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Antrim fail to make advantage count

Offaly 2-20 Antrim 1-15

By Tomas McGurk

Antrim crashed out of the All-Ireland Championship on Saturday evening following an eight-point defeat to Offaly in O'Connor Park, Tullamore.

The Saffrons are now without a win in the championship for three seasons and exited the provincial series with a seven-point loss to Down last month.

Lenny Harbinson's side lost the influential Conor Murray to a serious-looking knee injury midway through the first half and were unable to make their numerical advantage count following Nigel Dunne's red card on 44 minutes.

Bernard Allen's goal on 50 minutes settled the game in favour of the Faithful County, while the sides traded injury-time goals with substitutes Jamie Evans (Offaly) and James Smith (Antrim) scoring within a minute of each other for the respective sides.

"I was reasonably happy with how we started the first half," said Harbinson. "The game was pretty much nip and tuck. Losing the likes of Conor (Murray) around the middle of the park was a blow because it took momentum from the engine room.

"As always happens in these games, you would have thought Offaly were the team with the spare man. In fairness, they were the better team on the day."

Antrim were level at the end of the first quarter with Paddy McBride (free), Ryan Murray and Healy all raising white flags while Dunne (two) and Conor McNamee replied for the hosts.

McBride put Antrim two ahead with another two points before Murray's evening came to and end when he had to be stretchered off the field.

That seemed to unnerve Antrim as Offaly took command of the game and Peter Healy was forced to make a remarkable last-ditch clearance to deny midfielder John Moloney a certain goal.

The Faithful hit an unanswered four points to take a 0-11 to 0-8 lead into the break and it was already looking like the writing was on the wall for Antrim.

They played much the second half with an extra man after Dunne was shown a red card by referee Martin McNally following an off-the-ball clash with Mark Sweeney on 44 minutes.

Corner-forward Allen played a neat one-two with defender Brian Darby before rifling a shot into the roof of Andrew Hasson's goal on 50 minutes to move Offaly 1-15 to 0-11 clear.

Colm Duffin hit back-to-back points for Antrim, but the game was already up for the Saffrons with Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall landing two frees for his side.

Substitute Jamie Evans finished off a fine team move to bag Offaly's second goal in injury time before James Smith replied in kind at the other end for Antrim.

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