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Saffrons are too hot to handle: Shiels turns on the style as Antrim see off London and make last eight

By John Martin

ANTRIM 1-17 , LONDON 2-07

Antrim's hurlers secured a place in the Leinster SHC quarter-final, courtesy of a seven-point win over London at Ballycastle yesterday, but boss Kevin Ryan knows that major improvement is required if they are to trouble Wexford or Galway in the knockout stages.

Despite never being headed by London throughout, Antrim failed to impress and led by just two points against the 14-man Exiles with less than 15 minutes to go. The Saffrons also hit 17 wides.

"I counted 19 chances that we created in the first half and we took six of them. We know that's not good enough," said Ryan. "Our whole discussion before the game and at half-time was the intensity. I felt, with respect to London, that we hurled at their pace. Had we got a few of those scores in the first quarter hour, it may have opened up.

"When that wasn't happening we settled for winning the game by a few points. If that was the likes of Kilkenny playing London, that game would have been over in 10 minutes."

Antrim bossed possession throughout but failed to make it count on the scoreboard. A goal from chief talisman Paul Shiels just after the restart failed to ignite the Saffrons and majors from Mark Duggan and Kevin Walsh reduced the deficit.

However, the home side replied with six unanswered points to secure victory.

A lacklustre first half finished with the home side one point to the good, 0-6 to 0-5. A measure of the entertainment value was the absence of even a ripple of applause from the sparse crowd who watched the first 35 minutes.

Midway through the first half Antrim led by 0-5 to 0-1, with all but one point coming from the stick of Shiels, the in-form forward notching the first point after two minutes.

Eoin Kelly levelled from a placed ball for London, and the same player cut the gap to three, 0-5 to 0-2, by the 19th minute with his second free. Shiels replied almost immediately but three unanswered scores from the Exiles through Peter Phelan, Darren Moore and Kelly had the minimum between the sides.

Antrim could have put the game out of reach in the dying minutes of the first half when PJ O'Connell was perhaps a bit too generous when setting up team-mate Shiels for a goal strike, but his effort off the ground was tipped wide. In injury-time, O'Connell took responsibility but James Barrett was equal to the task.

Within two minutes of the restart, Antrim finally bagged their major when Ciaran Clarke set up Shiels to fire home. Kelly responded with a free but three further Antrim points opened up a six-point gap for the home side.

In between, London were reduced to 14 men when Noel McDonald received a straight red for a foul on O'Connell. Then came the first of London's goals. Antrim keeper Chris O'Connell looked to have Duggan's shot covered but the sliotar found the back of the net for 1-9 to 1-6.

Antrim responded through Shiels and Johnston, but the lead was further reduced when O'Connell failed to stop Walsh's 56th minute effort.

Substitutes Stephen McAfee, Conor Johnson and Barry McFall made a big impact, with McAfee and Johnson hitting scores.

Eoin Campbell also arrowed over a long-range effort. Three more from the accurate hurl of Shiels made the victory safe.

Kelly converted a free for London to complete the scoring. Antrim sit top of the round-robin group table with three wins from three games against Westmeath, Carlow and London. Their final game against Laois in two weeks' time is likely to decide who finishes top. The side that finishes first faces Wexford in the quarter-final, while the second faces Galway.

"We had three hard weeks, we knew they were going to be three hard battles. Everything was about getting three wins and we've done that so we're going to look at our performance in three weeks' time," Ryan said.

"We are training for a quarter-final. It's not that we aren't interested in beating Laois, and it's not a case of choosing one team. It's about being ready for three weeks' time."

London have two games left. They face Laois next week, before facing Westmeath at Mullingar.

"It's all about survival for us now. We want to avoid the relegation match so the Westmeath match will be a vital game for us now. We're going to into the lion's den to face them," said London chairman Harrell.

Antrim: C O'Connell; O McFadden, C McKinley, A Graffin, S McCrory, N McAuley, N McManus (0-1); E Campbell (0-1), Ciaran Johnston; C Carson, D Hamill, C McCann; C Clarke (0-3, 1f), P Shiels (1-10, 4f, 0-1 '65'), PJ O'Connell

Subs: B McFall for S McCrory, Conor Johnston (0-1) for D Hamill, S McAfee (0-1) for C McCann, T McCann for C Carson, M Bradley for E Campbell

London: J Barrett; C McAlinden, R Foy, N McDonald; E Cooney, PJ Rowe, S Fawley; D Moore (0-1), H Vaughan; P Phelan (0-1), E Kelly 0-5, 3f, 0-2, '65'), M Lynch; K Walsh (1-0), M Duggan (1-0), L Hands

Subs: K Killilea for L Hands, P Cocoman for P Phelan, D Egan for M Lynch

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).

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