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McManus says Antrim can make a big statement

Antrim 3-23 Offaly 4-18

Neil McManus
Neil McManus

By Brendan McTaggart

Antrim produced their best performance of the year on Saturday afternoon to record their second Joe McDonagh Cup win.

Two points separated the sides at the end of a pulsating 70 minutes of high quality hurling in O'Connor Park and while the scoreboard may have reflected a close game, Antrim were fully deserving of their win.

Long-serving Antrim ace Neil McManus now believes his team have an opportunity to make a big statement about hurling in the province when they meet Westmeath at Dunloy on Saturday for a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final.

"We knew going down to Offaly that we faced a possible backlash after the way they had lost their two games up until then by heavy margins and that's exactly how things turned out," stated McManus. "Now our whole focus must be on Westmeath next Saturday.

"We are at home, there is a place in the final at stake and you could not wish for a bigger challenge."

Antrim skipper Conor McCann missed the Offaly game because of injury and manager Peden will take stock of his selection options as this week unfolds.

"Everyone will want to start against Westmeath. It would be great to get into the final," pointed out McManus.

Having played over 50 minutes with 14 men after the ninth minute dismissal of Martin Burke, the Saffrons produced a high intensity performance to eradicate Offaly's numerical advantage.

Two goals from the lively Keelan Molloy built the foundations for the Saffrons to take a two-point lead into the short whistle.

Offaly struggled to cope with the speed and agility of Molloy and Ciaran Clarke in the opening half while the Antrim half back line were imperious.

The home side had their moments in the opening 35 minutes with Joe Bergin accuracy from frees, Oisín Kelly's first of two goals and midfielder Aidan Treacy catching the eye.

Antrim made a quick start to the second half with Eoghan Campbell and Nicky McKeague stretching their advantage but the game changed in the 53rd minute after the Conor Mahon was sent off for a heavy challenge on Mattie Donnelly.

Offaly responded by retaking the lead with Kelly's second major in the 56th minute but Antrim went through the gears.

With the introduction of James McNaughton and Campbell just before half time, the Saffrons were carrying a bigger attacking threat.

A run of 1-6 unanswered with McManus putting in a monumental shift, Antrim took an unassailable lead.

Nigel Elliott got the third goal in the 66th minute and while it proved to be the Saffrons last score of the game, it proved to be enough.

Offaly threw everything at Antrim with substitute Sean Cleary grabbing the goal to give them a flicker of hope but Antrim saw out the remaining time to clinch an impressive win.

With the win Antrim have staved off any relegation concerns at the start of the competition, despite the bookies having them as favourites for a return to the Christy Ring Cup while Offaly's future is less certain.

Even a win on the last round of fixtures against Kerry in Tralee may not be enough for the Faithful County.

The Saffrons match on Saturday with Westmeath in Pearse Park, Dunloy is effectively a winner takes all match. A win and the Saffrons will book their place in the final on June 30.

Antrim Scorers: Neil McManus 0-10 (7's); Keelan Molloy 2-00; James McNaughton 0-4; Nigel Elliott 1-1; Ciaran Clarke 0-3; Eoghan Campbell 0-3; Nicky McKeague 0-1; Joe Maskey 0-1.

Offaly Scorers: Joe Bergin 1-6 (2 '65's, 4f's); Oisín Kelly 2-2; Aidan Treacy 0-3; Sean Cleary 1-00; Peter Geraghty 0-2; Eoghan Cahill 0-1 (1f); Cillian Kiely 0-1; Paddy Murphy 0-1; Kevin Connolly 0-1; David Nally 0-1.

Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)

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