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Super Saffrons make it 15 titles in row

Antrim 6-21 Armagh 4-14

By Declan Bogue

Published 11/07/2016

Closed down: Armagh's Declan Coulter is challenged by Eoghan Campbell
Closed down: Armagh's Declan Coulter is challenged by Eoghan Campbell

There was a time going down the stretch here in Owenbeg when the shock looked on.

A hopeful ball in from Armagh's Kieran McKernan was flicked to the net by full-forward Eoin McGuinness and a brace of frees from Ryan Gaffney had narrowed the gap to three points, underdogs Armagh having all the momentum.

However, Orchard midfielder James King then had a pointless skite at Simon McCrory with his hurl. Already booked, referee Eamonn Hassan produced the inevitable second yellow to leave Armagh a man down on 58 minutes.

Operating with more space, Antrim outscored their opponents 2-5 to 0-3 in the remaining time to secure their 15th consecutive Liam Harvey Cup.

The Saffrons had set out early in the year with a wishlist of promotion back to Division 1B, followed by inevitable Christy Ring Cup triumph. Neither happened, and in the process they parted ways with manager PJ O'Mullan, before the utter farce of the circumstances surrounding the first Ring final.

Nonetheless, they left Owenbeg with the canister in the team bus, kings of Ulster once again, whatever that means.

"We talked about it all week, preparations and so on weren't ideal, but overall we have got to be pleased with what we did," said victorious joint-manager, Dominic 'Woody' McKinley.

Throughout, you had the sense that Antrim were just a little too slick in thought for Armagh and barring some lapses in concentration, were able to win while playing within themselves.

Armagh actually grabbed an early lead with a flowing series of hand-passes put Declan Coulter through and he crashed past Chris O'Connell in the Antrim goals to gain the games' first goal on three minutes.

Antrim soon settled however, and an avalanche of goals arrived towards the end of the first half.

Armagh sloppiness in clearing their lines allowed John Dillon to pounce on a loose ball and send to the net.

Four minutes later a well struck shot from Eoghan Campbell was expertly saved by the impressive Armagh custodian Simon Doherty only for Conor Carson to kick home the ball in a goalmouth scramble.

A mere three minutes later, James Connolly picked out Ciaran Clarke in oceans of space, who tapped to the net.

Armagh appeared to be drowning, but were handed an adrenalin boost deep into injury time when Cahal Carvill sent James King away with a clever hand-pass and the Keady man took aim from distance and put it into the top left corner of Chris O'Connell's net.

That left the half-time score Antrim 3-14, Armagh 2-8.

With the rain coming in over Benbradagh and conditions deteriorating, Armagh made decent running at the start of the second half, Ryan Gaffney stroking over two frees.

The second resulting puckout was fielded by David Carvill, sent on to Eoin McGuinness who turned and burned marker Neal McAuley to crack home a goal and leave a gap of four points.

Just when they needed it the most, Armagh's composure deserted them. Poor communication from a puckout led to Clarke intercepting it and he burrowed towards goal, sending Artie McGuinness and Fiachra Bradley onto the turf with a couple of sidesteps before burying it low into the net.

Armagh then had their brief rally to bring the gap to three again, but in going a man down, their cause was deflated.

Their manager Sylvester McConnell put it into context. "We had five minutes where we got shaky, and we haven't been shaky all year," he said.

"We just lost a bit of concentration and maybe a wee bit of belief. But we got back into it in the second half and the boys showed that they can hurl at this level."

With time and space, Antrim ran a move the full length of the pitch. Eddie McCloskey passed to Eoghan Campbell, it was moved onto Dillon and he transferred to Connolly who took his goal. The entire move came without a single tackle put in.

Connolly helped himself to a second goal with normal time almost up, and there was a neat little moment in injury time when Christy McNaughton, son of joint-manager, the great Terence 'Sambo', came in for his first senior appearance, notching a free at the death.

Antrim hurling have had plenty of odd seasons. This might qualify as the oddest.

ANTRIM: C O'Connell, S McCrory, N McAuley, B Graham; F Donnelly, P Burke, J McKeague 0-1; E Campbell, D McKernan 0-3; E McCloskey 0-1, J Dillon 1-2, J Connolly 2-2; B McCarry 0-3, C Carson 1-1, C Clarke 2-7, 3f. Subs: O McFadden for McCrory (16), S Delargy for Graham (26), S McCrory for Donnelly (47), C McNaughton 0-1 for McKernan (64)

ARMAGH: S Doherty; C Clifford, A McGuinness, C Devlin; J Corvan, N Curry, F Bradley 0-2; K McKernan, J King 1-0; R Gaffney 0-7, 7f, C Carvill 0-2, D Carvill; D Coulter 1-0, E McGuinness 2-2, C Corvan 0-1. Subs: P McKearney for Bradley (60), A Toal for D Carvill (68), O Curry for A McGuinness (68)

Yellow cards: King, 41, 58

Red cards: King, 58

Referee: Eamonn Hassan (Derry)

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