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

Eoin Campbell wins the Joe McDonagh Cup
Eoin Campbell led Antrim to their second Joe McDonagh Cup triumph in three seasons

Antrim held on to beating Kerry 5-22, 4-24 in the final of the Joe McDonagh Cup after the Saffrons led by 12 points.

Goals from Ciaran Clarke, James McNaughton and Seaan Elliott helped Antrim lead 3-14, 1-10 at half-time while Podge Boyle scored for Kerry.

A Conal Cunning goal increased the lead, but two goals from Jordan Conway helped cut Antrim’s lead to just two.

Clarke’s penalty put Antrim five ahead and they won by a margin despite Boyle’s final puck goal from Kerry.

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

Both men fired from a series of free-kicks from close and long range, although the Kerry shooter missed two vital balls in the last 10 minutes as his side suffered their third consecutive Joe McDonagh Cup Final defeat.

Referee Sean Stack’s decision to award a free-kick that resulted in Antrim’s third-last point for Cunning also looked highly questionable, with Saffron’s substitute Daniel McKernan apparently tripping over his own feet rather than being fouled.

That result, in the first of six extra minutes, put Antrim on four points and both sides scored two more points before Boyle scored his second goal in the final game of the Croke Park competition which opened the Leinster Final between Kilkenny and Galway.

Antrim meets Cork next weekend

Antrim’s win means they will return to the Leinster Championship after being relegated last summer in 2023, while both sides are set to feature in next weekend’s All-Ireland qualifier in the quarter-finals, with the Saffrons hosting Cork and Kerry Wexford.

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

Clarke scored the Saffrons’ first goal in the fifth minute and McNaughton then pushed through Kerry’s defense to ram another Major in the 10th minute to give Antrim a 2-3, 0-2 lead.

After Cunning shot across a series of points from frees and play, Antrim’s lead was increased to 2-11, 0-5 by the 26th minute before Fionan MacKessy netted a soft-enough looking penalty that Boyle hammered past Ryan Elliott .

While Boyle continued to tag frees, Kerry cut Antrim’s lead to 2-13, 1-9 just before half-time, but the Saffrons scored 1-1 in stoppage time when Elliott stabbed home from close range after Kingdom keeper Louis Dee landed a one Keelan Molloy fired from a point blank and Cunning also showed before the break.

After the Saffrons were helped by a breeze in the second half, Cunning picked up a breaking ball in the 46th minute to ram Antrim’s four goals as their lead was increased to 1-14 from 4-16.

Seaan Elliott storms away from Eric Leen at Croke Park
Seaan Elliott scored Antrim’s third goal in first-half injury time following Kerry’s mini-revival

However, Jordan Conway’s substitution, which came late in the first half, began to bear fruit for the Kingdom as he scored twice in four minutes to suddenly leave just three between the teams with 16 minutes remaining in the regular game time.

Conway’s brother, Shane, was expected to be the primary threat to the Antrim defense, but instead it was the substitute who threatened to unbalance Darren Gleeson’s side.

A Boyle free-kick cut Antrim’s lead even further, but then a pivotal moment came in the 60th minute when the relatively subdued Neil McManus earned a penalty after running on to a long ball.

When Clarke superbly whipped the penalty into the top corner of the net, Kerry suffered another blow when Paudie O’Connor was blacked out for his move over McManus’ hand.

However, it was only in the 68th minute after scoring by substitute Maurice O’Connor and Michael Leane that there was another puck between the sides.

As the Kingdom continued to press, Antrim was lucky to recoup Cunning’s last point in the second minute of added time after McKernan’s apparent slip.

As points from now-backed Paudie O’Connor and Shane Conway – both sides of McKernan – brought the lead back to just three, Antrim needed reassurance from Eoin O’Neill’s goal in the 74th minute as Boyle scored his second in the final seconds of a frenetic competition.

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