BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX DANNY LAHART
Cody’s men win by 3 in blustery battle
Allianz National Hurling league – Division 1B
UPMC Nowlan Park
For the second year running, Darren Gleeson’s Antrim hurlers battled right to the end against Kilkenny in their own back yard, as Mossy Keoghan’s two-goal salvo proved crucial in helping the cats get over the line in the league opener.
Like last season, the Saffrons also hit 3 majors as they sought to claim a famous scalp. Sean Elliott, Neil McManus and Conor Johnston all raised green flags as the Ulster side went on the offensive at UPMC Nowlan Park.
The Noresiders can also thank St. Lachtains keeper, Darren Brennan for his wonderful save in stoppage time to deny Donal Nugent, which would have seen the spoils shared at Kilkenny HQ.
Antrim started very brightly and had 1-1 on the board thanks to a point from midfielder Keelan Molloy and a major from Sean Elliott, as the home crowd were silenced. A flurry of yellow cards were issued in the first 5 minutes, with Conor Delaney and John Donnelly having their name taken by referee Patrick Murphy. Conahy Shamrocks James Bergin opened the home sides account on 4 minutes and added another a few minutes later, but Kilkenny’s radar was badly off on a blustery day, that saw them hit 6 wides on the bounce and finish the half with ten misses.
Indeed, the home side didn’t score between the 8th and 18th minute. Mossy Keoghan would break that run with a nice point. Antrim tagged on further scores from Ciaran Clarke, Eoghan Campbell and Neil McManus. Cody’s men got a foothold in the game thanks to scores from Paddy Deegan, Tom Phelan, and a free from Bergin, but the Glens men still led by a couple of points as the game entered stoppage time at the end of the first period. However, Kilkenny would take the lead, thanks to Mossy’s quick reactions when Tom Phelan’s effort was blocked, he managed to squeeze the ball home for a goal.
There was still time for Ciaran Clarke to slot over a placed ball for the visitors, which saw both sides head to the changing rooms all square, 1-6 apiece. Darren Gleeson will no doubt have been disappointed not to have a lead of some sort, as his side had a strong wind to their backs in the opening period.
Brian Cody must have reminded his players that wearing the black and amber comes with certain responsibilities. His side emerged from the interval a slightly different animal.
Kilkenny went straight at it from the restart. Cody’s charges would hit 1-5 without reply as they blitzed Antrim in a blistering start to the second half. Points for Thomastown’s John Donnelly, Tullaroan’s Padraig Walsh, who was captaining his side, and O’Loughlin’s Huw Lawlor were punctuated by a wonderfully worked team goal. Billy Ryan and debutant Tom Phelan conspired to set up a second goal chance for Mossy, and the Sash clubman made no mistake. The score line looked a little healthier for the home side, 2-11 to Antrim’s 1-6.
Under Tipp native Gleeson, this Antrim team are a little like that under the legendary Jim Nelson. They never give up. And this was to be the case on a blustery Saturday in February in UPMC Nowlan Park. The Ulster side replied with some lovely scores from Dan McKernan, the impressive Seaan Elliott, before Naomh Eoin sharp shooter Conor Johnston fired an unstoppable shot past Darren Brennan, to leave just 3 points between the sides, 2-11 to 2-8 in favour of the cats.
Half-time substitute, Walter Walsh then pointed for the Noresiders , to make it a two-score game, before Mossy Keoghan rifled over another nice point. Ruairi Og’s Neil McManus then fired over a point. Antrim then had a harsh call made, when the referee showed Naomh Eanna corner-back, Niall O’Connor a red card. Surely that would stifle this Antrim Challenge? Not a chance. It appeared their numerical disadvantage spurred them on, and the travelling support got very excited when with 32 minutes on the clock, Cushendall’s Neil McManus fired home from a tight angle to the left of the goal, to reduce the gap to just 2 points. Minutes later, Darren Brennan showed his worth when he somehow managed to save Donal Nugent’s goal bound effort.
The rather nervous home crowd were calmed a little when a stoppage time point from John Donnelly put the cats 3 in front, just ahead of the long whistle. An opening round win for Kilkenny, but by God Antrim made them work hard for it. Final score, Kilkenny 2-15, Antrim 3-9.
Kilkenny: D Brennan; M Butler, C Delaney, T Walsh; J Maher, H Lawlor (0-1), D Blanchfield; M Carey, P Deegan (0-1); J Donnelly (0-4, 0-3 frees), P Walsh (0-2), T Phelan (0-1); B Ryan, M Keoghan (2-2), J Bergin (0-3, 0-2 frees).
Subs: C Wallace for Delaney (23 mins), C Heary for Maher (half-time), W Walsh (0-1) for Bergin (half-time), C Bolger for Ryan (53 mins).
Antrim: R Elliott; N O’Connor, G Walsh, S Rooney; P Burke, E Campbell (0-1), J Maskey; J McNaughton, K Molloy (0-1); N McKenna, C Clarke (0-3, 0-3 frees), C Cunning; S Elliott (1-2), N McManus (1-1, 0-1 free), C Johnston (1-0).
Subs: D McKernan (0-1) for McNaughton (50 mins), E O’Neill for Clarke (50 mins), S Walsh for Burke (56 mins), R McCambridge for Molloy (66 mins), D Nugent for McKenna (66 mins).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
Another year, another Antrim visit to UPMC Nowlan Park, another tight game, another Kilkenny victory.
While conditions were far from ideal, both sides endeavor could not be questioned. We had everything, sunshine, rain, wind, yes lots of wind!
Darren Gleeson’s side gave a really good account of themselves. Yes, they went home empty-handed, but hopefully this display will give them great encouragement ahead of the remaining Allianz League fixtures. Kilkenny’s savage start to the second half is probably what swung the game in the end, but by God not before it swung several ways over the 70-odd minutes.
Talking of Darrens, Kilkenny’s netminder on the day St Lachtains Darren Brennan had a big hand or two in his side emerging victorious. His late, late save from Antrim’s Donal Nugent was magnificent.
Best for the home side on a horrible blustery afternoon, was Tullaroan’s Mossy Keoghan. He gave a superb display at No.14.
Next up for Mr. Cody is the small matter of a ‘trip to Tipp’ on Valentine’s Day eve, don’t think there will be much love lost there!