ANTRIM 0-15 CARLOW 0-11
IT was saffron smiles all round today as Antrim maintained their Division 1B status with a very hard won victory over Carlow in Navan on a scoreline of 0-15 to 0-11.
The wind was a significant factor in this game and with Antrim playing into a blustery gale the collective aim may have been to restrict Carlow as far as possible.
In the main the Barrowsiders were kept to scores from frees from their centre half forward and indeed it was like a battle of the number 11s as all the Antrim scores came from frees from Cushendall’s Neil McManus.
There was goalmouth activity at the right end of the pitch from the Antrim point of view but the pressure, hard work and effort didn’t yield any scores from play.
About 20 minutes into the half Antrim had drawn level with Carlow on 3 points apiece before they rattled off 5 in a row. Another McManus effort reduced the deficit to 4 at the short whistle.
On the restart Antrim clearly upped their game but yet it was Carlow who scored first to push their lead to 5. The saffrons were still labouring for scores from play and it was around the hour mark before Shane McNaughton got their next.
At 11 points to 6 with a quarter of the game to go it looked ominous and Kevin Ryan had began to play his hand with the introduction of Darren Hamill, Barry McFall and later on Shay Casey.
Shane also came out to play a more central role and that paid off. Antrim began to press and to play smart, tough hurling. Conor Carson was winning and laying off ball, Paul Shiels was driving forward and Eddie McCloskey was finding space on the left.
From this point Antrim outscored Carlow 9 points to no score. One goal bound effort from Shay Casey brought off a top class save from the Carlow netminder Nicky Roberts with McManus pointing the resultant 65. That was the ‘insurance’ point which opened a 4 point gap and ensured Division 1 hurling for the Saffrons again in 2014.
There was relief and no small amount of joy among the small and vocal Antrim crowd and clearly among the players as well.
The way other results went means that Cork and Laois will join Antrim along with Limerick, Offaly and Wexford in next year’s league.
The Kevin Ryan Antrim project remains very much on course with the first major objective achieved and there is now a very short gap to the Leinster Championship opener v Westmeath on May 5th.