ANTRIM have been granted a replay after last Saturday’s controversial Christy Ring Cup ‘defeat’ to Meath in Croke Park – but the Royals may not play ball.
Confusion reigned at the end of the game after a score-keeping error led to Meath collecting the cup for the first time in their history, despite the game actually finishing level.
On Tuesday, the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) ruled that the final must be replayed this Saturday in Pairc Esler, Newry, at 7pm.
In a fresh twist, Meath have agreed to play the game but have asked for the game to be postponed until next Saturday and want the replay to take place in Croke Park.
“We are happy to confirm that Meath, in the interest of hurling and fair play, will agree to replay the Christy Ring Cup hurling final against Antrim,” read a statement from Meath.
“We have requested that with regard to player welfare and appropriate preparation, that the game be played on Saturday June 18.
“We have also requested that this game be played in Croke Park, as befits the status of a national final.”
It remains to be seen what action Meath will take if the CCCC reject their requests.
The Royal County would face sanctions if they fail to fulfill Saturday’s fixture.
Antrim have indicated that they plan to turn up for the fixture in Newry this Saturday.
Antrim manager Dominic McKinley has insisted that the situation is unfair on both sets of players but queried Meath’s ignorance of the incorrect scoreline.
“It is not ideal for anybody involved with it. It is sorted now so you can look forward to Saturday,” said McKinley, Antrim’s interim boss.
“Whether Meath field or not will be totally up to them but I find it very hard to believe that they didn’t know the situation.
“I had reservations about the scoreline during the match and I highlighted it one or two times.
“When it was over, within a few minutes, there was chaos.
“We knew about it and they had to. Their supporters knew it was a draw.”
The problem arose when Niall McKenna’s point in the 63rd minute was incorrectly attributed to Meath. The scoreboard at Croke Park read Antrim 1-19 Meath 1-16 when it should have been 1-20 to 1-15.
A point from Meath’s Adam Gannon cut the gap to two points when it should have been four before Antrim’s tally was corrected.
However, while Antrim were credited with their point, the extra point was not deducted from the Meath tally.
This led to a farcical end to proceedings when Sean Quigley fired over a point in injury-time to give Meath the ‘win’ on a 2-18 to 1-20 scoreline – despite the fact that Meath had only scored 17 points.
Referee John O’Brien confirmed the score at the full-time whistle prompting wild celebrations from the Royals who looked to have booked their place in the Liam MacCarthy Cup next year.
However, O’Brien admitted in the aftermath of the game that an error had occurred, forcing the GAA to review the game.
Despite the doubts regarding the validity of the result, the Royal County proceeded with a homecoming in Trim on Sunday evening.
McKinley insisted that, if the shoe was on the other foot, Antrim wouldn’t accept the cup.
“Maybe they got caught up in the emotion of it all,” said McKinley.
“There was only ever going to be one outcome of it – there had to be a replay.
“There was never going to be a deal (to let both teams into Leinster) or anything.
“If it had have been the other way around, there is no way we would accept a cup that we haven’t won. You would want to play for it again.
“All we can do is get our players gathered up – they have been caught up in all of this.
“It is just about getting their heads right for the game but we have the same problems as Meath have.
“We have people away on holidays and so on.”
Both Ciaran Johnston and Eddie McCloskey will miss Saturday’s replay as the pair are on holiday in America and Spain respectively.
Cushendall’s Martin Burke will also miss the replay after sustaining a broken collarbone in Croke Park last weekend.
McKinley used the example of Burke to hit back at critics of the team who suggest the team lacks character.
“People hide behind screens and talk about these players but they are genuine,” added McKinley.
“People say they have no heart but Martin Burke broke his collarbone in the game but he got up and chased down a player and hooked him.
“He stopped the player getting another score then he had to lie down again with the pain.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done with them but these are our best players at this moment in time.”
While both team must now regroup and refocus for the replay, Antrim, arguably should have put the game beyond doubt. The Saffrons led by nine points late in the first half.
Conor Johnston banged home a 15th minute goal after being set-up by Ciaran Clarke with the pair along with James Connolly, Eoghan Campbell, Niall McKenna and Eddie McCloskey all raising flags as Meath had to rely on three James Toher frees to stay in touch.
However, Antrim began to lose their way in the closing stages of the half and Neil Heffernan’s goal on 42 minutes gave Meath a lifeline.
Despite Antrim looking like they were going to pull away, Meath kept in touch before the problems with the scoreboard threw the outcome into chaos with Quigley’s injury-time point deemed the winning score.
There had been talk of a compromise that would let Meath keep the cup but allow Antrim to compete in next year’s Leinster Senior Hurling Championship.
However, that prospect was dismissed by GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail.
“That’s not an option,” said Ó Fearghail.
“That sounds nice at times and it’s lovely to be nice to everyone and we would like to do that and I’m sure that’s what people’s instant reaction was but we have to be fair and we also have to be honest.
“They are the two things – being fair and being honest.”
Following the CCCC’s ruling Meath boss Martin Ennis blasted the decision as "farcical" adding that the Royals feel aggrieved by ruling after celebrating their breakthrough to the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
"We believed we won the game last Saturday night. We weren't told anything different until a few hours after it was over,” said Ennis.
"And now we're being asked to go to Newry six days later and play a replay. It's totally unfair."