Antrim 5-22 Kerry 4-24: Saffrons hang on to beat Kingdom in McDonagh Cup final

Eoin Campbell skippered Antrim to their second Joe McDonagh Cup triumph in three seasons

Antrim hung on to beat Kerry 5-22 to 4-24 in the Joe McDonagh Cup final after the Saffrons had led by 12 points.

Goals by Ciaran Clarke, James McNaughton and Seaan Elliott helped Antrim lead 3-14 to 1-10 at half-time with Podge Boyle netting for Kerry.

A Conal Cunning goal increased the margin but two Jordan Conway goals helped cut Antrim’s lead to only two.

Clarke’s penalty put Antrim five up and they held on to win by one despite Boyle’s last-puck Kerry goal.

Cunning was named man of the match after hitting 1-12 but he was actually outscored by Boyle’s 2-11 for the Kingdom.

Both men fired over a series of frees from short and long-range although the Kerry marksman missed two crucial placed balls in the closing 10 minutes as his side suffered a third successive Joe McDonagh Cup Final defeat.

Referee Sean Stack’s decision to award a free which resulted in Antrim’s third-last point for Cunning also looked highly questionable as Saffrons substitute Daniel McKernan appeared to trip over his own feet rather than being fouled.

That score in the first of six added minutes put Antrim four up and both sides tagged on two further points before Boyle lashed in his second goal in what proved to the final play of the Croke Park contest, which the curtain-raiser to the Leinster Final between Kilkenny and Galway.

Antrim to face Cork next weekend

Antrim’s victory means they will return to the Leinster Championship in 2023 after suffering relegation last summer while both sides will be in All-Ireland quarter-finals qualifier action next weekend with the Saffrons hosting Cork and Kerry welcoming Wexford.

There was no hint of the drama to follow as Antrim completely dominated early on.

Clarke fired in the Saffrons’ first goal in the fifth minute and McNaughton then scythed through the Kerry defence to ram in another major in the 10th minute to put Antrim 2-3 to 0-2 ahead.

With Cunning firing over a series of scores from frees and play, the Antrim lead was increased to 2-11 to 0-5 by the 26th minute before Fionan MacKessy earned a soft enough looking penalty, which Boyle hammered past Ryan Elliott.

With Boyle continuing to tag on frees, Kerry cut Antrim’s lead to 2-13 to 1-9 nearing half-time but the Saffrons hit 1-1 in injury time with Elliott stabbing home from close range after Kingdom keeper Louis Dee had saved a pointblank Keelan Molloy shot and Cunning also pointing before the break.

With the Saffrons helped by a breeze in the second period, Cunning picked up a breaking ball to ram in Antrim’s four goal on 46 minutes as their lead was increased to 4-16 to 1-14.

Seaan Elliott bursts away from Eric Leen at Croke Park
Seaan Elliott fired in Antrim’s third goal in first-half injury time after Kerry’s mini-revival

However, the introduction of Jordan Conway, which had happened late in the first half, began to bear fruit for the Kingdom as he fired in two goals in four minutes to suddenly leave only three between the teams with 16 minutes of normal time left.

Conway’s brother Shane was expected to be the main danger to the Antrim defence but instead it was the substitute who threatened to unhinge Darren Gleeson’s side.

A Boyle free cut Antrim’s lead still further but then came a crucial moment in the 60th minute as the relatively subdued Neil McManus earned a penalty after running on to a long ball.

With Clarke superbly lashing the penalty to the top corner of the net, Kerry suffered a further blow as Paudie O’Connor was black carded for his pull across McManus’ hand.

However, there was only a puck of the ball between the sides again in the 68th minute after points by substitute Maurice O’Connor and Michael Leane.

As the Kingdom continued to press, Antrim were lucky to get the respite of Cunning’s final point in the second minute of injury time after McKernan’s apparent slip.

As points from the now back Paudie O’Connor and Shane Conway left – either side of McKernan score – got the margin back to only three again, Antrim needed the insurance of Eoin O’Neill’s 74th minute score, as Boyle hammered in his second goal in the closing seconds of a frenetic contest.

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