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Late show by Antrim gives them perfect start in cup

Carlow 2-22 Antrim 3-22

By Paddy Tierney

Antrim plundered a late 1-3 salvo in the closing minutes of extra-time to deny Carlow a home victory in a breathtaking Christy Ring Cup opener at Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday.

For large periods of the contest, both in normal time and in extra-time, the Barrowsiders looked the most likely victors with Marty Kavanagh's goal on 20 minutes putting them firmly in the driving seat.

Yet, Antrim kept within striking distance and Niall McKenna's goal at the end of the first half ensured that only four points separated the sides when Carlow were the dominant side.

The second half was an end-to-end affair with Denis Murphy putting on an exhibition of free-taking for the home side even if some of the frees awarded by referee Cathal McAllister appeared slightly dubious.

Carlow were also guilty of shooting for goals when the points were there for the taking and Chrissy O'Connell produced a string of outstanding saves to keep Antrim in the game - denying both Denis Murphy and Seamus Murphy midway through the second half.

With just over an hour played, Conor Johnston's solo run and strike forced a fine save from Carlow's James Carroll but Ciaran Clarke was alert to pounce on the rebound to leave the minimum between the sides.

Carlow hit back instantly, however, and Marty Kavanagh's drive into the bottom corner gave the hosts a four-point cushion once again.

Antrim simply refused to accept defeat and three Neil McManus frees and a wonderful point from along the sideline from Paul Shiels forced extra-time.

Ciaran Clarke made his claim for the score of the day when he put Antrim into the lead for the first time in the third minute of extra-time but it wasn't to last as Carlow outscored their rivals 0-4 to 0-1 in the opening 10-minute period.

When Murphy scored his 16th point of the afternoon early in the second period of extra-time to put Carlow four ahead, the game seemed to have finally slipped beyond Antrim's reach.

There was another late twist in the tale though and McManus cut the gap back to three before a foul on Clarke by Diarmuid Bryne gave McManus a shot at goal from 20 yards. The Cushendall ace's strike had too much power for Carroll who managed to get a hurl to the shot.

Carlow sub Jack Murphy replied instantly for the hosts but another McManus free levelled proceedings with one minute of extra-time remaining.

The Barrowsiders went in search of a winner but their long delivery was intercepted by Antrim full-back John Dillon whose clearance found Antrim substitute James McNaughton on the wing.

With two Carlow defenders for company, the Loughgiel rookie took off on a solo run towards goal before angling a delightful strike between the posts to give Antrim a winning start to their cup campaign.

Carlow: J Carroll; A Corcoran, P Doyle, G Bennett; D Byrne, D English, R Coady; E Redmond, P Coady 0-2; JM Nolan, M Kavanagh 2-1, K McDonald; D Murphy 0-16 (0-12fs, 0-2 65s), J Doyle, S Murphy. Subs: C Nolan 0-2 for Doyle (65mins), J Kavanagh for Coady (70mins), R Kelly for Redmond (70 mins), E Byrne for S Murphy (70mins), J Murphy 0-1 for Nolan (70 + 1 mins), C Wall for D Murphy (70 + 16 mins).

Antrim: C O'Connell; S McCrory 0-1, J Dillon, S Rooney; P Burke, P McGill 0-1, Ciaran Johnston; C McKinley, P Shiels 0-2; N McKenna 1-0, C McCann, E Campbell 0-1; Conor Johnston 0-1, N McManus 1-12 (0-9fs, 0-1 65), C Clarke 1-1. Subs: J McNaughton 0-1 for McKenna (53mins), M Connolly for Campbell (66mins), N McAuley for Shiels (70mins), D McKernan for McGill (70 + 7mins), R Diamond for Rooney (70 + 10mins).

Referee: C McAllister (Cork)

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