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Classy McNaughton lands telling blow

Meath 2-15 Antrim 3-13

James McNaughton
James McNaughton

By Paddy Tierney

James McNaughton was the hero for Antrim as he plundered a winning point deep into stoppage time to deny Meath a share of the spoils in a thrilling encounter in Trim yesterday.

A goal from Jack Regan from a 21-yard free looked to have earned his side a draw in the second minute of injury-time, but McNaughton sealed both points for the Saffrons with a stunning late point.

McNaughton also bagged a goal in the first minute of the game.

Keelan Molloy played a delightful pass into corner-forward Clarke to open up the Meath rearguard and the Ballycastle attacker passed inside to the on-running McNaughton who beat Shane McGann with a fine finish after just 20 seconds.

However, Meath edged ahead by the fifth minute with four unanswered points from Padraig O'Hanrahan, Darragh Kelly, Jack Regan and a stunning long-range effort from Kevin Keena.

Antrim replied in kind with a brilliant point from O'Neill, but Meath were dominant at midfield and the Saffrons struggled to secure possession from their own puck-outs.

Antrim retook the lead on 17 minutes following a mix-up in the Meath defence when Clarke collected the loose sliotar and played it inside to O'Neill who finished well.

Meath replied with points from Regan and Kelly, but they were hit by the concession of another goal.

This time O'Neill fed the ball into Nigel Elliott in front of goal who, with McGann advancing, cleverly flicked the sliotar behind him for Clarke to strike for Antrim's third major.

Meath rallied well and hit four without reply, with O'Hanrahan scoring a well-struck free from '65 to draw the Royals level.

A McNaughton free ensured Antrim had their noses in front at the break at 3-5 to 0-13.

Back-to-back frees from the Loughgiel ace either side of a Michael O'Grady effort helped extend Antrim's advantage.

They moved three ahead with O'Neill scoring following a good turnover from Matthew Donnelly.

Excellent work from Kevin Kenna led to a goal for Damien Healy as Meath drew level.

Another brace of McNaughton frees and a point from Donnelly then pushed Antrim into a three-point lead.

Antrim looked to have done enough to repel the Meath challenge, but in the dying moments of the game, referee Johnny Ryann awarded Meath a 21-yard free for a foul on O'Hanrahan.

Regan took responsibly and blasted the free into the back of the net to tie the game.

With two and a half minutes of injury-time already played, despite only one being indicted, it ought to have been the final act of an engrossing game.

Instead, referee Ryan allowed the next passage of play to develop.

Antrim took advantage and swiftly moved the sliotar to their go-to man McNaughton who proceeded to strike between the posts from 35 yards to salvage both points for his side, much to the frustration and anger of the Royal County.

Belfast Telegraph

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