Tailteann Cup, Group D
Antrim 3-18 Leitrim 2-12

DEFEAT to Leitrim around this time a year ago spelled the end of the season for Antrim who hobbled off into a period of uncertainty.

The Tailteann Cup knockout format last year saw them lose to Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon as a good start to 2022 ended with a whimper following a day to forget against Cavan in Ulster.

It was the O'Rourke County up first again this year and although the group format meant that defeat wasn't as terminal as it was 12 months previous, home advantage and a chance to prove development under new boss, Andy McEntee was crucial in many ways and the Saffrons did just that, absorbing a couple of haymakers to blast to the line with three second-half goals seeing them cut loose to bank a fairly comprehensive victory.

Aghagallon duo Adam Loughran (two) and Ruairi McCann found the net as the Saffrons cut loose as they saw the line in good style.

It wasn't a perfect afternoon as they will be disappointed with the manner in which they conceded goals and had goalkeeper Michael Byrne to thank for some stunning stops, yet they were certainly the better side over the piece to bank the point s ahead of next Saturday's trip to Wexford who drew with Fermanagh in their opener in Enniskillen.

"They started a little sharper than us," said Antrim nagger, Andy McEntee.

"In fairness to our lads, the early goal could have knocked them but we responded pretty well. If I'm brutally honest, they were getting their scores a little easier in the first half than we were, but the second-half performance was a lot better, bar the last seven or eight minutes.

"Only for Mick (Byrne, goalkeeper) in the first half, there was another couple on offer so that's a little bit concerning, but the response was vital and that is very pleasing as in the past, we've conceded goals and went into our shell.

"Instead, we pushed on and some of the goals we got were really well-worked."

Marc Jordan breaks a challenge

Marc Jordan breaks a challenge

Leitrim couldn't have asked for a better start as just four minutes in, late replacement Barry McNulty rose to meet Keith Beirne's dropping shot to palm home.

Adam Loughran and Pearce Dolan swapped points before Antrim began to take control with four points on the spin, but both sides were creating goal chances in the opening period although neither hit the net thanks to the respective goalkeepers, Michael Byrne and Nevin O'Donnell who both made some outstanding saves.

The game became quite nip-and-tuck with Darragh Rooney kicking some fine scores for the visitors, while Dominic McEnhill kept the board ticking for Antrim, but after Beirne split the posts from an audacious angle late in the half for Leitrim, Ronan Boyle finished a good move for the hosts to put them 0-10 to 1-5 up.

Antrim opened the second half brightly with points from Loughran and McEnhill, but were then caught again with Aidan Flynn floating from the right to the back post where Jack Heslin rose to palm home.

But the Antrim response was excellent as they grabbed the next score through Ruairi McCann, and although Leitrim got two of the next three, the Saffrons were in for their first goal as Patrick Finnegan did well to work along the right end line, played back to the on-rushing Loughran who blasted home.

The scores began to flow and when Patrick McBride squared for Aghagallon's McCann to palm home, the gap was out to nine.

The third goal wasn't far off and again it was Loughran who was on the end of a good ball for McBride and he stepped inside to crash to the net to end any hope for Leitrim.

To their credit, Andy Moran's side chipped away with Paul Keaney kicking four when introduced, but they needed much more with Antrim out of sight and Patrick McCormick became their ninth name on the scoresheet to complete an excellent start in the competition for Andy McEntee's men.

Dermott McAleese, who returned for his first action since sustaining a broken jaw in the League game against Down, breaks free

Dermott McAleese, who returned for his first action since sustaining a broken jaw in the League game against Down, breaks free

"We thought we were in a good position at half-time with the wind to come but Antrum started really well," said Leitrim manager Andy Moran.

"We got a good goal, but it just ran away from us and we couldn't stop it. We needed a bit of momentum to get our confidence back but just didn't have it.

"We could have had four (goals ninth first half) but on the flip of that, Antrim had two good goal chances they didn't take.

"You're disappointed (today) but it's like a league fixture and you go again next week. We take into account a really bad momentum loss against New York in New York, but today in patches we did quite well. Nothing lost, we just need to get our injured boys back and go again."

ANTRIM: M Byrne (0-2, 1f, 1 45); R Boyle (0-1), P Healy (0-1), J McAuley; P McBride, J Finnegan, D McAleese; J Dowling, C Stewart (0-1); P Finnegan, A Loughran (2-3), R McCann (Creggan, 0-1); M Jordan, R McCann (Aghagallon, 1-2), D McEnhill (0-6, 5f)
Subs: P McCormick (0-1) for J McAuley (27), C Hynds for J Dowling (47), P Shivers for R McCann (Aghagallon, 66), O Eastwood for P Finnegan (66), C McGettigan for M Jordan (70+2)

LEITRIM: N O'Donnell; P Maguire, M Diffley, C Farrell; J Rooney (0-1), S Quinn, A Flynn; P Dolan (0-1), D Wrynn; D Rooney (0-3), K Beirne (0-1), M Plunkett (0-1); J Heslin (1-1), B McNulty (1-0), D Flynn
Subs: T Prior for J Rooney (54), O McLoughlin for K Beirne (54), P Keaney (0-4, 2f) for D Flynn (57), C McGloin for C Farrell (62), S McLoughlin for M Plunkett (70)

REFEREE: Barry Tiernan (Dublin)