Don't reduce McDonagh Cup, begs Kerry boss
Kerry 2-21 Antrim 1-20
Kerry manager Fintan O'Connor wants the Joe McDonagh Cup to be expanded rather than condensed after the final round of group games in the new second-tier hurling championship produced yet more rollercoaster action.
O'Connor's charges finished third in the table after beating Antrim by four points at Cushendall, having trailed by 10 points after 20 minutes.
"It's a brilliant competition. They are talking about reducing it to five teams but really they should be increasing it. We want to be playing more championship games," said O'Connor (pictured).
"Last year we played three games in the championship and we were finished by the third week in May. At least this year it has gone on a little bit longer which is why I'd be disappointed that they are going to reduce the number of teams."
Meath will make the drop to the Christy Ring Cup next year, while Antrim face the third-tier champions in a play-off to decide who plays McDonagh Cup hurling next year.
In the early stages of Saturday's game, Antrim looked like they were heading for a comfortable win, leading 1-10 to 0-3 after 20 minutes, Ciaran Clarke with the major.
However, helped by Shane Conway's accuracy from frees and a goal from Mikey Boyle, Kerry trailed by a point at the break, 1-12 to 1-11.
Although Antrim settled after the restart to take a two-point lead, once Jack Goulding's 48th-minute shot hit the back of the net, Kerry were never headed and saw out a deserved victory, despite the best efforts of Antrim's Neil McManus, who finished the game with 0-17.
SCORERS - Kerry: S Conway 0-12fs, M Boyle, J Goulding 1-2 each, P Boyle 0-2, B O'Leary, D Griffin, T O'Connor 0-1 each. Antrim: N McManus 0-17 (10fs, 1 '65'), C Clarke 1-0, C Johnston, D McKinley, C McCann 0-1 each.
Kerry - M Stackpole 6; J Buckley 8, B Murphy 8, J O'Connor 7; S Weir 7, M Boyle 9, D Collins 8; B O'Leary 7, D Griffin 7; P Boyle 7, S Nolan 6, T Murnane 7; J Goulding 7, B Barrett 7, S Conway 8. Subs: T O'Connor 8 for Nolan (19), J Conway 6 for Goulding (58), J Diggins for Murnane (70+4), E Murphy for Griffin (70+5).
Antrim - R Elliott 7; A Graffin 7, J Dillon 7, C McKinley 7; P Burke 7, S McCrory 6, D Kearney 7; C Johnston 7, E Campbell 7; K Molloy 7, N McManus 9, N Elliott 6; D McKinley 6, C McCann 8, C Clarke 6. Subs: J McNaughton 7 for N Elliott (ht), E McCloskey 6 for D McKinley (44), R McCambridge 6 for Burke (61).
Ref - P Murphy (Carlow)
Laois cut loose to consign Meath to the drop
Laois 3-23 Meath 0-14
Laois dragged themselves clear of a relegation battle with an impressive victory over doomed Meath at Pairc Tailteann.
The win, allied with Antrim's loss to Kerry, meant that the midlanders avoided relegation and a relegation play-off as they leap-frogged the Glensmen.
Meath, on the back of four defeats, needed victory to have any chance of survival but their fate was decided long before the final whistle.
Apart from the early passages Laois were never headed and after leading 0-9 to 0-5 on the half-hour mark they pressed home their superiority in the closing stages of the half to enjoy a 1-13 to 0-7 lead at the break.
Charles Dwyer found the net in the closing minutes of the half while captain Ross King accounted for three points, to bring his tally to six for the half.
Meath keeper Shane McGann stood between his side and a real mauling in that first half, pulling off three top-class saves to deny Laois further goals.
Points from Paddy Conneely and substitute James Toher reduced the deficit on the restart but it was goals that Meath desperately needed and they rarely threatened to get them.
The O'Moore men had to wait until the 65th minute for their second goal with Patrick Purcell on target.
Ben Conroy went on a scoring spree in the closing stages as the midlanders ended their campaign on a high.
Scorers - Laois: B Conroy 1-5, R King 0-6 (3fs, 2 '65s'), C Dwyer 1-3, P Purcell 1-2, W Dunphy, S Maher (1f) 0-2 each, R Mullaney, N Foyle E Lyons 0-1. Meath: P Conneely 0-4 (2fs), J Kelly 0-4, J Regan 0-3 (1f), C McCabe, J Toher, S Morris 0-1.
Laois - E Rowland 8; P Lawlor 7, L Bergin 7, J Phelan 7; J Ryan 6, M Whelan 8, L Cleere 7; R Mullaney 7, P Purcell 8; C Dwyer 8, B Conroy 8, S Maher 7; W Dunphy 7, N Foyle 7, Ross King 7. Subs: C Stapleton 7 for Ryan (25), M Kavanagh 6 for King (48), M Dowling 6 for Foyle (60), E Lyons for Mullaney (67), C Comerford for Maher (67).
Meath - S McGann 8; S Morris 7, S Geraghty 7, D Conneely 7; S Brennan 7, Darragh Kelly 6, Keith Keoghan 7; Cathal McCabe 6, Adam Gannon 7; Joe Keena 6, D Healy 6, J Kelly 8; Jack Regan 7, Alan Douglas 7, P Conneely 7. Subs: J Toher 6 for Healy (25), N Weir 6 for David Conneely (47), M O'Sullivan 6 for McCabe (55), Colm O Mealoid 6 for Brennan (62), Michael O'Grady for Gannon (65).
Ref - P Burke (Kilkenny).
Doyle treble sends Carlow to Croker
Carlow 3-21 Westmeath 1-21
A thrilling semi-final which ebbed and flowed at Netwatch Cullen Park finally came down in Carlow's favour as Colm Bonnar's side came with a late surge to defeat Westmeath and set up a Croke Park final between the same counties on July 1.
Bonnar's men looked in trouble when a goal in the 48th minute from substitute Niall Mitchell with his first involvement put Westmeath 1-16 to 1-13 ahead. But Carlow pushed on to record a deserved if hard-fought victory.
James Doyle stole the scoring honours with 3-1. His goal on 14 minutes put Carlow ahead before Westmeath, already qualified for the final, retaliated with four unanswered points from Shane Clavin, Niall O'Brien (free), Eoin Price and Aonghus Clarke to take the lead.
By half-time the home side led 1-10 to 0-11 but a period of Westmeath domination, featuring Mitchell's goal, put them in front.
But Doyle's bullet shot from a penalty restored Carlow's lead and he completed his hat-trick on 67 minutes. Full-forward Denis Murphy finished with 0-10.
"Westmeath were already in the final and we had to get there. We had to win or draw," said Bonnar, who pointed out that Carlow have lost Marty Kavanagh, who is hurling in New York this summer, along with Eoin Nolan and David English to injury.
Westmeath boss Michael Ryan said: "We are never happy to lose. It should be a cracking Joe McDonagh final between the two best teams in the division."
Scorers - Carlow: J Doyle 3-1, D Murphy 0-10 (5fs, 1 '65'), C Nolan 0-3, P Coady, J Kavanagh 0-2 each, E Byrne, J M Nolan 0-1, B Tracey each. Westmeath: N O'Brien 0-6 (4fs), A Clarke 0-4, S Clavin 0-3, N Mitchell 1-0, E Price, J Boyle, D Clinton 0-2 each, P Greville, J Gilligan 0-1 each.
Carlow - B Tracey 7; A Corcoran 6, P Doyle 7, M Doyle 5; D Byrne 8, R Coady 7, R Kelly 6; J Kavanagh 8, K McDonald 6; J M Nolan 5, P Coady 7, E Byrne 8; J Doyle 9, D Murphy 8, C Nolan 7. Subs: S Murphy 6 for J M Nolan (42); D Wall 5 for M Doyle (50); R Smithers for P Coady (56); C Foley for C Nolan (74).
Westmeath - S McGovern 7; S Power 5, T Doyle 7 L Varley 6; A Craig 6, P Greville 7, D McNicholas 6; E Price 7, A Clarke 7 ; J Gilligan 5, S Clavin 7, R Greville 5; N O'Brien 8, J Boyle7, D Clinton 6. Subs: B Doyle 6 for Power (29); N Mitchell 6 for R Greville (47); J Galvin for McNicholas (59); J Galvin for Price (63).
Ref - C Cunning (Antrim).