Allianz Hurling League Division One, Group B
Antrim 1-19 Dublin 1-20
JUST as it looked as though it was going to be Antrim's day at a sunny Corrigan Park on Sunday, misfortune showed up yet again.
Trailing by one with the game entering stoppage time, Dublin's Seán Gallagher went for a levelling point from distance. The shot was dropping and Antrim goalkeeper Tiernan Smyth rose to take it down. As he dipped to gather and under pressure from Cian O'Sullivan, the ball squirted behind and just about crossed the line - the goal given as Antrim were left devastated.
When one considers the near misses in games over recent years, this one will sting the most and it was absolutely cruel on Smyth and his teammates who had put every ounce of energy they had into this game.
Despite the lengthy injury list and coming off a heavy defeat to Limerick the previous week, Antrim showed no fear as they built into the game and were certainly the better side in the second period, deservedly edging ahead with Conal Cunning bringing his personal tally to 1-10 for the day.
Darren Gleeson's men were right up for this one and seemed to be on course to be rewarded for their efforts, but not so.
They recovered from a slow start with their endeavour epitomised by Ryan McGarry who was simply magnificent, time and again coming out from the back with ball he seemed to have no right to win.
But sport doesn't do sentiment and Antrim will again have to pick themselves up.
"We didn't get what we deserved out of it," a rueful Gleeson offered.
"There was an obvious mistake at the end everyone will focus in on, but there were mistakes in the lead-up around how we tackled and a ball before that should have went dead.
"We'd a goal chance that should have been taken, a couple of frees (missed) in front of the posts, couple of bad decisions and some other things that went wrong, but that's been the trend. It's been our own little errors and you get tested by the top teams.
"We are working so hard and felt we deserved something today but just didn't get it. No excuses, it was our own fault."
70 nóim #ANTvDUB@AontroimGAA 1-18@DubGAAOfficial 1-20— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) February 11, 2024
A leithéid de dráma ag deireadh an chluiche agus Cian O'Sullivan leis an gcúl do Bhaile Átha Cliath 🤯
Dublin snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a last minute goal!
BEO/LIVE AR @TG4TV 📺#AllianzLeagues #GAABeo pic.twitter.com/8tcDEkXsss
Aided by the breeze on a sunny afternoon, Dublin were quicker out of the traps with Colin Currie pointing them into a lead from a free within the opening minute.
The Dubs had an impressive spread of scorers with their first six attacks yielding points from as many scorers, while Antrim had three Conal Cunning frees to show.
Niall McKenna notched the first from play for the Saffrons with Currie replying, but the hosts were now settled and drew level at 0-7.
Dublin replied with three of their own, but on 25 minutes, the impressive Ryan McGarry delivered long to his Dunloy clubmate Cunning who rose to fetch, turn and bury to the net.
He would add a point from play to edge Antrim ahead, but Dublin closed the half well to lead 0-13 to 1-8 with Currie ending the half as he started from a free in a half that saw 10 different names on the scoresheet for the visitors.
Burke added to the lead after the break, but Antrim began to take over with three from Cunning and another from Scott Walsh edging them ahead for the first time, while Cunning had been denied by a stunning save from Seán Brennan.
They kept their foot on the gas and even when the Dubs hit three in a row to level, they pushed on further with Fred McCurry and debutant Joseph McLaughlin on target.
McLaughlin would hit the side-netting from a late goal chance as Dublin got back on terms again, but it looked to be Antrim's day when Cunning put them in the lead late on.
However, then came the decisive moment that Smyth will want to forget and while Aaron Bradley pulled one back for Antrim in added time, it would prove to be the last act as Dublin escaped with the win.
"I could write the book on it," Gleeson said of goalkeeping mistakes, himself a two-time All-Ireland winner as the man between the posts for his native Tipperary.
"That's Tiernan's third inter-county start in goals. He's an outfield player with his club and it's a harsh learning place for him. But by God, we'll all learn with him and get in behind him so he gets more opportunities to collect balls like that.
"He played against the All-Ireland champions last week, conceded one goal and made three great saves. "We're trying to bring a different dynamic with the modern goalkeeper approach and he has really bought into the and put his hand up to do it. You have to be brave to play this game, so you learn from it.
"It's the elephant in the room everyone will be talking about, but you move on. We'll look as a team how the ball got there."
Dublin manager Micheál Donoghue was a relieved man afterwards, admitting his team had gotten out of jail but was also happy with how his players managed to steady and stay in touch when there was a sense that Antrim were set to pull away midway through the second half.
"You have to say Antrim hurled really well and if it was a draw you'd say it was a fair result," he said.
"This is a really hard place to come to. Darren has done a really good job here and you can see his footprint on it, so we knew coming up it was going to be tough.
"In fairness to our lads, they showed a lot of resilience to hang in there and that's all you want of them. It was a very lucky goal but we'll take it."
Lady Luck did indeed shine on Dublin and desert Antrim.
The Saffrons are sick of talking about positives in the aftermath of close games, but there was no doubt that much could be taken from this game with the effort and energy exactly what was required.
There were some missed opportunities and mistakes that need ironed out that may have prevented the late Dublin goal, but the reality is that now, heading into a week's break, they find themselves with no margin for error and will need something bigger again if they are to grab results in their remaining games to force their way into the reckoning to make the new-look 1A next year.
"There's a different focus from people outside as to what we're doing, but the players are working their asses off and even the guys who are injured to get back," Gleeson stressed.
"The energy and work-rate was there. The plays we work on came off and we were close to another few coming off but they didn't.
"Now, you're beat by a point and it's about trying to get something out of the next two weeks. Instead of having the two points to get the boost, we're going to have to get the boys boosted to get something into their energy levels. It's over to the management and players now to drive for the Galway game, Westmeath and Tipperary games.
"We're 70 minutes away from the Championship and it's going to be a quick run-in. It's just utter disappointment today."
ANTRIM: T Smyth; S Rooney, R McCloskey, P Burke (0-1); C Boyd, R McGarry, S Walsh (0-2); E Campbell (0-1), N O'Connor; R McMullan (0-1), A O'Brien, N McKenna (0-1); C Cunning (1-10, 0-6f, 0-1 65), J McLaughlin (0-1), F McCurry (0-1)
Subs: R McAteer for R McMullan (61), P Duffin for S Rooney (64), A Bradley (0-1) for J McLaughlin (68), C McGarry for A O'Brien (70+2)
DUBLIN: S Brennan; R Smith (0-1), P Smyth, J Bellew; D Power, C Donohoe (0-1), D Gray; C Burke (0-2), B Hayes (0-3); F Whitely (0-2), C Currie (0-3f), S Currie (0-1); D Ó Dúlaing (0-1), C O'Sullivan (0-5, 3f), P Crummey (0-1)
Subs: D Purcell for C Currie (44), S Gallagher for D Power (44), L Murphy for D Ó Dúlaing (57), J Malone for P Crummey (66)
REFEREE: C Flynn (Westmeath)