Ulster Senior Hurling Championship semi-final
Antrim 3-28 Derry 0-14
ANTRIM booked their place in the final of the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship yesterday after disposing of Derry in a one-sided game in Armagh, writes Paddy Tierney from the Athletic Grounds.
By the time Cavan referee James Clarke blew his full-time whistle, 23 points separated the sides but the margin of victory didn’t flatter Antrim in the slightest.
Derry goalkeeper Darrel McDermott, while beaten three times, made a couple of sublime point-blank saves as the Saffrons overran their Ulster rivals.
Goals from PJ O’Connell, Ciaran Clarke and Sean McAfee helped the defending champions progress to a provincial decider against Armagh, who defeated Down in yesterday’s second semi-final.
The beaten semi-finalists will now clash in a play-off game to determine who is relegated to the Ulster Shield – something which Antrim boss Dominic ‘Woody’ McKinley feels is unfair.
“I don’t think it is right for them (Derry) to have to go and play in a relegation match,” said McKinley.
“You feel sorry for Derry in a way. Something has to be done. They need to sit down with the people involved for next year and come with something. There has to be a better way forward for Ulster hurling.”
On the performance of his team, Woody added: “We were pleased because we talked at half-time about putting them away and driving on and we did that. We couldn’t ask for much more from them.
“We were very efficient in taking our scores, Niall McKenna in particular. Overall, we are very pleased. We came through it and we are looking forward to next Saturday.”
Next Saturday, of course, is the Christy Ring Cup final replay against Meath at Croke Park and the Antrim boss is anticipating an altogether tougher test.
“These four or five days are seriously important for us and the good thing is that we picked up no knocks and everybody will be available for next week,” he said.
“We have been hard on our boys over the last couple of weeks. We won’t get carried away with it but we were pleased with how we played.
“I am sure Meath won’t give us that space, we’ll be delighted if they do.
“That is another day. I still think if we are at ourselves and play well and get our heads right. We have a lot to prove next Saturday, like Meath have.”
PJ O’Connell’s first half goal helped Antrim take a commanding 1-16 to 0-5 lead into the half-time break with Derry missing a number of scoring opportunities both from play and frees.
Antrim kept their foot to the floor in the second period with Sarsfields clubman Niall McKenna putting on an exhibition of scoring – firing over six points from play in a blistering 12-minute spell.
The defending Ulster champions then put the result beyond doubt when Eddie McCloskey set up Clarke for Antrim’s second goal.
The rout was completed when substitutes Benny McCarry and Sean McAfee combined for the former to slot home from close range.
McDermott did make fine saves to deny McCloskey and the impressive Conor Johnston further majors but Derry’s miserable evening went from bad to worse when their captain Sean McCullagh was dismissed for a second booking in the closing minutes.