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Antrim leave it late to make sure of Ulster title

Antrim 0-21 Armagh 0-16

Antrim clinched Ulster Under-21 Hurling Championship number 26 at Casement Park last night but not before being pushed all the way by a skillful Armagh side who led until midway through the second half.

Playing in their first Ulster final at the grade since 1979, Armagh got off to the brighter start and deservedly led by 0-5 to 0-2 after 11 minutes with Nathan Curry supplying the pick of the scores.

A sluggish Antrim side took a while to get into gear and gradually got into the game with target man Darren Hamill slotting over two points in quick succession to close the gap to the minimum on 18 minutes, 0-6 to 0-5.

Michael Armstrong levelled matters for the first of three times in the opening half with Kieran McKernan and Hamill then swapping scores. Conor Corvan became the sixth Armagh player on the scoresheet but points from Armstrong and Hamill put Antrim into the lead for the first time, 0-9 to 0-8, just before the break.

Donnelly extended Antrim’s lead after the restart but a brace each from accurate free-taker Kieran McKernan and the excellent Conor Coulter had Armagh back in the lead. Playing with the second half breeze, Antrim began to get on top with senior star PJ O’Connell landing two fine points.

McKiernan stemmed the Antrim flow but a long-range point from Donnelly and two more from Hamill had Antrim two points to the good, 0-16 to 0-14, after 46 minutes. McKiernan cut the gap to the minimum once more but Hamill and Donnelly combined for the next three scores as Antrim closed in on the title.

Martin Maguire pointed Armagh’s first score for 12 minutes, but Antrim added two further points to retain their title.

Antrim: E Gillen; K Molloy, C Donnelly (0-4, 0-4f), L McAuley; C Corvan, S Shannon, J Campbell; PJ O’Connell (0-2), E Laverty; M Devlin, T McCann (0-1), C Rocks; M Armstrong (0-3), D Hamill (0-10, 0-4f), C Quinn. Subs: M Lynch for E Laverty, G Laverty for M Devlin, T McAlister for L McAuley, S Woulahan for C Rocks.

Armagh: P Kelly; R Comiskey, P Gaffney, JJ Hughes; S McNaughton, N Curry (0-1), D Carville; K McKernan (0-7, 0-6f), M Maguire (0-2); P Monaghan, M Lennon (0-2f), D Carville; C Corvan (0-1), C Coulter (0-3), M Moan. Subs: T Duffy for P Monaghan.

Referee: D Magee (Down).

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