Antrim hold their nerve to seal promotion with Wicklow win
Wicklow 1-12 - Antrim 2-13
Antrim secured promotion to Division Three with a hard-fought four-point win against Wicklow in Aughrim yesterday.
Wicklow's Gary Allen and Antrim's Tomas McCann exchanged early goals but the Saffrons built a five-point lead by the break. The home side were reduced to 14 men after the restart when full-back Stephen Kelly was shown a second yellow and Antrim looked to have done enough when Brian Neeson finished off a counter-attack.
However, a storming finish from Wicklow left Antrim clinging on and a wonder save from Chris Kerr to deny Darren Hayden preserved a three-point lead. Paddy McBride's injury-time point sealed a nervy win which ends Antrim's three-year stretch in the basement division.
An elated Frank Fitzsimmons hailed the resolve of his players.
"I am delighted," he said. "It is a tough place to come but our boys played very well in tough conditions. We are happy to be going up the road with the win."
Knowing a win would seal promotion, Antrim had a nightmare start when they conceded a goal inside the first two minutes with Allen the first player to beat Kerr in the National League.
Antrim replied when Neeson's high delivery was palmed into the net by Tomas McCann.
Points from Mark Sweeney (two), Michael McCann and Matthew Fitzpatrick helped Antrim establish control with Wicklow reliant on efforts from Rory Finn.
Antrim saw their lead trimmed to four when Finn kicked a stunning point two minutes into the second-half. The hosts lost Kelly and Antrim made the extra man count as Neeson (free) and substitute Conor Murray extended their lead.
Centre-back Dean Healy's wind-assisted scores moved Wicklow to within three on 48 minutes but Antrim substitute Ryan Murray played a neat one-two with Tomas McCann before passing to Neeson, who palmed the ball past Robert Lambert.
A late rally of frees from Paul Cunningham and Finn (two) set up a tense finale. But Kerr's stop from Hayden's maintained Antrim's lead before McBride's insurance point.
Wicklow scorers: D Healy (0-1), R Finn (0-6, 0-6fs), G Allen (1-0), P Cunningham (0-5, 0-4fs).
Antrim scorers: M Fitzpatrick (0-1), T McCann (1-1, 0-1f), M McCann (0-2); P McBride (0-1), M Sweeney (0-2), B Neeson (1-5, 0-5fs). Subs: C Murray (0-1).
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).