ANTRIM 2-23 LONDON 0-12 THE booming economy in Ireland, which lured many good hurlers back from London, was largely responsible for the poor standard of hurling watched by 3,000 patient fans in Casement Park yesterday.
That was the verdict of London County Board Secretary Tommy Harrell who was speaking after his side had been soundly beaten by Antrim in the Ulster senior hurling championship.
``All credit to Antrim,'' he said. ``They were first to the breaking ball, were more purposeful all over the pitch and it was obvious they had trained for the game. They were crisper in striking as well.
``But our future lies in the Ulster championship and we'll be back next year ... perhaps with a wider selection of hurlers from home,'' said Harrell.
As it was, only five of the team that drew with, but arguably beat, Antrim at the same stage two years ago were in action. One of those was centre half-forward Timmy Moloney who sent over the winning point in 1998 only to see the ref disallow the score.
Ach, sin scéal eile! Yesterday, Antrim were completely on top from start to finish. They were four points ahead inside 12 minutes, went further in front when Gary O'Kane netted a penalty in the 18th minute, and a string of unanswered points saw them lead by 1-14 to 0-4 at half-time.
Another Antrim goal from Conor McCambridge at the start of the second half helped the Saffrons into a 2-16 to 0-4 lead. London out-scored Antrim by eight points to seven during the remainder of the game, but it is arguable whether London improved or Antrim took their foot off the pedal.
London's comeback began with a Moloney point seven minutes into the second half. Trevor O'Connor was then denied a goal by a brilliant save by Shane Elliot, and from the 11th to the 17th minutes, London shot six points without reply.
But that was as far as Antrim were prepared to let the situation slide, and they even denied London a goal when Moloney's penalty was saved.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Malachy Molloy (Dunloy).
SCORERS - Antrim: G O'Kane 1-9, C McCambridge 1-4, A Delargey 0-3, C Hamill 0-3, C Cunning 0-2, M Molloy, R Donnelly 0-1 each. London: T Moloney 0-6, D Browne, M O'Meara, T Lohan, D Deane 0-1 each, F Horgan 0-2.
ANTRIM - S Elliott; E O'Hara, Ciaran McCambridge, E Colgan; M McCambridge, M Molloy, C Kelly; C Cunning, J Connolly; C Hamill, Conor McCambridge, A Mort; A Delargey, G O'Kane, J McIntosh. Subs: R Donnelly for McIntosh 20, K Elliott for Connolly 38, M O'Neill for E Colgan 62, K Herron for Mort 62.
LONDON - J Ryan; L Barron, J Kenneally, A Heaney; M Reilly, D Durane, D Ryan; B Crowe, T Lohan; T O'Connor, T Moloney, F Horgan; M O'Meara, D Browne, K McGrath. Subs: B Keane for Ryan 37, P Pardy for O'Connor, K Heaney for McGrath both 52, P Greene for Crowe.
REF - B Kelly (Westmeath).
DERRY 2-15 DOWN 0-8
THE hurlers of Derry rattled home two goals and four points in the final eight minutes to qualify for the Ulster hurling championship final at Casement Park yesterday.
Derry had the slight edge for most of the game, but Down's challenge fell apart 15 minutes from the end when Donal Byers was sent off for a second yellow card.
Down were only trailing by three points, 0-11 to 0-8, at the time but the loss of Byers proved crucial as they failed to register another score and their defence fell apart.
Derry's first goal came six minutes from the end when Michael Collins won the ball out on the right, and crossed to Kevin McKeever who hammered a blistering shot to the net.
And in the final minute John O'Dwyer won the ball, gave a beautiful hand pass to Collins who calmly rounded the goalie and tapped it into the net to give Derry a somewhat flattering winning margin.
While the Derry forwards were particularly sharp, especially their full-forward line who them accounted for all but a goal of their total, it was on the half-back line - and the heroics Declan Cassidy and Colin McEldowney - which laid the foundations for victory.
Both teams had a man sent off following an off-the-ball incident in the first half, Noel Sands of Down and Derry's captain Emmet McKeever. But it was the sending off of Byers that had most bearing on the outcome.
It was Down who made the early running and led 0-3 to 0-1 after five minutes, but then indiscipline in the Down defence was ruthlessly punished by Derry's top marksman Gary Biggs who pointed four frees in five minutes to give Derry a 0-6 to 0-3 lead.
Down, however, still took the game to Derry, but a combination of their erratic shooting and brilliant Derry defending from Cassidy and McEldowney saw Derry lead 0-9 to 0-6 at the interval.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Michael Collins (Derry).
SCORERS - Derry: G Biggs 0-10, M Collins 1-2, J O'Dwyer 0-3, K McKeever 1-0. Down: J McGrattan 0-3, P Braniff, G McGrattan, G Savage, G Gordan, D Byers 0-1 each.
DERRY - K Stevenson; E McKeever, C Murray, J Young; D Cassidy, C McEldowney, B Ward; D Doherty, M Conway; R McCluskey, K McKeever, S McCartney; G Biggs, M Collins, J O'Dwyer. Subs: R O'Hagan for S McCartney, N Mullen for J Young.
DOWN - G Clarke; M Mallon, K Coulter, J Caughey; D Byers, P Coulter, S Murray; P Monan, G Gordan; B Braniff, G Savage, G McGrattan; J McGrattan, P Braniff, N Sands. Subs: M Coulter for P Coulter, L Clarke for J Caughey, B Coulter for P Braniff, P Mallon for G McGrattan, S Mallon for J McGrattan.
REF - P Aherne (Carlow).