Scoreline controversy overshadows Royal win
Meath 2-18 Antrim 1-20
Controversy surrounded Meath's first Christy Ring Cup triumph last night, with claims that referee John O'Brien miscalculated the scoreline, and that the Croke Park decider actually ended level and should have gone to extra-time.
Confusion was initially sparked when the stadium scoreboard wrongly attributed an Antrim point to the Royals late in the second half. Tipperary official O'Brien also accepted that Meath had finished a point in front, despite the fact that journalists in the press area were unanimous in their final tally, Meath 2-17 Antrim 1-20 - a draw.
Nevertheless, the Christy Ring Cup made its way to the Royal County last night, amid celebrations surrounding this major breakthrough.
Antrim cut swathes through a hesitant Royal defence during a dominant opening quarter. They were getting their scores with worrying ease, finding the space to create and execute a string of points, with Ciaran Clarke, James Connolly and Conor Johnston setting them on their way.
Johnston collected Clarke's cut-back to send a bullet into the net in the 15th minute and all the Royals could manage in reply in the opening quarter was a James Toher free.
The onslaught continued, with Eddie McCloskey and Connolly scoring from distance, and Clarke somehow finding the target from underneath the Cusack Stand with a defender putting him under pressure. By the 19th minute, it was 1-7 to 0-1, and Meath didn't manage their first score from play until the 27th minute, a Joe Keena effort.
Toher thumped an 85-metre free between the posts, and they had further scores in a promising spell before the break from Adam Gannon and Sean Heavey. The Antrim defence was beginning to look vulnerable, but they took a 1-10 to 0-7 lead into the break.
Meath threw themselves into the challenge, and they were rewarded with a 41st-minute goal, smashed home from an angle by Neil Heffernan.
Keena and Toher tagged on points and a terrific piece of defending by Damian Healy provided the opening for Adam Gannon to add another.
Antrim's lead was cut back to two points, and even when they hit a series of scores, two each from Clarke and Eddie McCloskey, they couldn't shake off the Royals, who were on target again through Kevin and Joe Keena.
Keith Keoghan then floated over his second, but the Saffrons, despite their many problems, were able to keep their noses in front through Niall McKenna. But in the final minute, Kevin Keena fed fellow sub Sean Quigley, who rippled the net from 20 metres, before adding a point in stoppage-time.
Scorers - Meath: N Heffernan, S Quigley 1-1 each, J Toher 0-5 (5f), A Gannon, J Keena 0-3 each, K Keoghan 0-2, S Heavey, K Keena 0-1 each. Antrim: C Johnston 1-2, C Clarke 0-5 (1f, 1 '65), J Connolly 0-4, E McCloskey, N McKenna 0-3 each, E Campbell, C McKinley, S McAfee 0-1 each.
Meath: S McCann; S Geraghty, D Donoghue, R Sherlock; S Brennan, D Healy, K Keoghan; S Heavey, S Morris; J Toher, J Keena, A Gannon; G McGowan, N Heffernan, S Clynch.
Subs: K Keena for Clynch (51), S Whitty for McGowan (54), S Quigley for Heffernan (63).
Antrim: C O'Connell; S McCrory, T McCloskey, M Burke; O McFadden, N McAuley, C McKinley; E Campbell, N McKenna; E McCloskey, C Carson, J Connolly; C Johnston, J Dillon, C Clarke.
Subs: P Burke for M Burke (7), M Dudley for Dillon (47), F Donnelly for McFadden (61).
Referee: J O'Brien (Tipperary).
Sunday Indo Sport