Freeman arrival lifts Monaghan
ANTRIM'S version of the 1913 Lockout continues as they failed once again to find the measure of Monaghan in the championship.
This defeat will be sorely felt by manager Liam Bradley and his players, as they looked at one stage as if they were going to kick open the door to a history-making result.
But a Tommy Freeman-inspired Monaghan rallied to save themselves in the nick of time and now look forward to an Ulster semi-final against the winners of this week's Fermanagh v Down showdown.
Monaghan boss Eamonn McEneaney looked relieved after his side had gouged out a dogged home victory at Clones.
He reckoned his lads were nervous, not about the game itself, but as to whether they would perform to their best on the championship stage.
They did, but only in spots, albeit powering forward in the most important closing stages of the game to score seven points against Antrim's solitary point over the last 18 minutes of play.
McEneaney's side had started with talisman Freeman in the subs nursing a hamstring injury and with Owen Lennon not fully fit. They then lost inspirational captain Paul Finlay to injury after 20 minutes.
It wasn't all bad news, as wing-back Karl O'Connell inflicted what looked like a devastating blow to Antrim by racing through their defence to blast home a sensational opening goal after just 35 seconds of play.
Antrim rallied and really should have done better with the amount of possession they gained in a first half that lasted 40 minutes due to time added on for injuries.
That was to cost the Glensmen very dearly later in the match and their wasted opportunities were highlighted by Antrim boss Bradley.
He couldn't fault his side for effort -- "a lot of those boys can hold their head high for their effort," he said -- but seven wides in the first half compared to Monaghan's four contributed to Antrim's two-point half-time deficit on a scoreline of 1-4 to 0-5.
Indeed, Bradley's team remained in arrears until a superb five-man move ended with James Loughrey drilling the ball past Monaghan 'keeper Mark Keogh for a 45th-minute goal to put Antrim 1-6 to 1-5 ahead.
Midfielder Michael McCann and half-forward Mark McAleese added two points within five minutes of the goal, to leave Antrim 1-8 to 1-6 ahead with 20 minutes left for play.
"It's hard to take. We didn't push on after the goal. After that, we only scored one point.
"Utterly, utterly disappointed because it's a game we should have won," said Bradley.
So, what happened? One key factor was Freeman being sprung from the subs bench just after the goal.
His mere presence galvanised the home supporters and, more importantly, the team.
Within 10 minutes of his arrival, Monaghan were level at 1-8 apiece thanks to points by Conor McManus (free), Freeman, and the determined Dick Clerkin.
Freeman then lifted the siege with a classy 35-metre shot, striking the ball with the outside of his foot and sending it over the bar, despite pressure from two defenders in the 60th minute.
We didn't know it then, but Antrim had only one more throw of the dice -- a point by Paddy Cunningham -- to level the scores once more at 1-9 each with nine minutes left to play.
Those closing stages were hectic, frantic and hard-fought, but Dessie Mone's 64th-minute score added energy to Monaghan's effort.
Within the last two minutes of normal time, U-21 player Peter Dooney, listed to start, but replaced before the game by Lennon, smacked over another point, and just before the final whistle, a Conor McManus point from a free put the seal on the victory.
"We knew Antrim were going to be tough. They proved it today. We're just glad to get out of here with a victory," said Freeman.
Winning manager McEneaney said: "Antrim were very difficult to break down. They were playing with a sweeper and with men back, so trying to break 10 or 11 men down is never that easy.
"But the most important thing today was that when it was 1-8 to 1-5 we showed that bit of character is still there.
"We showed that the Monaghan fighting spirit is alive and well and we came back to win it.
"Obviously, the introduction of Tommy Freeman was a big impetus to the team."
Scorers -- Monaghan: K O'Connell 1-0, C McManus (2f), T Freeman, K Hughes (1f), D Clerkin 0-2 each, P Finlay (1f), O Lennon, D Mone, P Dooney 0-1 each. Antrim: P Cunningham 0-4 (2f), J Loughrey 1-0, M McCann 0-2, A Gallagher, M Magill, M McAleese 0-1 each.
Monaghan -- M Keogh 7; D Morgan 7, V Corey 7, C Walshe 7; K O'Connell 7, D Mone 7, K Duffy7; O Lennon 7, D Clerkin 8; M McKenna 7, S Gollogly 7, J Turley 7; C McGuinness 7, P Finlay 6, C McManus 7. Subs: K Hughes 7 for P Finlay (20), T Freeman 7 for C McGuiness (46), P Dooney 7 for M McKenna (47), D Wylie for K Duffy (68).
Antrim -- C Kerr 7; A Healey 7, R Johnston 7, K O'Boyle 7; T Scullion 7, J Crozier 7, J Loughrey 7; M McCann 7, A Gallagher 7; C Murray 7, M Sweeney 7, M McAleese 7; P Cunningham 7, M Magill 7, T McCann 7. Subs: O Gallagher 6 for T Scullion (59), C Kelly 6 for C Murray (61), B Neeson for M Magill (65).
Ref -- M Deegan (Laois).
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.