McNaughton scoring spree fires Antrim into final
A towering display of impeccable marksmanship by James McNaughton proved the central ingredient as Antrim hurlers powered their way into the Keogh Cup final against Westmeath at the expense of Kildare yesterday.
Neal Peden's team won by a whopping 4-20 to 1-19 at Abbotstown with McNaughton scoring 3-12 and in the process stoking early season interest in his team's fortunes.
McNaughton had shown in Antrim's previous victory over Wicklow that he possessed a deft scoring touch but yesterday he was simply unstoppable as he proved a constant thorn in the side of the Kildare defence.
The Ulster side were quickly into their stride and by half-time McNaughton had already rippled the opposition net twice in sweeping Antrim into a commanding 3-10 to 0-8 interval lead.
If the Saffrons took their foot off the accelerator, then Kildare were unable to make any real headway against their defence although they did manage to rack up a number of points from frees.
But Antrim finished strongly with McNaugthon scoring another goal although Keelan Molloy and Ciaran Clarke were other players to share the scoring spotlight with him but not quite to the same extent.
Antrim's arrival in the final offers the team another match in advance of the Allianz League and management team spokesman Gary O'Kane believes that this will prove beneficial in boosting squad morale.
"We have a tough schedule ahead but now that we have had a couple of back to back wins it has done morale no harm, although we are certainly not in the least complacent in relation to the final," said O'Kane.
"Still, it's nice to be in this position in January with the season looming ahead.
"There are still boys to come in and obviously we have selection options to look at. We know for sure that that there are tough challenges down the line and we have to be ready for them, that's the important thing."
Down, meanwhile, became the first trophy winners in the hurling sphere when they got the better of a defiant University of Ulster side in the Conor McGurk Cup final by 1-19 to 0-19.
Ronan Sheehan's side led by 1-12 to 0-8 at the interval with Paul Sheehan having landed eleven points and Cormac Coulter landing a fine goal.
The university side made up ground after the interval when James O'Connell, Oisin McManus and Conor Cunning helped to bring them closer to their opponents and it was no surprise when the sides were finally deadlocked at 1-16 to 0-19.
But the Mournemen managed to produce a strong finishing burst that saw them pilfer points through P J Davidson and Conor O'Prey that saw them through to victory.
University of Ulster, though, underlined the progress they have made under manager Simon Doherty and can look back on the competition with considerable satisfaction.