Antrim survived a scare of epic proportions from a batting Kerry as they edged a nine-goal thriller to win their second Joe McDonagh Cup in a thrilling final at Croke Park today.
ntrim boss Darren Gleeson saved the bacon of his native Tipperary with victory for the Saffrons meaning that there is no need for a Munster play-off against the Premier to see who plays in the 2023 Munster SHC.
The Antrim boss was made to sweat for it, though, as they lost a 12-point lead against a plucky Kerry side that refused to throw in the towel with Pádraig Boyle’s last-gasp goal leaving just a point in it before the final whistle was sounded.
Antrim booked their place in the 2023 Leinster SHC as a result while they also earned the carrot of a meeting with Cork next weekend while the runners-up will welcome Wexford in the other preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final.
The winners wasted little time in asserting their dominance and led 2-3 to 0-2 after just 10 minutes with Ciarán Clarke and James McNaughton racing through to raise green flags as they kept up their impressive goal-scoring record.
The Saffrons had fired 20 goals throughout the group stages and they pierced holes in the Kerry defence despite the presence of an extra man at the back with Mikey Boyle normally operating in that role.
Fionán Mackessy continued his deadly accuracy from distance with a point in response, but Antrim fired the next five points in succession to extend their lead into double digits at 2-8 to 0-3.
Pádraig Boyle was fighting a lone battle at the other end and another free from the Ballyduff maestro helped to stem the bleeding, but man-of-the-match Conal Cunning and Clarke were on-song and they kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Boyle gave the Kingdom a lifeline when burying a penalty to the top right-hand corner in the 27th minute with Michael Leane quickly added another point to leave them nine behind, 2-12 to 1-6.
Kerry’s purple patch quickly came to a halt with Seaan Elliott landing Antrim’s third goal in injury time after Kerry goalkeeper Louis Dee pulled off a sensational save to initially deny Keelan Molloy as Antrim went in 10 points to the good at half-time, 3-14 to 1-10.
Kerry hit four of the first six points of the new half to the cut the gap to eight points with first-half substitute Jordan Conway making a huge impact with two neat points, but their problems at the other end quickly resurfaced.
Cunning latched onto a breaking ball with Dee coming off his line to narrow the angle, but the sliotar somehow went under his body and straight to the Kerry net as Antrim surged into an 11-point lead once again, 4-16 to 1-14.
Kerry refused to wilt, though, as they accounted for four of the next five points and the second goal they so badly craved eventually arrived in the 50th minute when Jordan Conway expertly fired to the net after a brilliant catch.
There was just five in it at that stage, 4-17 to 2-18, and things got even better for Kerry just four minutes later when Conway fired to the net once again at the second attempt to have them believing that the dream comeback was on.
Boyle left just two in it, 4-18 to 3-19, with another free but it looked like the storm had been weathered when Clarke blasted a bullet straight through Kerry hearts with a goal from a penalty on the hour mark.
Paudie O’Connor was also sent to the line for 10 minutes having received a black card for deliberately denying a goal-scoring opportunity as Kerry trailed by five and it looked like their goose may be cooked.
There was three in it heading into injury time but Eoin O’Neill’s 75th minute point had Antrim breathing a sigh of relief as their lead extended to four before Boyle’s piledriver proved to be the last puck of the game as the Saffrons just held on.
Antrim: C Cunning 1-12 (9f), C Clarke 2-2 (1-0 pen), J McNaughton 1-1, S Elliott 1-0, N McManus 0-2, K Molloy 0-2, N McKenna 0-1, D McKernan 0-1, E O’Neill 0-1
Kerry: P Boyle 2-11 (1-0 pen, 8f, 0-1 ’65), J Conway 2-2, D Collins 0-3, S Conway 0-2, M Leane 0-2, F Mackessy 0-1, G Dooley 0-1, M O’Connor 0-1, P O’Connor 0-1
ANTRIM – R Elliott; D Kearney, E Campbell, P Burke; M Bradley, G Walsh, J Maskey; C Bohill, K Molloy; C Clarke, J McNaughton, C McCann; S Elliott, N McManus, C Cunning.
Subs: R McGarry for Campbell (22-24 blood sub), D McKernan for Bohill (50), D Nugent for McCann (53), N McKenna for McNaughton (62), C Johnston for Clarke (64), E O’Neill for McManus (69).
KERRY – L Dee; C O’Keeffe, S Weir, E Leen; E Ross, M Boyle, M Leane; F Mackessy, P O’Connor; P Boyle, D Collins, G Dooley; C Harty, S Conway, C Walsh.
Subs: J Conway for Harty (25), M O’Connor for Dooley (45), N Mulcahy for Walsh (49), B Lonergan for Collins inj (64).
REF – S Stack (Dublin)