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Antrim humbled as Offaly strike blow in relegation fight

Offaly 5-27 Antrim 4-9

By David Mohan

Antrim slumped to a comprehensive 21 points defeat against Offaly at O'Connor Park in Tullamore yesterday before the sides do it for real in Ballycastle next week to decide who avoids the final relegation/promotion playoff against the 2A winners.

With next week's game in mind, both sides fielded an experimental line-up with both managers giving their panel members a chance to impress, but it was certainly the Faithful's players who gave their management food for thought.

Perhaps the Saffrons' slow start could be attributed to a mix-up over the throw-in time with the visitors believing it was a 3pm start instead of 2pm, which resulted in the game starting 15 minutes late.

Stephen Quirke (2-5) and Sean Cleary (2-3) were standouts for the home side, but Antrim had some decent displays with PJ O'Connell netting a hat-trick of goals in the second period and corner back Michael Bradley showing well as he contributed two fine points from play.

From the throw-in, the hosts signalled their intent with Stephen Quirke splitting the posts within a minute before Ciarán Slevin rattled the net moments later.

Points from Kevin Brady, Shane Dooley (two), Slevin (two) and Colm Coughlin moved Brian Whelehan's men 1-7 to 0-0 ahead by the 11th minute as this game rapidly turned into shooting practice for the Faithful County.

Ciaran Clarke finally put the Saffrons on the board with a free, but Offaly hit back immediately when Sean Cleary batted to the net after Stephen Quire's initial shot was saved by McToal.

A goal from Nigel Elliott straight after when he was played in by PJ O'Connell seemed to hint Antrim could make a semi revival, but Offaly were in no mood to let up and piled on the scores before Sean Cleary caught, turned and buried to the net to make it 3-9 to 1-1 after 20 minutes.

This game had long since ended as a contest but there was no let-up from the Offaly men, who had their fourth goal soon after when Quirke smashed home after latching onto a breaking ball on the edge of the square.

Despite this game meaning nothing in terms of relegation, Offaly continued to push on and their fifth major arrived on the stroke of half-time when Quirke fired home from an angle at the second attempt to help his side into a 5-16 to 1-3 half-time lead.

Dooley pointed for the hosts immediately after the restart but Antrim hit back when PJ O'Connell found the net after gathering on the edge of the square from scrappy ball as the Saffrons seemed to finally come alive.

This was never going to do anything in terms of deciding the outcome of the game with Offaly piling on the points through Dooley, Quirke and Cleary.

PJ O'Connell hit his second and Antrim's third goal on 52 minutes but this game had long since held interest as far as the outcome was concerned.

A couple of scores from corner back Michael Bradley and a Ciaran Clarke free helped bring Antrim's tally to a respectable level midway through the second half, but Offaly tagged on points through Dooley and Slevin in reply.

PJ O'Connell completed his hat-trick after 62 minutes when batting to the net after taking a nice pass from Jackson McGreevy.

Clarke fired over two frees to improve Antrim's total, but Dooley had the final say for Offaly from a free to complete the scoring and fulfil what was really an exercise in futility for both sides ahead of next week's do or die clash at Ballycastle.

OFFALY: C Slevin; D Mooney, C Parlon, J Rigney; B Harding, C Egan, M Egan; D Morkan, K Brady (0-1); C Doughan (0-4), S Dooley (0-8, 3 frees, 2 65s), C Slevin (1-4), C Coughlan (0-2), S Cleary (2-3), S Quirke (2-5). Subs: G Conneely for M Egan (6), S Gardiner for C Parlon (HT), C Mahon for S Quirke (63), B Carroll for C Doughan (70)

ANTRIM: S McToal; T Ó Ciarán, P Burke, M Bradley (0-2); R McCambridge, T McCann, J McGreevy; M Donnelly, C McCann; S Beatty, S McAfee (0-1), C Clarke (0-5 all frees); D McKernan, PJ O'Connell (3-0), N Elliott (1-1). Subs: N McKenna for R McCambridge (23), T Morgan for T Ó Ciarán (HT), D MCGuinness for S Beatty (HT), F Donnelly for D McKernan (48).

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

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