)