Clarke helps Antrim to end dismal season with flourish
Antrim 6-21 Armagh 4-14 Ulster SHC final
It's been a tumultuous season for Antrim hurling, but at least it ended yesterday with the consolation prize of a 15th Ulster senior title in a row after a hard-fought win over Armagh.
Yesterday's final was a lot closer than the scoreline suggests, and there were only four points between the sides when Armagh were reduced to 14 men in the 58th minute.
Antrim, who missed out on promotion this year and lost a controversial Christy Ring Cup final replay to Meath, took full advantage of James King's dismissal for a second yellow card and outscored their opponents by 2-5 to 0-2 in the last 15 minutes.
A Declan Coulter goal in the third minute had Armagh briefly ahead but points from Eddie McCloskey, James McKeague and John Dillon had Antrim in control.
Ryan Gaffney's frees kept Armagh in touch, while Fiachra Bradley scored two points from play in the opening half.
It was competitive in the opening 20 minutes or so before the Saffrons bagged three goals in a six-minute spell before the interval.
John Dillon's goal in the 24th minute was followed by a second when Conor Carson got the last touch through a sea of bodies.
Ciaran Clarke, who hit 1-4 in the first half, got goal number three on the half-hour mark.
Totally unmarked, he collected James Connolly's pass and drilled the ball low to the far corner of the net.
James King buried a shot to the top corner for a spectacular Armagh goal in first-half injury-time to leave the Orchard men trailing by 3-14 to 2-8 at half-time.
The third quarter was most competitive spell in the game and once full-forward Eoin McGuinness turned neatly and blasted the sliotar to the net in the 38th minute, it was anyone's game.
Clarke, who top-scored with 2-7, scored his second goal in the 45th minute when he dummied past two players to slide a shot in at the near post.
But Armagh, who lost out to Mayo in the Nicky Rackard Cup final this year, rallied again, McGuinness flicking Kieran McKernan's pass into the net.
Gaffney's frees brought Armagh to within three points when King was sent off and it had a big bearing on the game, James Connolly bagging two late goals to put clear daylight between the teams.
Scorers - Antrim: C Clarke 2-7 (0-3fs), J Connolly 2-2, J Dillon 1-2, C Carson 1-1, B McCarry, D McKernan 0-3 each, J McKeague, E McCloskey, C McNaughton (f) 0-1 each.
Armagh: E McGuinness 2-2, R Gaffney 0-7fs, J King, D Coulter 1-0 each, F Bradley, C Carvill 0-2 each, C Corvan 0-1.
Antrim - C O'Connell; S McCrory, N McAuley, B Graham; F Donnelly, P Burke, J McKeague; E Campbell, D McKernan; E McCloskey, J Dillon, J Connolly; B McCarry, C Carson, C Clarke. Subs: O McFadden for McCrory (16), S Delargy for Graham (26), S McCrory for Donnelly (47), C McNaughton for McKernan (64).
Armagh - S Doherty; C Clifford, A McGuinness, C Devlin; J Corvan, N Curry, F Bradley; K McKernan, J King; R Gaffney, C Carvill, D Carvill; D Coulter, E McGuinness, C Corvan. Subs: P McKearney for Bradley (60), A Toal for D Carvill (68), O Curry for A McGuinness (68).
Ref - E Hasson (Derry).