Hurlers go down fighting

(Pics: Sportfile)
(Pics: Sportfile)
Kerry’s Michael Slattery gathers this ball ahead of Antrim’s Karl McKeegan in Monday’s Allianz Division 2 National Hurling league final at Croke Park.
Superb action study of Kerry’s Shane Brick as he gathers this ball in Monday’s Allianz Division 2 National Hurling League final at Croke Park despite the strenuous attentions of Antrim’s Ciaran Herron.
Kerry’s Ian Brick races to this ball ahead of Antrim’s Sean Delargy in Monday’s Allianz Division 2 National Hurling League final at Croke Park.

But Antrim had too much power and class in Division 2 National League final

ANTRIM . . . . . . . . .3-18

KERRY . . . . . . . . . . 3-12

A BRAVE second-half fight-back was not enough to save Kerry against a superior Antrim side in this National Hurling League Division 2 final at Croke Park last Monday and and so the Kingdom men have failed in their bid to join the elite of the competition next season.

In fairness, Kerry didn’t deserve anything out of this game. At different stages, Antrim were cruising by wide margins and, while Kerry battled all the way and were severely hampered by some wayward free-taking, the harsh reality is that the issue was never really in doubt until the closing seconds when Shane Brick cracked home a great goal to clip the margin to three points.

By then, it was too little too late and Antrim responded instantaneously with a final salvo just before the final whistle.

That last goal by the Saffrons provided a textbook exmple of good hurling and clinical finish as the ball was worked through Colm McGuckian to Brian McFaul to Damien Quinn whose shot for goal was well saved by John Healy, but as the sliothar spun away from the Kerry goalie Antrim’s lethal corner-forward, Paddy Richmond, was close at hand to bury it in the back of the net.

Healy was rightly furious with his defenders. It wasn’t the first time during the game that he was left completely exposed, but at that stage recriminations were pointless because the final whistle went almost immediately.

However, Kerry can draw encouragement from their second-half display in particular and, while they will have been very disappointed at losing and at not really doing themselves justice, they know that they are capable of a lot better against Waterford in the Munster senior hurling championship in Walsh Park, Waterford, next Sunday.

Hopefully, that improvement will be forthcoming.

In the free-taking department alone, Kerry failed to convert at least half a dozen scoreable frees over the 70 minutes and this came back to haunt them at the finish.

But before censure can be levelled at any of the various free-takers, it has to be said that the blustery wind was not conducive to razor-sharp accuracy. It is also interesting to note that Kerry outscored their opponents by 2-8 to 1-7 in the second half.

Antrim won because of their superior technique, their composure on the ball and their all-round excellence which Kerry could never really match. Physically stronger than their opponents, they brought with them the expertise that has left Antrim teams on the periphery of respectability for several years.

I mean, they gave Tipperary the fright of their lives in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year and we all saw just how good Tipperary are in a truly classic National League Division 1 final which followed the Kerry-Antrim game.

When Antrim and Kerry met recently in Tralee there was only a point between the sides but, obviously, Antrim learned their lesson and acted accordingly.

Their supremacy was never seriously threatened in Monday’s re-match until Shane Brick’s late goal brought a glimmer of hope that Kerry might take something out of the game which, in all honesty, they didn’t deserve.

Sloppy defensive play let Antrim in for two easy points inside the opening minutes and then came the first hammer-blow that rocked the Kerrymen back on their heels and from which they never recovered.

Colm McGuickian, Antrim’s man of the match, burst through for an easy goal after a previous shot was stopped by Healy. Two points from Brian McFaul and Antrim were 1-4 to nil ahead with only seven minutes having elapsed.

Shane Brick made a fine run but was foiled by full-back, Kieran Kelly, who cleared well, but Kerry kept pressing and Michael Slattery fired over their opening point after 10 minutes.

Brick wided two frees in quick succession before Antrim came away in a fine move that saw McGuckian make a clever pass to O’Kane who pointed after 15 minutes (1-5 to 0-1).

Kerry hit a good spell and were rewarded with a pointed free by Pat O’Connell and a brilliant goal from Shane Brick, who took a good lay-off from O’Connell and blasted the ball wide of the goalkeeper.

Only three points in it (1-5 to 1-2) with 19 minutes gone, but Antrim regained control and were 2-8 to1-2 in front on the 30th minute when Pat O’Connell drove over another Kerry point.

Then the hard-working Slattery placed O’Connell, who split the posts again, but once more Antrim powered ahead with three further points before the break (2-11 to 1-4).

Facing a ten-point deficit and with little going right for them, Kerry obviously had a mountain to climb in the second half, but, to their credit, the players bent themselves to the task.

Three quick points after the resumption by Michael Slattery, Shane Brick and Billy Brick brought the margin down to seven points (2-11 to 1-7). Michael Conway made a good run but lost possession and the danger was averted when a goal looked on. Then Shane Brick wided a 70-yards free.

Paddy Richmond added to Antrim's tally with a well-taken point, but in the 45th minute Kerry’s hopes got a real fillip when Michael Slattery hammered home a fine goal and when Shane Brick pointed from a 30-yards free there was only four points in it (2-12 to 2-8).

The outstanding Antrim midfielder, Jim Connolly, stifled any immediate hopes of a Kerry recovery when he placed McGuckian, whose goal-bound shot was touched over the bar by Healy.

Then the Antrim sub, Sean Delargy, made a great run through the Kerry defence and rifled over a fine point. Heron added another and, with the score reading 2-15 to 2-8, Kerry were once more on the back foot.

Shane Brick and McFaul exchanged points (2-15 to 2-9) to be followed by points from Billy Brick and McGuckian. Paul Close added a point for Antrim and points by Brick and Slattery left six points between the sides.

Time was almost up when Shane Brick brought Kerry’s small band of supporters to their feet with the goal that, had it come earlier, might have made a difference.

Billy Brick did the spadework out on the right wing and his shot across goal was diverted on to Brick by substitute Colin Harris and the centre-forward made no mistake with a rasping shot to the net.

Only three points in it now and we wondered if Kerry could save the day. The answer was “no.”

Antrim came away for the clinching goal by Paddy Richmond and referee Barry Kelly blew the full-time whistle.

Antrim had fine hurlers all over the field and were particularly well served by Kieran Kelly, Karl McKeegan, Jim Connolly, Colm McGuickian, Paddy Richmond, Gregory O’Kane and sharp-shooter Brian McFall.

Kerry, who replaced both midfielders, had solid defenders in John Healy in goal, Michael Lucid and Ian Brick in defence, with Shane Brick, Billy Brick, Pat O’Connell and Michael Slattery carrying the flag up front.

Man of the Match: Colm McGuickian (Antrim.)

Scorers: Antrim — B. McFaul 0-7; P. Richmond 1-2; C. McGuickian 1-3; G. O’Kane 1-1; L. Richmond 0-2; S. Delargy 0-1; C. Herron 0-1, P. Close 0-1. Kerry — S. Brick 2-4 (4 Fs); M. Slattery 1-3; Billy Brick (0-3); Pat O’Connell (0-2).

Kerry John Healy (Ballyheigue); Hugh Francis Twomey (Kilgarvan and Mallow), Michael Lucid (Ballyheigue), Ian Brick (Kilmoyley); Willie Joe Leen (Ballyheigue), James McCarthy,capt (Kilmoyley), Kieran O’Sullivan (Ballyheigue); Brendan O’Sullivan (Ballyheigue), Liam Boyle (Ballyduff); Billy Brick (Kilmoyley), Shane Brick (Kilmoyley), Pat O’Connell (Lixnaw); Michael Slattery (Ballyheigue), Maurice Murnane (Kilmoyley), Michael Conway (Lixnaw).

Subs: Colin Harris (Kilmoyley) for Liam Boyle; Conor Flaherty (St. Brendan’s) for Michael Conway; Aidan Cronin (St. Finbarrs) for Brendan O’Sullivan; John Mike Dooley (Causeway) for Maurice Murnane.

Antrim: D. Quinn; M. Kettle, K. Kelly, J. Campbell; M. McCambridge, K. McKeegan, C. Herron; C. Cunnning, J. Connolly; A. Mort, C. McGuickian, L. Richmond; P. Richmond, G. O’Kane, B. McFaul.

Subs:P Close (for A. Mort); M. Herron (for K. McKeegan); S. Delargey (for L. Richmond).

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath).