Antrim withstand late Kingdom rally to return to the big time

Gleeson’s side back in the Liam MacCarthy Cup after a six-year wait

Antrim’s Donal Nugent and manager Darren Gleeson celebrate winning the Joe McDonagh Cup final at Croke Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Antrim’s Donal Nugent and manager Darren Gleeson celebrate winning the Joe McDonagh Cup final at Croke Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Antrim 0-22 Kerry 1-17

Darren Gleeson was brought crashing to the ground by the weight of a Donal Nugent embrace a few moments after Antrim were confirmed Joe McDonagh Cup champions.

An advertisement for social distancing it was not but even the most officious of Nphet members would probably have turned a blind eye to substitute Nugent’s horseplay in the circumstances.

Gleeson’s Antrim will return to Liam MacCarthy Cup hurling in 2021 after a six-year wait and their screams of celebration at the final whistle displayed exactly how much that meant to them. They held firm at Croke Park to beat Kerry for the fourth, and by far most significant, time this year.

There were six points in it when Antrim beat Kerry in Division 2A of the League back in March, three when they met in October’s final and seven a month later in the group stage of the McDonagh Cup.

With six points again separating the sides after the hour, it looked like another relatively comfortable win but Kerry turned in a strong finale.

They outscored Antrim by 0-7 to 0-3 in those closing minutes and the steadying influence of free-taker Neil McManus, who struck 0-4, was important for Antrim.

Talisman McManus missed all of Antrim’s group games with a hamstring injury suffered in the league final and didn’t start but came on after 45 minutes and was influential while Ciaran Clarke, also a free-taker, top scored with 0-11.

“I was delighted that we dogged it out, I actually got great satisfaction out of that,” said former goalkeeper Gleeson, an All-Ireland winner with Tipperary in 2016.

“It was a tough win. Kerry came up and set up in the first 20 minutes to stifle us and they did stifle us and got a platform up front with the four forwards so it took us a while to get used to it. We probably didn’t start to flow until the third quarter of the game.”

Two bizarre moments are also worthy of recall; Antrim full-back Matthew Donnelly completely missing a routine catch to gift Mikey Boyle and Kerry their goal and an Antrim ‘ghost goal’ that wasn’t allowed despite Niall McKenna’s shot late in the first-half appearing in certain images to cross the goal line.

ANTRIM: R Elliott; P Duffin, M Donnelly, S Rooney; J Maskey, P Burke, G Walsh; E Campbell, K Molloy; N McKenna (0-2), J McNaughton (0-1), M Bradley (0-1); D McCloskey, C McCann (0-1), C Clarke (0-11, 0-8f). Subs: C Cunning (0-2) for McCloskey h/t, N McManus (0-4, 0-2f, 0-1 65) for Molloy 45, D Nugent for McCann 45, C Johnston for Bradley 64, A O’Brien for McKenna 70.

KERRY: JB O’Halloran; B Murphy, T O’Connor, E Leen; J Diggins, F Mackessy, M Leane; B Barrett, P O’Connor (0-1); M O’Leary (0-2), S Nolan, S Conway (0-9, 0-8f); D Collins (0-2), M Boyle (1-0), M O’Connor. Subs: B O’Mahony for M O’Connor 42, P Boyle (0-1) for P O’Connor 49, C Harty (0-1) for M Boyle 55, B O’Leary (0-1) for Barrett 61.

Ref: L Gordon (Galway).

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