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Saffrons battle back to snatch draw

ARMAGH 1-20 - ANTRIM 3-14

By John Campbell

A dramatic comeback deep in the bowels of extra-time earned Antrim a draw in a titanic Ulster U-21 championship battle at the Athletic Grounds last night.

Antrim looked sprightly in the opening quarter, benefiting from Ryan Murray's first-minute point.

Paul McGeown brought Armagh on level terms in the eighth minute but the Saffrons struck a telling blow in the 12th minute when Ronan McGrady drilled home a penalty.

The Armagh defence came under sustained pressure but a second McGeown point kept the hosts in contention.

After McGeown had swooped for his third point, it triggered a lucrative spell in the second quarter, which was highlighted by points from Rafferty and Michael McKenna.

With Antrim now restricted to occasional breakaways, Armagh piled forward but had to be content with parity of esteem at the break (1-2 to 0-5).

And they gained a huge boost when the outstanding Rafferty slammed home a penalty that signalled a mini-blitz in which McGeown swept over a brace of points, with McKenna landing another.

At 1-11 to 1-6, Armagh looked to be in a more comfortable position and Antrim's woes appeared to have been confounded when the Orchard County streaked clear at 1-14 to 1-7 with impressive substitutes Eddie English and Jemar Hall snapping up scores.

But Antrim underlined their resilience when the predatory McGrady pounced for a fine goal only for his team to lose Niall Delargy to a black card.

Armagh appeared to have victory within their grasp but Antrim dug deep, and in a stunning climax to normal time McGrady fired home another spectacular goal which saw the sides finish all square at 1-14 to 3-8.

In the first period of extra time, Armagh rifled over five unanswered points with Rafferty, Hall and English again hitting the target but Antrim never gave up and Ryan Murray and Patrick McBride pilfered late points that gave them the most unlikely of draws.

Armagh: N McCoy; M Finnegan, S Kelly, S Freeman; D O'Neill, D O'Hagan, P Crilly; A Findon, E Rafferty (1-2, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free) ; P McGeown (0-6, 0-2 frees), M McKenna (0-2), C Comiskey (0-2 frees); A Nugent, C O'Hanlon (0-2), C McNally.

Subs: C Boyle for Freeman (10 mins), E English (0-4), for McNally (28), J McElroy for Finnegan (40), J Hall (0-2 for A Nugent (45). Yellow card: Kelly (27 mins), D O'Neill (33). Black card: Freeman (11 mins).

Antrim: R Hanna; C O'Rawe, N Delargy, C McCann; M McGarry, C Hamill, E Killough; O Gallagher, D Nugent; R Murray (0-6), K Quinn, D McAleese, P McBride (0-1), R McGrady (3-4, 1-0 pen), L McCurdy.

Subs: D McCann for C McCann (19 mins), F O'Neill for McGarry (35), R McCann (0-2) for McCurdy (40), R Lynch for Nugent (45), M Lappin for Hamill (48), P Nugent (0-1) for Quinn (50). Black card: Delargy (63)

Referee: C O'Hagan (Tyrone)

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