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Saffrons into decider after sensational finale

Offaly 0-20 Antrim 2-14


Drawing sting: Antrim captain Conor McCann is overjoyed after his injury time goal earned the Saffrons a draw

Drawing sting: Antrim captain Conor McCann is overjoyed after his injury time goal earned the Saffrons a draw

Drawing sting: Antrim captain Conor McCann is overjoyed after his injury time goal earned the Saffrons a draw

Antrim claimed an unlikely draw in Tullamore yesterday to book their place in the Division 2A final and deny Offaly at the death.

Two goals at the end of injury time from Neil McManus and Conor McCann broke the hearts of the Faithful County who have been consigned to another year in the third tier of the national league.

The Saffrons didn't reach the heights they had in previous matches and the final score is incredibly harsh on Offaly, but Darren Gleeson's men made an outrageous comeback and maintain their unbeaten league record.

After 10 minutes of play it looked like it was going to be a comfortable afternoon's work for Offaly.

They raced into a seven-point lead and Antrim were left chasing shadows. After a switch of personnel, bringing Domhnall Nugent into the midfield and allowing Ciaran Johnston to play in a sweeper roll, Antrim began to stem the waves of pressure from Offaly, reducing the home side to just two points in the next 20 minutes.

Antrim struggled to get any joy out of an excellent Offaly defence, however. Conor McCann and Conor Johnston were well marshalled by Ciarán Burke and early substitute Ben Conneely but they clawed their way back into the game thanks to Neil McManus and his free-taking ability, reducing the lead to just three points by the 20th minute.

The Cushendall man would go on to finish the game with an incredible tally of 1-13 (10f, 1 '65) while Cahill top scored with 0-11 for the Faithful county (7f).

In an otherwise uneventful first half, Peter Geraghty lit up O'Connor Park with two points from a side line and while Conor Johnston's 20th minute score was their first from play, McManus's 34th minute score was exquisite. A series of short passes coming through the lines in the Antrim defence before McManus rolled his marker and judged the elements to perfection before splitting the posts.

Geraghty and Eoghan Cahill were occupying the Saffrons defence but Ciaran Johnston's positional sense at the heart of it allowed the visitors to go into the changing rooms just four points adrift.

With the wind at their backs Antrim would have been confident of overturning the half- time deficit but Offaly had other ideas.

Antrim abandoned their sweeper system to go man for man while half-time substitute Ross Ravenhill dropped deeper and Stephen Rooney followed.

The midfield became congested and it was a battlefield that Offaly edged for long periods with Antrim relying on McManus and his frees.

The highlight of which was his white flag in the 54th minute from his own 21-yard line!

An incredible score even with the wind at his back but Offaly were able to repel any Antrim fightback and ensure the Saffrons got no momentum while David Nally scored three sumptuous points in the second half that maintained the Offaly advantage.

With time running out, Antrim were looking for goals and Nugent had a 21-yard free saved superbly by James Dempsey before substitute Alex Delargy had a major ruled out for an earlier infringement on Keelan Molloy, much to the annoyance of the travelling Antrim support.

Referee David Hughes called for six minutes of additional time and Antrim left it to the last, last minute to break the Offaly hearts.

Ciaran Johnston stood over a free on his own half back line and the sliotar dropped to the edge of the Offaly square.

Timber flew and McManus claimed the loose ball before hammering home from an acute angle.

That score, in the 77th minute, was thought of as a consolation but, incredibly, it was déjà vu just over 60 seconds later.

A Ciaran Johnston free droppped in the danger zone where Antrim captain Conor McCann took full advantage to send the sliotar to the back of the net and claim an unlikely draw for the Saffrons.

So in a match where they were outplayed for the majority, Antrim showed incredible desire and never-say-die attitude to get something from a game that looked to have gone from their grasp, but promotion is still on the cards and they are 70 minutes away from achieving that goal.

Belfast Telegraph