Antrim shock Wexford to book an historic first appearance in U-21 final
Leinster champions prove second best to rank outsiders from Ulster
Antrim’s Tiernan Coyle and Shane Dooey celebrate victory at the final whistle in Thurles. Photograph orraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Wexford were 1-80 favourites, Antrim 12-1 with the bookies, and yet the Saffrons won by two points to become the first Ulster team to qualify for the final of this competition.
They’ll face Clare on September 14 but this is a day that Antrim hurling followers will never forget.
Manager Kevin Ryan, reappointed to the senior post last week, only took over the U-21s last month ahead of the Ulster championship.
And yet they beat a Wexford side still feasting on their Leinster final victory over Kilkenny. The Slaneysiders perhaps took their eye off the ball and paid a heavy price.
Eoghan Campbell sat deep in a sweeper role while Stephen McAfee and Ciarán Clarke scored Antrim’s vital goals. They led 2-7 to 0-9 at half-time and led by eight points with 20 minutes left.
Wexford threatened a late revival as Conor McDonald’s goal helped to reduce the deficit to two points. But Antrim held out and Ryan smiled: “If you had taken a video of our training on Thursday night with just 14 lads running up and down the field you would have wondered how the hell are they preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final.
“But the training they were doing was all about playing short-ball and keeping the ball and they did that really well out there. They surprised me to be honest, even though I knew the hurling was there.”
Wexford manager JJ Doyle admitted that this defeat takes some of the shine away from that landmark Leinster final victory over Kilkenny.
He said: “We do (have the Leinster title) but it’s of no great consequence today. It’s a sickener. We were so close to an All-Ireland final and now we might as well be as far away as we’ve ever been.
“You don’t mind if you get beat and you performed but we just never got into second gear today at any stage.”