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Antrim felled at the death by Offaly

By John Martin

Antrim 1-20 Offaly 2-19: Antrim hearts were broken at Ballycastle after an injury time goal from Offaly's Brian Carroll free denied the Saffron hurlers victory in yesterday's MacCarthy Cup Qualifier.

On a day when Antrim keeper Chrissy O'Connell pulled off a string of superb saves to deny the visitors, it was a long range free that evaded the Saffron netminder two minutes into injury time that secured Offaly's place in the next round.

Carroll's effort sailed through a crowded square to make it 2-18 to 1-20 to Offaly after Antrim had led by five points with nine minutes remaining. Seconds later Sean Cleary fired over the final score of the day for a two-point Offaly win.

In an entertaining game, the sides were level eight times. Antrim probably played the better hurling, but Offaly continued to look dangerous close to the Saffron goal and forced O'Connell into six superb saves over the 70 minutes.

Paul Shiels opened the scoring after two minutes and Jackson McGreevy doubled the lead four minutes later.

Two Joe Bergin points levelled matters and the sides were still on parity on 12 minutes when Conor Mahon forced O'Connell into his first save. Four unanswered scores had Antrim 0-11 to 0-7 to the good approaching the half hour mark and a Shiels free saw Antrim into the half-time break with a 0-13 to 0-10 lead.

Clarke opened the second half scoring to stretch the Antrim lead but David Kenny's goal began a 1-2 Offaly salvo without reply to put Offaly into a one-point lead, 1-12 to 0-14, with 43 minutes played.

PJ O'Connell finally got the goal he deserved when superbly finishing to the roof of the net.

Offaly began to chip away at the lead and trailed by two, 1-20 to 1-18, when McGuinness was blown up for a foul in injury time. The resultant free was moved forward after Antrim protests and Carroll's effort sailed into the Antrim net for a one-point lead and heartbreak for the home support.

Offaly now take their place in the second round of the qualifiers along with Waterford and the winners of Sunday's clashes between Wexford and Clare, and Galway and Tipperary.

Antrim: C O'Connell; O McFadden, C McKinley, A Graffin; S McCrory, N McAuley (0-1), N McManus (0-1f); T McCann (0-1), J McGreevy (0-1); C Carson, P Shiels (0-8, 4f, 0-2 '65'), C McCann (0-1); D Hamill, C Clarke (0-3), PJ O'Connell (1-2). Subs: M Bradley (0-1) for S McCrory, S McAfee (0-1) for D Hamill, D McKernan for J McGreevy, N McKenna for N McAuley

Offaly: J Dempsey; N Wynne, R Hanniffy, C McDonald; K Brady, G Healion, C Parlon (0-1); C Mahon, S Ryan (0-1); S Dooley (0-2), D Kenny (1-0), C Egan (0-2); B Carroll (1-4, 1-2f, 0-2 '65'), D Currams (0-2), J Bergin (0-5, 2f). Subs: D Morkan (0-1) for S Ryan, E Nolan for N Wynne, S Cleary (0-1) for S Dooley, K Connolly for G Healion

Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath)

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