Peadar Ó Liathain Cup, Leinster MHC ‘B’ final
Antrim 2-11 Down 0-14
GOALS midway through each half proved crucial as Antrim were crowned Leinster Minor B hurling champions at a sunny Corrigan Park on Wednesday night.
Niall McGarel found the net midway through the opening half with substitute Jack McCloskey the second half goalscorer as Antrim found the scores late on to see themselves over the line in the face of a strong Down challenge.
This was a tightly contested affair with both sets of players emptying the tank in scorching conditions, and while this game wasn't the most free-flowing due to the hugely competitive spirit, it was nonetheless an entertaining affair.
"Last time (against Down) I said how proud of the lads I was and how they responded over the past 22 or 23 weeks, and it's the same tonight," said a delighted Antrim manager, Paul Donnelly.
"The set of 40 players between both sides did the business and I'm sure the spectators loved the game, but as I said, I'm really proud of the lads and they deserved to finish the year on a positive, so I'm happy with that.
"It was level at half-time, so what we tried to do was to work on our strengths and it came through.
"I'm very happy with the performance of the lads and like the last game, the substitutes who came on did the business."
When the sides met in Portaferry in the Leinster 'A' preliminary round a few weeks ago, Antrim got off to a blistering start but this time it was Down who settled better with Michael Dorrian putting them into the lead and Tiernan Connolly doubling the advantage from a free.
The Saffrons gradually settled and the ever-dangerous Niall McGarel got them on the board, but was denied from a penalty on eight minutes by Pease Smyth after Aodhán McGarry had been bundled over by Deaglan Mallon.
After a trade of points, the Antrim goal did arrive on 17 minutes as McGarry cut in from the left and kicked inside with McGarel swatting to the net to leave it 1-2 to 0-3 at the water break.
Down were enjoying more possession and territory and they hit the first three points of the second quarter through Connolly, Rory Corcoran and a Dorrian effort that just whistled over the bar.
It was an even enough end to the half and the half-time score of 1-4 to 0-7 was a fair reflection on the opening 30 minutes.
Both sides missed early scoring chances with the teams eventually trading a couple of scores before a Michael Dorrian point on the left brought Down to within two.
However, Antrim just looked to have that bit more of a goal threat and that proved the case on 44 minutes as McGarry played McCloskey in and he rifled to the net having went inches away minutes earlier.
Down rallied well and a pair of Callum O'Neill frees bright them back into it before a scramble in the Antrim area resulted in Bryan Rice getting a shot off to bring the visitors to within one.
This would be as close as they would get as Antrim finished strong with four scores on the bounce through McGarel (two), McCloskey and a beauty from range by Daire McMullan.
Down pushed for the goal they needed, but found the back door bolted as they had to be content with a pointed free from O'Neill Antrim held firm and could have had a third goal in the dying embers but the slitter somehow stayed out from McCloskey and then McGarry with McGarel launching over a point from a 65 to seal victory and the Peadar Ó Liathain Cup for Antrim.
The young Saffrons were forced to withdraw from the A competition as Covid cases prevented them from facing Meath, but showed resilience to bounce back and claim the B honours with victories over Carlow and Down.
"We are living in a pandemic and two of our players contracted Covid, so we felt it was important to protect the players, protect the families and our communities, so we decided it would be best not to continue with the fixture against Meath," Donnelly reflected.
"That's behind us now. We have won the Peadar Ó Liathain and are over the moon with this achievement.
"Big credit has to go to the backroom team: Paudie Shivers, Arron Graffin, Kieran Killyleagh and Eamon McGarrigle. The support we got from the County Board and Neal Peden, Director of Hurling, but also the parents, schoolteachers and club coaches who worked with us from when we first met them (players). There are a lot of people to thank, but this is about the boys as it's their day.
"Player development is what it's all about, but it's not just being good players, but good people, and we've been trying to do that with them since U14.
"We wish them all the best in the future as next year they will be playing senior hurling with their clubs and hopefully they will be playing U20 for the county and senior in a few years' time, but it's all about a journey."
ANTRIM: C McAuley; F Henry, R McCormick, D Mooney; E McCartan, D McMullan (0-1), D Kearney; D Quinn, C Dickson (0-2); J McLaughlin, O Gillen, D Patterson; N McGarel (1-6, 0-2f, 0-1 65), A McGarry (0-1), C McKeown.
Subs: J McCloskey (1-1) for C McKeown (HT), A McGarrigle for J McLaughlin (HT), P McKillop for D Quinn (39), J Bakewell for D Patterson (55), R Mort for O Gillan (60+3)
DOWN: P Smyth; O McGrattan, D Mallon, M Duffy; D Magee, F Turpin (0-2f), R Corcoran (0-1); F Casey, F Gilmore; M Dorrian (0-3), T Connolly (0-3, 0-2f), C Leneghan; M Doran, B Rice (0-1), O Birt.
Subs: D Cunningham fort O McGrattan (21), C O'Neill (0-4 f) for C Leneghan (HT), A Rogan for D Cunningham (41), J Roddy for F Gilmore (51), C Fowler for B Rice (55)
REFEREE: James Connors (Donegal)