Pedan thrilled as his Antrim boys show a resilient edge
Antrim 5-25 Meath 2-18
The first minute of the Joe McDonagh Cup had the distinction of resulting in probably the first time a team has scored with their first play of the game, directly from a '65'.
After Cathal McAllister threw the ball in for the start of Meath's clash with Antrim, visiting midfielder Nigel Elliott picked up the ball in space and let fly with a narrow wide. The problem was, he was facing his own goal and so Meath's Jack Regan slotted the resulting '65' over.
It was the start of a dominant opening quarter for the home side who tagged on goals in the sixth and ninth minute from Gavin McGowan and Alan Douglas as they went seven points clear by the 21st minute.
From then on however, it was all Antrim, inspired by a trio of goals from Nigel Elliott, each as impressive as the other, leading to warm praise from joint-manager Neal Pedan.
After chuckling about Elliott's first-minute brain-freeze, Pedan said: "It could have happened to anybody and he could have wrote himself into the history books there if he had slotted that one over!
"But he came back, had a tremendous game. I think the whole team showed great character with the way we went behind. We knew what we could do, we went man on man and we were so pleased with how we came back."
Key to their revival was scrapping the sweeper system with Eoghan Campbell in a withdrawn role. Once they gained a foothold on their own and the opposition puckouts, they were simply too good all over the pitch for Meath, who gave only token resistance in the second half as the Antrim effort tailed off.
Pedan said the sweeper system is not something the management will abandon entirely, and could well employ it in some of the tighter games in the group, most notably at home to Carlow this coming weekend.
"It's game by game boys," said Pedan.
"It's the breeze as well, at the start of the match it was against us and the man on man worked for us. We will have to look at it game by game, it is a decision we will make."
After going in at the break 1-14 to 2-8 up, Antrim kept up the pace adding 3-4 to the scoreboard in the third quarter to Meath's two points. Johnston threw a shimmy to throw off his marker and pot a lovely shot to the corner of the net on 46 minutes, and in the very next play Elliott laced a bouncing ball past the hapless Shane McGann in the Meath goal.
Remarkably, the next score in the following minute was another Elliott goal, this time skipping in the nearside of the defence and striking across McGann to pick up his hat-trick and cap a remarkable performance.
A Johnston penalty in the last play of the game made it a notable scoreline.
Antrim now have Carlow at home on Saturday in Corrigan Park, which will be a much stiffer test, according to Pedan.
"It's a new challenge. The hurls are down now and we have to get out to training again, get recovery right, and look at what is our plan for Carlow. They're another one we have struggled with. We've taken them in Carlow, they beat us in the big game [Christy Ring Cup Final] but we beat them then in the promotion game. Us and Carlow is always touch and go, it's just on the day.
"Today we showed what we can do when we push the button and go at them. That's what we did today and we showed a lot of character."
MEATH: S McGann; N Weir, S Geraghty, S Morris; J Keena, D Healy, S Brennan; K Keoghan, A Gannon; J Kelly (C), C McCabe 0-1, E O'Donnchadha; A Douglas 1-1, G McGowan 1-2, J Regan 0-12 (3 '65, 8f)
Substitutes: P Conneely 0-1 for McGowan (31m), K Keena for O'Donnchadha (47m), S Quigley 0-1 for Gannon (47m), P Kelly for Weir (52m), C O'Mealoid for McCabe (59m)
ANTRIM: R Elliott; D Kearney, J Dillon, R McCambridge; P Burke, C McKinley (C), J Maskey 0-2; N Elliott 3-2, S McCrory 0-3; C Carson 0-1, Conor Johnston 2-4 (1-0 pen), N McManus 0-8 (7f); D McKinley 0-2, M Armstrong 0-1, E Campbell 0-1
Substitutes: C McCann 0-1 for Carson (HT), J McNaughton for Campbell (56m), S Rooney for Kearney (57m), M Donnelly for McCambridge (66m), E O'Neill for McKinley (69m)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)