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McQuillan seals victory for Saffrons against battling Derry

By Paddy Tierney

Antrim retained the Danny McNaughton cup with a hard-fought eight-point win over Derry in Owenbeg.

Antrim edged a low-scoring first half thanks to two scrappy goals, but the Saffrons also squandered an eye-watering 12 chances. Derry hit two goals of their own midway through the second half to ensure a lively finish before Ed McQuillan’s late strike ensured victory for Colly Murphy’s side.  

The defending champions took just one of the five chances they eked out in the opening five minutes with Sean Elliott equalising after a Richie Mullan free got Derry off the mark. 

McQuillan tested Sean Kelly’s reflexes in the Derry goal early on as the hosts came under siege.

But Antrim struggled to convert their early superiority on into points.

The breakthrough finally came after 15 minutes when Kelly slipped an underplayed shot from McHugh and corner-forward Tiarnan Murphy reacted quickest to flicked the sliotar into the net. 

A brace of Elliott frees eased Antrim further clear while scores from Tiarnan McHugh, Peadar McLaughlin and Tim Rankin helped keep Derry in touch. 

On the stroke of half-time, Antrim bagged their second goal when Murphy hounded a lost cause along the sideline before playing the sliotar out to McQuillan, who fired low into the net. 

Leading 2-4 to 0-4 at half-time, Antrim pushed on early in the second half with fine scores from McQuillan and a hat-trick of points from Murphy helping them open up an 11-point lead midway through the half. 

With nothing to lose, Derry threw caution to the wind by moving their star player Mullan into the forward line and they soon began testing Antrim’s resolve. 

Full-forward Tiarnan McHugh won his side a penalty after being fouled by Scott Walsh. Mullan fired past Paul McMullan to breath life into Derry’s challenge. 

Reece McSorey forced a great save from McMullan moments later as Derry upped the ante.

A second goal arrived on 52 minutes when the roaming Ruairi Rafferty unleashed an unstoppable effort. 

As Derry maintained the upper hand, Antrim’s only reply was a brace of points from the impressive Deaghlan Smith.

Another Mullan free cut the gap back to five with three minutes remaining. However, Derry’s eagerness to commit men forward left them exposed at the back and a slick pick up from McQuillan allowed the Cushendall ace to cut through unchallenged and blast home Antrim’s third goal to ensure an eight-point the victory. 

Antrim will progress to the All-Ireland quarter-finals in a fortnight’s time and they will learn of their opponents after this morning’s draw. 

Derry scorers: R Mullan 1-3 (0-3fs, 1-0 pen), R Rafferty 1-0, T McHugh 0-2, T Rankin, D Quinn, P McLaughlin 0-1 each. 

Antrim scorers: T Murphy 1-5 (0-2fs), E McQuillan 2-1, D Smith 0-3, S Elliott 0-2 (0-1f), C Boyd, C McHugh 0-1 each

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