Tailteann Cup quarter-final 
Fermanagh 0-11 Antrim 1-11

IT required real guts and belief, but Antrim produced a stunning second-half fightback at Brewster Park on Saturday evening to march into the semi-finals of the Tailteann Cup.

Trailing by seven early in the second period to a Fermanagh side that had dominated up to that point, Antrim managed to haul themselves into the game and then overhaul the Ernesiders in the closing stages as Cathal Hynds netted in the 68th minutes.

Even going into the final quarter of this contest, it seemed like a long shot that Andy McEntee's men would turn things around as although Fermanagh had noticeably dropped off, they were still managing the gap.

What made a huge difference was McEntee's switches, introducing Peter Healy, Dominic McEnhill, Conor Hand and Eoin Hynds early in the second half and they would contribute six points between them.

They were also much better on the ball, moving with more purpose than the first half when they were laboured and this allowed Fermanagh to completely snuff them out.
It still required a steady nerve to complete the turnaround, but that they did as they broke for home at the right time to seal a place in Croke Park next Sunday.

"We will have to stop putting ourselves in that position, but the lads showed some guts and character," said a delighted Antrim manager, Andy McEntee.

"We talked at half-time and said 'this (comeback) doesn't have to happen in the first minute' so you just keep plugging away and get the score down to four, then three. At that stage we missed a couple of chances that usually cost you, but they kept plugging away and the goal was a huge score.

"We went through the season with a lot of guys out injured, but when you can bring on the likes of Peter Healy, it makes a big difference. Conor Hand makes a big difference and Eoin Hynds hit two great points. "Dominic hit a point too, although he did miss a couple, but when you are bringing those players on, it has an impact on the game."

It was a cagey start to the game that would give us a glimpse into the pattern of what would unfold in the first half with Fermanagh inviting Antrim up to an extent, but were excellent to turn the ball over and break.

Sean Cassidy kicked the hosts into the lead with a fifth minute mark and added from a free before Ultan Kelm landed the first from play.

Antrim couldn't engineer scoring opportunities, never mind scores, but were finally on the board after 15 minutes from a Mick Byrne 45.

But Fermanagh's ability to break with purpose was exemplified when another excellent turnover saw them pour forward with Kelm finishing the move.

Antrim's first from play took until the 26th minute to arrive via Ryan McQuillan, but the hosts would finish the half superbly with some fine scores from Declan McCusker, Sean Cassidy and Fionan O'Brien to leave them in a healthy 0-8 to 0-2 lead at the half.

Ronan McCaffrey extended the gap eight minutes into the second period, but Antrim rang the changes and they would pay dividends.

Peter Healy marked his introduction with a point just seconds after being introduced and after an exchange of points, Conor Hand and Dominic McEnhill got their name on the board.

When Byrne kicked his third 45 of the game with 59 on the clock, there was just a goal between them and the tension was rising amongst the home support.

Garvan Jones seemed to steady those nerves with Fermanagh's first point in 13 minutes, but Antrim sensed they were on top with another of the subs, Eoin Hynds pointing and Peter Healy adding another.

Ryan McQuillan tries to escape the clutches of Declan McCusker

Ryan McQuillan tries to escape the clutches of Declan McCusker

A Paddy McBride free left just one between them but Antrim weren't interested in equalisers as Byrne put cathay Hynds in on 68 minutes and he only had goal on his mind, finishing low.

His brother, Eoin, added a point as Fermanagh now needed a major and Conor McShea saw a near post shot saved out for a 45 and one final raid came to nothing as Antrim advanced.

"We just didn't inject any pace," McEntee said of their first-half performance.

"The pace of our attack let them get behind the ball without any pressure. They lured us in, turned us over, got the blocks in and won the physical battles and contests around the pitch.

"In the second half when we moved it a bit quicker, we didn't have to bring it into contact and found a few gaps.

"Cathal got himself in a really good position and I'm glad he had the courage to go for it (goal).

"It would have been just as easy to punch it over the bar, but the goal was the right thing to do. The point after was equally as good because if Fermanagh came up and there was only one or two in it, they would have been in a position to keep the scoreboard ticking over, but it meant they had to go for goal."

It was a crestfallen Fermanagh boss, Kieran Donnelly who emerged from their dressing room to try and make sense of what had unfolded.

The home support would have felt a trip to the capital was on the cards for long stages and you couldn't blame them due to their dominance, but it would all unravel.

Antrim certainly improved greatly, but Fermanagh wilted and it was left to debate whether this was down to perhaps thinking the job was done when they took that seven-point lead.

Ruairi McCann celebrates Cathal Hynds' goal

Ruairi McCann celebrates Cathal Hynds' goal

"We felt we were in total control in the first half, managed the ball well and were finding pockets of space," Donnelly reflected.

"The key stage was the start of the second half. We had two or three chances for scores and the message at half-time was to  keep the scoreboard ticking to stretch out the lead, but that didn't happen. We missed them and kept Antrim in the game.

"Credit to Antrim. They were the same against Sligo when they went four or five down and kept coming back. Their bench made a massive difference to them as well, so good luck to them in the next stage."

FERMANAGH: S McNally; L Cullen, C Cullen, J Cassidy; D McCusker (0-1), S McGullion, J Largo-Ennis; B Horan, J McDade (0-1); C Jones (0-1, 1f), C McShea, F O'Brien (0-1); U Kelm (0-2), R McCaffrey (0-1), S Cassidy (0-3, 1f, 1m).
Subs: D McGurn for S McGullion (49), G Jones (0-1) for C Jones (55), C Love for S Cassidy (55)

ANTRIM: M Byrne (0-3, 3 45s); D Lynch, E Walsh, K Keenan; J McDonnell, J Finnegan, D McAleese; P McAleer, C Hynds (1-0); C McLarnon, P McBride (0-1 f), R McCann (Creggan); R McQuillan (0-1), R McCann (Aghagallon), M Jordan.
Subs: P Healy (0-2) for D Lynch (43), D McEnhill (0-1) for R McQuillan (43), C Hand (0-1) for C McLarnon (43), E Hynds (0-2) for P McAleer (49)

REFEREE: B Griffin (Kerry)