Antrim conquer resilient Carlow side
Antrim 2-12, Carlow 0-15
Antrim will play their hurling in the bright lights of Division 1B in 2018, after this gritty win over a resilient Carlow side in the Division 2A final.
With only one team going up from this league final, it was win or bust and both sides contributed to a muscular, tough game of hurling that remained entertaining to the very last play.
After Antrim opened the second half with two points, they slackened off somewhat and allowed their opponents to accrue six consecutive points that cut their lead to the quick.
In the end it took three Neil McManus frees - the final one a thing of beauty - to steady things and get them over the line.
It was McManus that forced the issue for the first goal. A loose ball was swept up in the bottom corner by his marker Paul Doyle, but McManus blocked him down and conceded the sideline, of which McManus overturned again, flicked to Cushendall clubmate Eoghan Campbell who coolly slotted it to the postage stamp corner past James Carroll.
Ten minutes later came the second goal. Campbell lofted in a teasing ball into the square, McManus collected and was taken down by Doyle for a penalty. It was stitched to the bottom left corner with Carroll not even budging.
At times it grew tetchy along the management sideline between two opponents that are intimately familiar with each other. One such coming together even featured a blatant dive from Martin Kavanagh as if he was headbutted, but he immediately sprang back to his feet as if he realised it. It still earned him a yellow card for play acting.
Throughout the opening half it became apparent that Antrim looked stronger and had the better hurlers, but some fussy refereeing from Mick Murtagh on a poor hurling surface granted Carlow enough frees to stay in touch, Paul Coady collecting five to leave the Barrowsiders 0-7 to 2-5 behind at the break.
Carlow had their purple patch in the middle of the second half with their bench contributing greatly to the revival.
With referee Murtagh taking 27 minutes of the second half to give his second free to Antrim, they got on the right side of a few calls and took advantage.
The strong finish ended with Simon McCrory walking the steps of Pairc Esler to lift what Antrim fans feel can be the first of three titles this summer.
The two sides will meet again on April 22nd in the Christy Ring Cup opener.
ANTRIM: C O'Connell; S McCrory, J Dillon, S Rooney; N McAuley, M Donnelly, P Burke 0-1; C McKinley, P Shiels; E Campbell 1-0, C McCann, N McKenna 0-1; Conor Johnston 0-1, N McManus 1-4, 4f, D Murphy 0-4f
Subs: O McFadden for McAuley (49), C Clarke for Murphy (58), J McNaughton for Campbell (70)
Yellow cards: McKinley (13), Campbell (21), Rooney (32), Shiels (35)
Red cards: 0
CARLOW: J Carroll; A Corcoran, P Doyle, G Bennett; D Byrne, D English, R Coady; J Kavanagh, S Whelan; JM Nolan 0-1, M Kavanagh 0-3, 1x'65', E Byrne 0-1; C Nolan, P Coady 0-7, 6f, 1x'65', S Murphy 0-1
Subs: J Doyle for Whelan (half-time), K McDonald 0-1 for Nolan (44), R Kelly for English (52), D Murphy for S Murphy (58), J Murphy 0-1 for J Kavanagh (61), S Kavanagh for E Byrne (Blood sub, 75)
Yellow cards: J Kavanagh (24)
Red cards: 0
Referee: Mick Murtagh (Westmeath)