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It's sweet sixteen for Antrim as they show Orchard boys no mercy

Antrim 5-22 Armagh 1-12

By Declan Bogue

A flippant remark in the wake of the semi-final win over Down by Armagh's Cahal Carvill provided Antrim with all the motivation they needed to wipe out the Orchard County in yesterday's Ulster senior hurling final.

Twenty two points was the margin between them on the scoreboard by the time referee James Clarke blew the final whistle.

It in no way flattered the Saffrons, who picked up their sweet sixteenth Liam Harvey Cup triumph.

"We played against them earlier on in the year and I came up against my old foe Ciarán Johnston and I think I got the better of him that day and, you know, I look forward to going into battle with him again," uttered Carvill over a week previously.

"You want to test yourself against the best and Antrim are the kingpins at the minute, but we feel we've enough to take them off their perch."

That last comment - reminiscent of Sir Alex Ferguson's target when he took on the Manchester United job and watched Liverpool hoovering up everything - was used among the Antrim contingent to summon up enough drive to put themselves 20 points in front by half-time, and they coasted through the second half after the huge wind they had benefitted from in the opening period died down in an Owenbeg venue that was almost empty of spectators.

Ciaran Johnston - who Carvill had mentioned - fed a ton of ball to his brother Conor, who was simply irresistible in scoring 3-5.

Johnston was in bullish mood afterward, stating: "It was hard but once we saw what Cathal Carvill said in the paper, that really did spur us on. We were going out all guns blazing to win that. It wasn't important until he brought that into the paper.

"It was more about giving them a lesson, what they deserved, because they didn't show much respect. A good hurler wouldn't have said that about anyone."

Three first half goals with a gale blowing into the Feeny end had the double effect of creating a huge margin on the scoreboard for Armagh to surmount, but also, in the process, broke their spirit as soon as possible.

The first goal came in the 11th -minute when Paul Shields found himself in plenty of space unmarked and ploughed through the middle before lashing to the roof of Simon Doherty's net.

One minute later, and Ciaran Clarke latched onto a long clearance from Stephen Rooney. He had Ciaran Clifford for pace and unselfishly played the ball across the face of the goal for Neil McManus to bat home from close range. With the wind shaping play, Armagh could not get any distance on their puckouts, but were less inclined to try and play something short with their striking just not on the same level as their opponents.

They nabbed a goal back on 26 minutes when David Carvill's free came back off the upright and Fiachra Bradley was the most alert man in Owenbeg to tap home.

However, Antrim's third goal arrived five minutes later and was all too easy when the outstanding Johnston picked up a loose ball, rounded substitute Odhran Curry and kept his shot low under the dive of Doherty.

Antrim failed to hit the target in the third quarter, but when their first two scores arrived, they were goals.

Ciaran Clarke was the first to set up Johnston with a neat cross that allowed him to tap home, and then it was the turn of McManus to return the favour from the first half when he gifted Johnston his hat-trick of goals.

Armagh had hit seven scores punctuated by one Antrim goal, but with Carvill - such a dominant figure against Down in the semi-final - marginalised and their other forwards held quiet, the gulf in class was apparent.

In stickwork and fitness, Antrim showed they are a better side than that which took their time in forcing a seven point league victory over the same opposition in the league several weeks back.

Both teams now look to next weekend as more important engagements.

Antrim are travelling to Carlow on Friday night for an overnight stay before they face the Barrowsiders in their Christy Ring opener, while Armagh have Donegal away in the Nicky Rackard first round.

This Ulster final, like so many of recent vintage, will not live long in the memory bank as a classic of it's genre.

Antrim: O'Connell; McCrory, Dillon, Rooney; Burke, McKinley 0-1, Burke, Ciaran Johnston; McGill 0-1, Shiels 1-0; Connolly 0-3, 2f, McCann, Campbell 0-3; Conor Johnston 3-4, McManus 1-6, 1f, Clarke 0-3. Subs: Murphy for McCann (42), Diamond for Rooney (56), McNaughton for Connolly (57), Carson 0-1 for Murphy (61)

Armagh: Doherty; Clifford, Curry, Bridges; Corvan, McGuinness, Nevin; Carvill 0-1, C Devlin; Carvill 0-7, 6f, Bradley 1-0, Corvan 0-3; D Magee 0-1, Gorman, McKenna. Subs: O Curry for Bridges, Gaffney for Devlin (both 24m), McKearney for Bradley (h-time)

Referee: James Clarke (Cavan)

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