Offaly stung by a late goal

 

All-Ireland champions Offaly were beaten by Antrim in Loughgiel yesterday after being caught out by one of their trademarks - a last-minute goal.

Alaister Elliott scored the winning goal 90 seconds into stoppage time and it put the icing on the cake for Antrim and a personal performance which produced a total of 1-10 as the diminutive Dunloy forward turned in a terrific exhibition of marksmanship.

Elliott missed only once, failing from a free in 12 attempts, and his performance proved the difference between the teams. This was Antrim's first win of the campaign, their first win since July, and a timely first for new manager Seamus Elliott.

Offaly surrendered a four-point lead over a terrific final 10 minutes, having looked set for victory when Brian Whelahan lashed in their second goal in the 48th minute.

Seamus Elliott thought it was a marvellous performance in the light of a first-round thrashing in Limerick two weeks ago. "I thought the performance was brilliant, the efforts shown by the players up 120 per cent from the Limerick match. That is what cost us the last day. An effort was what I ask for on this occasion and the players' response was tremendous," he said. "It was a very good result for us. The goal, when it arrived, could not have been better timed but the effort put in by every player was the thing that pleased me most and it will lift confidence for next weekend's game against Kerry."

All Star Michael Duignan proved a real handful on his return for Offaly, scoring their opening goal after eight minutes.

The Offaly full forward line were a constant threat and the Antrim defence survived several scares with goalkeeper Shane Elliott producing two exceptional saves.

He denied Duignan a second goal and produced a marvellous save to thwart a rasping low drive by John Troy as Antrim went in at the break trailing by a point, 1-6 to 0-8. Alaister Elliott had kept Antrim in the hunt with seven first-half points, five from frees.

Antrim's defence was having a mixed afternoon. While the back three were in difficulties the half backs were outstanding, with Darragh O'Kane, Seamus McMullan and 19-year-old debutant Paudie McMullan turning in excellent performances. This unit excelled in the second half, O'Kane in particular, while Offaly's centrefield of Johnny Dooley and Johnny Pilkington were outplayed by Jim Close, who scored two superb points from play, and Jim Connolly.

The switch of Brian Whelahan to attack sparked a period of pressure and scores which looked like clinching the points for Offaly. Whelahan grabbed a second goal 12 minutes from time and when Duignan added on two points from play Offaly were four points clear entering the final 10 minutes.

But Antrim increased their effort and scores by Elliott and Close kept the match at boiling point until a minute and a half into injury time.

O'Kane sparked the move which clinched victory, Close and Connolly combined at midfield, Connolly's low ball in created confusion, Hubert Rigney and Barry Whelahan lost their footing and Elliott broke clear to send the ball to the back of the net.

Antrim: S Elliott; S Mullan, E McCloskey, E Colgan; S McMullan, D O'Kane, P McMullan; J Close (0-2), J Connolly; J Flynn (0-1), C McGuckian, S Kelly (0-1); A Delargy, S P McKillop, A Elliott (1-10). Subs: L Richmond for Delargy, M Molloy for Flynn.

Offaly: S Byrne; S Whelahan, H Rigney, Barry Whelahan; Brian Whelaehan (1-3), K Martin, N Claffey; Johnny Dooley (0-2), J Pilkington; P Mulhare, J Ryan, N Murphy (0-1); M Duignan (1-2), J Errity, J Troy (0-2). Subs: C Cassidy for Errity, J Oakley for Murphy.

Referee: J A Gribben (Down).