Allianz Football League Division Four North
Louth 3-8 Antrim 1-15
ANTRIM claimed a dramatic win over Louth in Haggardstown on Saturday with Ryan Murray hitting the winning point deep into injury-time as new manager Enda McGinley got his tenure off to the perfect start.
The victory came at the expense of his former Tyrone mentor Mickey Harte who took up the reins at Louth following 18 years as Red Hand boss.
Harte must have thought his side had done enough to claim the two points when his skipper Sam Mulroy plundered his side’s third goal of the game with five minutes of normal time remaining.
However, Antrim showed remarkable resolve and determination in the closing minutes and a flurry of late points from Paddy Cunningham, Eunan Walsh and Ryan Murray gave the Saffrons the narrowest of victories.
It was an eventful day for Murray with the Lámh Dhearg attacker being sin-binned before the break before being dismissed in the final moments of the game after hitting what proved to the winning score.
Both managers felt their sides were wasteful in front of the posts and McGinley was relieved to see his side prevail.
“You can’t be thinking great things from a one-point victory when, realistically, five minutes before the end you’d have happily taken a draw and went up the road with a point,” said McGinley.
“To be honest, we probably should have been further ahead, we missed a lot of chances and that’s certainly something we’ll sit down and discuss during the week.
“As I’ve said to the players, everyone is going to be pretty rough around the edges, the football isn’t going to be tidy and there are going to be plenty of mistakes. It is about coping with those mistakes and keeping in the game and trying to show composure at the critical moments. To their credit, they done that.”
McGinley’s Errigal Ciaran clubmate Harte also bemoaned his side’s finishing and felt Louth deserved at least a share of the spoils.
“We created a few more chances after that which should have consolidated that excellent goal by Sam Mulroy,” stated Harte.
“We squandered to many chances after that and we always left the door open for them (Antrim). A two-point game is a dangerous game. With the breeze at their backs, they hung up a couple of great scores at the end. They missed some chances too – a draw probably would have been a fair result, but they made better use of their chances than we did.”
Indeed, Louth had looked the more likely winners for large periods of the game, but were punished for failing to land the knockout blows when they had Antrim on the ropes, particularly in the second half.
The visitors were forced into two late changes with Aghagallon’s Adam Loughran starting at centre-forward in place of the injured Mick McCann while Niall McKeever came in at midfield for Mark Sweeney.
Antrim had eased into the lead at the first water break thanks to a brilliantly-struck goal from wing-back Dermot McAleese while Declan Byrne’s point following a wonderful dummy solo was the pick Louth’s early points.
The hosts were back on level terms on 27 minutes when Byrne was pulled back by Declan Lynch and referee Barry Tiernan awarded the penalty.
Antrim goalkeeper Michael Byrne, making his first senior start, almost kept Sam Mulroy’s penalty out, but the shot had just enough power to sneak in at Byrne’s right-hand post.
Conor Murray pulled one back for the Saffrons, but they were caught at the back when Ciaran Keenan played Sean Marry through on goal and the corner-forward beat Byrne with a fine strike.
Things went from bad to worse for McGinley’s side when Ryan Murray was sin-binned for dissent, but elder brother Conor managed to reduce the deficit to two points on the stroke of half-time.
Marc Jordan missed a good chance to put Antrim back ahead on the restart, but he sliced his shot wide of the target – although a slight touch via a Louth defender allowed Ruairi McCann to fire over a ’45.
A couple of fine frees from Murray nudged Antrim briefly ahead. Louth responded with an excellent point from Mulroy before Odhran Eastwood and Anthony Williams exchanged points.
Antrim lost full-back Declan Lynch to injury at the end of the third quarter while Murray’s fifth point was followed by a brilliant effort from substitute Eoghan McCabe.
However, Louth hit back with a 1-1 salvo which threatened to derail Antrim’s hopes of a victory.
Ciaran Downey reduced the gap to a single point before Mulroy looked to have the freedom of the park when he dashed through the Antrim rearguard before firing past Byrne for the second time.
Louth could have killed the game off when Mulroy found himself one-on-one again moments later, but Byrne redeemed himself with a stunning point-blank save.
Yet, Louth’s John Clutterbuck ought to have fired over a point when he missed from close range.
Antrim weren’t having much luck at their other end and seemed to hit the panic button when they missed three chances in quick succession, but a typically-audacious point from the boot of Paddy Cunningham gave them hope in the final minutes.
The PA system hadn’t even introduced Eunan Walsh as an injury-time replacement when he took up possession on the near sideline and split the post with a superb shot to tie the game at 1-14 to 3-8.
Not content with their lot, Antrim went in search of a winner. Murray probably couldn’t believe the space he found himself in when Paddy McBride played the ball inside to his colleague and Murray made to mistake to slot over the winner from 35 yards out.
Murray picked up a late yellow card and, as he already had been shown a black card previously, it was followed by a red.
Yet, it was a minor blip in an otherwise encouraging afternoon for Antrim who go face Sligo at Corrigan Park next Sunday hoping to secure back-to-back League wins.
LOUTH: M McEnaney; D Corcoran, D Campbell, D McKenny; L Jackson, A Williams (0-1), E Callaghan; B Duffy, C Byrne; A McDonnell, C Keenan (0-2), C Downey (0-1); S Marry (1-0), S Mulroy (2-2, 1-0 pen, 0-1 '45), D Byrne (0-2).
Subs: E Carolan for Corcoran (43), T Durnin for Marry (54mins), L Grey for Jackson (62), R Nally for Declan Byrne (62), J Clutterbuck for McKenny (66), E Duffy for Bevan Duffy (73).
ANTRIM: M Byrne; J McAuley, D Lynch, P Healy, M Jordan, J Laverty, D McAleese (1-0); C Stewart, N McKeever; R Murray (0-6, 0-4fs), A Loughran, R McCann (Creggan) (0-1, 0-1 '45): O Eastwood (0-2, 0-2fs), K Small, C Murray (0-2).
Subs: P McBride for McKeever (50), N Delargy for Lynch (54), E McCabe (0-1) for Jordan (60), P Cunningham (0-1) for Small (62), E Walsh (0-1) for McAleese (72).
REFEREE: Barry Tiernan (Dublin).