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Bad day for struggling Saffrons as the gap widens

By Jackie Cahill

What a difference a year makes. Or not, as the case may be. Last September, Antrim lost the Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling final by 22 points against Clare. Less than 12 months later, the gap was 27 at the semi-final stage, despite the positive pre-match vibes emanating from the Antrim camp.

Even Clare admitted that they expected Antrim to ask some questions at Semple Stadium.

The fact that they didn't left joint-manager Gerry O'Connor lamenting the lack of a challenge ahead of the All-Ireland final against Wexford on September 13, when Clare will hope to claim a third successive title.

Antrim boss Kevin Ryan immediately hinted at major change in the county.

If that's really coming, it has to – and fast. Because this was poor, poor stuff from the Saffrons. They had just 1-1 posted by half-time, with Clare hitting 2-16.

Antrim's best spell was early in the second half, when they outscored Clare by 0-4 to 0-2, but 2013 Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly banged home a 39th minute goal and when Aaron Cunningham struck nine minutes from time, he had a hat-trick.

Ryan insisted afterwards: "We know what we have to do. We have plans to change all that and it's not dream stuff in the future.

"It's things that we have happening in the next month or two.

"We're going to take that opportunity over a year or two to seriously close that gap. And that's our ambition." But Ryan conceded: "It's hard. We prepared to try and be in the game.

"We know one of the gaps is physicality, that total lifestyle of fitness that they (Clare) would have.

"There are club championship games next week, knockout, and lads are preparing for that with their clubs. We had them together once or twice a week, very willing and tried to work on a gameplan and our first touch.

"That came through for about five minutes at the start. We were looking ok but we didn't have the energy physically, for what it would take to stay there."

Antrim were 0-0 to 1-7 behind before Sean McAfee scored Antrim's 18th minute goal, with just a further point added in the first half, from Daniel McKernan.

Ryan added: "We have to be patient year on year to do a bit more but it is very disappointing at the end of the day to end up with that margin of defeat.

"Every team struggles with Clare but that's not an excuse. We still felt we could have been within 10 or 12 points of them if things had gone right for us."

Clare's O'Connor reflected: "It's not ideal preparation heading into an All-Ireland final. We were expecting a tougher test, based on what we had been hearing during the course of the last two months."

ANTRIM: B Butler; M Dudley, P Burke, M Bradley (0-1); R McCambridge, J McGreevy, T Ó'Ciaráin; E Campbell, N McKenna; D McCloskey, Stephen McAfee (0-3), D McGuinness; D McKernan (0-1), Seán McAfee (1-0), C Clarke (0-3, 1f). Subs: C Burke (0-1) for McGuinness (30), S McCaughan (0-1) for McCloskey (h.t.), J O'Connell for McKenna (38), M Connolly for McCambridge (44), E McGaughan for Seán McAfee (51).

CLARE: K Hogan, J Colleran, J Browne, S Morey; G O'Connell, A O'Neill, J Shanahan (0-1); C Galvin (0-2), E Enright (0-1); B Duggan (0-5, 3f), T Kelly (1-3), P Duggan; S O'Donnell (0-2), A Cunningham (3-3), D Reidy (0-3). Subs: C O'Connell (0-6, 5f) for Reidy (30+1), N Deasy (0-1) for B Duggan (h.t.), S O'Brien for Morey (46), S Gleeson (0-1) for Galvin (46), A McGuane for Shanahan (51).

Referee: B Redmond (Wexford).

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