Too close for comfort for JBM's Rebels against the Glensmen
IT It was much too close for comfort for Cork in last Sunday's NHL clash with Antrim at Ballycastle.
As in the previous games against Laois and Offaly, Cork's display was by no means impressive, and, as Jimmy Barry-Murphy admitted afterwards, they were lucky to come away with the win.
With Limerick being held to draw by Offaly in Tullamore, however, the result puts Cork at the top of the table in Division 1B, making promotion a distinct possibility with a home game against Wexford to come.
Still, it must be a source of some concern for JBM that his charges have turned in so many below-par displays of late. They certainly made very hard work of accounting for table-proppers Antrim, who spurned the opportunity to get a first win on the board by wasting a string of chances in the first half.
Despite shooting 12 wides before the break, the home side turned over 1-9 to 0-8 in front, their goal coming from full forward Martin Donnelly in stoppage time. Apart from Antrim's profligacy, Cork had 'keeper Darren McCarthy to thank for keeping the margin down to four points, as he had produced a fine save to foil corner forward Conor Johnson a few minutes earlier.
Donnelly fluffed a gilt-edged chance in the 6th. minute, firing narrowly over the bar from close-range to tie things up at 0-3 apiece. Cork conceded the next three points, but, as Antrim began to fritter away chance after chance, they managed to nibble away at the deficit, reducing it to the minimum before Donnelly struck for his late goal.
With a strong wind behind them, it was expected that Cork would drive on to victory in the second half, but they struggled to build up a bit of momentum, and it wasn't until Patrick Horgan completed a quick hat-trick of points in the 61st minute that they regained the lead.
Antrim responded with a point from substitute Paul Shiels, but Cork eventually eased to safety, with Horgan, Conor Lehane and Patrick Cronin posting the scores that served to separate the sides at the finish.
Horgan's contribution of eleven points, nine from placed balls, was a key factor in determining the outcome, but Lehane, stepping up on his poor showing against Offaly, played a leading role as well, chipping in with four fine points from full-forward.
Brian Hartnett, unlucky to be penalised for over-carrying after rattling the Antrim net in the last ten minutes, had his moments too in attack where Brian Lawton, getting his first start in the league, put in a workmanlike display at wing-forward.
Horgan and Lehane both brought the best out of Antrim 'keeper Chris O'Connell in the second half to underline the threat from the attack, but Cork just about held their own at midfield, while their defence seldom inspired complete confidence.
As gutsy Antrim pressed hard in a bid to grab an equalising goal late on, however, the Cork rearguard, in which Stephen McDonnell and William Egan (below) earned the main plaudits overall, stood up well when it mattered most.
Cork: P Horgan 0-11, 0-8 frees, 0-1 '65, C Lehane 0-4, P Cronin, B Hartnett and P Haughney 0-1 each.
Antrim: M Donnelly 1-1, A McAfee 0-4, 0-2 frees, C Carson 0-2, N McManus 0-2, frees, P Shiels 0-2, 0-1 free, B McFall 0-1.
Cork: D McCarthy (Ballymartle), S McDonnell (Glen Rovers), E Keane (St Finbarr's), K Murphy (Erins Own), S White (Ballygarvan), C Joyce (Na Piarsaigh), W Egan (Kilbrin), L McLoughlin (Kanturk), P Cronin (Bishopstown), B Lawton (Castlemartyr), S Harnedy (St Ita's), D Kearney (Sarsfields), P Horgan (Glen Rovers), C Lehane (Midleton), B Hartnett (do.) Subs: C McCarthy (Sarsfields) for Harnedy, R O'Shea (Carrigaline ) for McLoughlin, P Haugney (Midleton) for Kearney, A Cadogan (Douglas) for White
Antrim: C O'Connell, C Johnson, C McKinley, O McFadden, N McManus, N McAuley, E Campbell, B McFall, D Hamill, C Carson, S McAfee, C McCann, C Johnson, M Donnelly, PJ O'Connell. Subs: S Beatty for McCann, J McGreevy for McFall, N Elliot for PJ O'Connell, P Shiels for Hamill, D McKernan for McGreevy
Referee: Eamon Hassen (Derry)