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Classy Clare sink Antrim

By John Martin

Antrim 0-12 Clare 2-28: In the end the fairytale ending didn't materialise for Antrim's under-21 hurlers, and in fact Saturday's All-Ireland final against Clare at Semple Stadium went painfully to script for the Ulster champions.

A gap of 22 points separated the sides at the final whistle with Clare cruising to a 2-16 to 0-4 lead at halt-time with goals from man of the match Davy O'Halloran and Shane O'Donnell.

With 14 of the starting 15 part of the Clare senior squad that drew with Cork in the Liam MacCarthy Cup final, it was always going to be a mountain to climb for Antrim who were making their first ever appearance in the decider after their historic semi-final win over Leinster champions Wexford.

Despite the scoreline, a number of Antrim players emerged from the game with credit. Ciaran Clarke can be pleased with his contribution at corner forward, while Ger Dixon between the posts pulled off a number of fine stops.

In the first half, in particular, Antrim struggled to get the ball past the superb Clare half back line where Antrim half forwards Stephen McAfee and Niall McKenna scrapped for possession.

"We knew it was going to be tough,"said McKenna.

"They are a fantastic side but we just have to go at it again next year.

"We'll start (training) earlier next year and have another go. We saw it as a challenge to try and put it up to them, try and stick with them, we tried our best and it wasn't good enough.

"There's a lot of boys available again next year and we'll maybe get a go at them again and do better. We have to look at the positives, we got to an All-Ireland final and at times we competed with Clare but they are an exceptional team, they are very fast and we struggled to keep up with them.

"You can see why there are so many involved with the Clare senior set-up, but that is the level we want to get to, that's where we want to be."

With their second consecutive title already in the bag, Clare rested the four starters from the drawn All Ireland senior final. Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly, Podge Collins and David McInerney all made way after the restart which allowed Antrim to come into the game, and the Saffrons strung together three unanswered scores through Clarke (2) and Christopher McGuinness. At that stage however Clare captain Paul Flanagan (pictured) was already preparing his victory speech which came after half back Alan O'Neill struck over their 28th point of the day in injury time.

"Clare are the benchmark. They were the benchmark at minor, then under-21, and now they are the benchmark at all three levels," said Antrim selector Neil McManus.

"The overhaul of their underage structure has paid massive dividends.

"There was a gulf in class that was clear to be seen.

"At the same time, with the talented bunch of (Antrim) players that's about, if they had come through the same structure and the same system, the game would have been much tighter.

"A huge amount of work is required in Antrim at administration level and at player level.

"I know there are a few exceptional hurlers in our team. They showed that at times against Clare but it was only sporadic."

Antrim: G Dixon; C Morgan, M Donnelly, T Coyle; T O Ciarain, P McNaughton, C McGuinness (0-1); J McGreevy (0-1), E Campbell; S Dooey, S McAfee (0-1), N McKenna; D McKernan, C McCann (0-1), C Clarke (0-7, 0-5f, 0-1 sideline).

Subs: D Kearney for T O Ciarain, M Bradley (0-1) for S Dooey, S Beatty for M Donnelly, M Dudley for D McKernan, D McGuinness for C McCann.

Clare: R Taffe; P Flanagan, D McInerney, J Browne; S Morey (0-1), A O'Neill (0-1f), S O'Halloran; C Galvin (0-2), T Kelly (0-3); P Duggan, P Collins, C Malone (0-3); C O'Connell (0-11, 0-9f), S O'Donnell (1-0), D O'Halloran (1-4).

Subs: J Colleran (0-1) for T Kelly, K Lynch for D McInerney, E Boyce (0-1) for C Galvin, N Arthur for P Collins, A Cunningham for S O'Donnell.

Referee: C Lyons (Cork).

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