Leinster Senior Hurling Championship
Antrim 1-14 Galway 2-25

THAT Galway overcame Antrim in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship at a sunny Corrigan Park on Saturday by 14 points will not have been a huge surprise to many, but certainly, it felt like a 'what might have been' for the Saffrons.

Undoubtedly, the big calls went against them and two in particular as a James McNaughton's free dropped and was fumbled by Galway goalkeeper Darach Fahy. Antrim's players were convinced the ball had crossed the line but the green flag didn't come. Instead of a five-point lead, Galway swept upfield and picked off a crucial score.

Then, three minutes into the second period with Antrim one ahead came the real turning point as Conor Whelan to out in front of Ryan McGarry to gather. McGarry made a play at the ball, but his swipe was high and left Whelan with a bloodied nose, the challenge prompting referee Michael Kennedy to pull out his red card.

It was a blow that Antrim just couldn't absorb as Galway had the extra man to ensure they could work the ball well and create the chances they were't allowed to in the first period when Antrim recovered from a slow start to take over.

Indeed, the one-point lead was not a fair reflection of their efforts but eight wides and five shots dropped short in the opening half prevented them from opening a decent gap.

They had been superb in the opening period, sensing that Galway were a little jittery after their defeat to Wexford a fortnight ago and set out to expose the vulnerabilities.

There was always going to be a Galway reaction in the second half and the numerical advantage certainly helped them in that regard as they pulled away with Antrim's gameplan in tatters.

"It was a big call," said Antrim manager Darren Gleeson of the red card.

"Anything high to the head now seems to be red. I don't think he struck to the head, but his hurley was high and caught the man. It was a pivotal moment in the game but there were a few pivotal moments. A ball (McNaughton's first-half free) the boys were sure was over the line - the ball his the net and came down onto his hand. Usually, that's a goal. We had 15 wides with six or seven dropped short to their seven wides, so we weren't clinical enough.

"They (Galway) were lovely when they had the extra man and move the ball about, but when the game was a game and it was even numbers, we were in a good position. I'm just disappointed for the lads who put in a big shift. 

"Playing with 14 men against 15 for 37 minutes... a nightmare after half-time, but we just get on with it now. We'll be without Ryan and a few others for next week, so all our focus goes on that."

Both sides looked jittery from the off but there was a sense Galway were beginning to settle with Conor Cooney, Evan Niland and Conor Whelan all on target as they led 0-4 to 0-2 before they rattled the net on 10 minutes as Seán Linnane played a great ball into the stride of Gavin Lee who buried.

Cooney added a point, but Antrim, who were now settling themselves with Keelan Molloy and James McNaughton finding their range and then Michael Bradley cracking over the equaliser.

Padraic Mannion ended a barren 10 minutes for the Tribesmen, but Antrim were beginning to really fancy it and after McNaughton levelled from a free, they got the goal they deserved 29 minutes in as late replacement Rian McMullan played in Conal Bohill who found the corner of the net.

Gavin Lee nets Galway's opening goal

Gavin Lee nets Galway's opening goal

Galway temporarily came to life with scores from Niland and Whelan - the second after Ryan Elliott had made a vital interception - but Antrim, who were wasteful in the opening period, extended the gap with Gerard Walsh landing a long free and then clipping over a peach of a sideline.

They almost had another goal, as a McNaughton free dropped and Darach Fahy fumbled and adjudged to have rescued the ball in the nick of time despite Antrim protests a green flag should have been raised, but late scores through Tom Monaghan and Niland narrowed the gap to one as Antrim led 1-11 to 1-10.

It was all set up for a storming second half but then came the red card for McGarry who made a clumsy high challenge on Whelan that was deemed a red card offence and Niland pointed the free to level.

Initially, Antrim seemed to shrug it off as Keelan Molloy burst in on goal but was hooked at the vital moment with his subsequent pull back flashing away from danger, but Galway would then grab the lead through Linnane and keep it with Cooney's goal from a penalty minutes later giving the visitors a little breathing space.

With a man light, Antrim lacked options in attack as Galway gradually pulled away with a decent spread of scorers as Antrim just had three James McNaughton points to show for their efforts.

Galway seemed to be keen on further goals but couldn't manage it, although Connor Whelan, Daithí Burke and the returning Jonathan Glynn clipped over some fine points with Donal O'Shea having the final word.

"Coming up this morning, it was about that and we saw what happened here a couple of weeks ago with Wexford, so we were prepared," said Galway manager Henry Shefflin.

"We started the match well  but Antrim came into it as we expected and probably got a foothold. I was happy we stemmed the tide coming up to half-time and were in a good position to kick on in the second half.

"There were a couple of things (said) at half-time but it was a difficult few weeks after the Wexford game. It had been an intense few weeks, so we didn't fully train until the following Saturday to ease back in and reassess. Today was about getting two points and we got that done."

Michael Bradley pops a pass

Michael Bradley pops a pass

Antrim now find themselves in the same position they were in this time last year as they must get a result in their final game to avoid the drop to the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Carlow will be the visitors to Corrigan Park next Sunday and a big performance will be needed. Antrim had been producing just that on Saturday, but big moments changed the course of the game and Antrim manager Gleeson insists they must just park it and move on.

"Just stay doing what we are doing was what we said at half-time - keep pressing them and don't give them the free extra man to play out and look nice," he continued.

"But when we lost that when we went a man down and they could spread the ball about the place. That was the decision that was made and it had big consequences for us, but we'll just move on now and our focus turns to Carlow."

ANTRIM: R Elliott; C Boyd, N O'Connor, P Burke; G Walsh (0-2, 1f, 1 sl), R McGarry, C Bohill (1-0); E Campbell, K Molloy (0-3); N Elliott, M Bradley (0-1), N McKenna; R McMullan, S Elliott, J McNaughton (0-8, 6f).
Subs: S Walsh for E Campbell (24), R McCloskey for R McMullan (48), C McCann for C Bohill (51), F McCurry for M Bradley (55), P Boyle for N McKenna (66)

GALWAY: D Fahy; J Grealish, Daithí Buurke (0-1), F Burke; S Linnane (0-2), P Mannion (0-1), C Fahy (0-1); David Burke (0-1), R Glennon; G Lee (1-0), T Monaghan (0-1), J Cooney (0-1); C Whelan (0-3), C Cooney (1-6, 1-0 pen, 0-3f, 0-1 65), E Niland (0-5, 3f).
Subs: D McLoughlin for E Niland (52), A Tuohey for R Glennon (55), J Ryan for J Cooney (58), D O'Shea (0-2) for David Burke (58), J Flynn (0-1) for G Lee (66)
Blood subs: D McLoughlin for C Whelan (38-42), J Glynn for J Ryan (61-FT)

REFEREE: Michael Kennedy (Tipperary)