Joe McDonagh Cup Final
Courtesy of GAA.ie
By Paul Keane at Croke Park
Antrim held on at Croke Park for their fourth and by far most significant win over Kerry in 2020, securing the Saffrons the Joe McDonagh Cup title.
Ciaran Clarke’s 0-11 haul and an important cameo from fit again substitute Neil McManus were crucial as Darren Gleeson’s men secured their return to the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Antrim, who’d beaten Kerry by margins of six, three and seven points throughout the year in the League and Championship, were six clear again with 10 minutes to go.
But Fintan O’Connor’s Kerry refused to relent and outscored their old rivals by 0-7 to 0-3 in the closing minutes to push Antrim all the way.
The closest they got was a two-point deficit though and back to back McManus points from frees in stoppage time ultimately proved the insurance scores.
Antrim resisted the temptation to include talisman McManus from the start despite taking his place among the subs following a hamstring injury.
He suffered that setback in the Division 2A League final defeat of Kerry in mid-October and missed all of their McDonagh Cup group campaign.
Antrim got by without him in those games and, initially, hinted that they would have little problem again in his absence as they surged 0-6 to 0-2 clear by the water break.
Clarke was their key man in this spell with four of the six points, two of which came from placed balls.
The half would swing on two bizarre moments, the first of which occurred two minutes after the water break and resulted in a Kerry goal.
Antrim full-back Matthew Donnelly should have dealt with a speculative Shane Conway ball in from the wing but somehow missed his catch, leaving Mikey Boyle in space to gobble up the loose ball and strike to the net.
Conway slotted a free for the Munster men soon after and suddenly the sides were tied at 0-6 to 1-3.
Kerry were clearly energised by the goal gift and a tit-for-tat scoring encounter played out until the interval with the teams level three more times.
The Kingdom took the lead for the first time three minutes into stoppage time when Michael O’Leary opened his account with a point.
But Antrim were so unfortunate not to have grabbed a goal themselves moments earlier during the second remarkable episode of the half.
Niall McKenna’s shot looked set to roll over the goal line but ‘keeper John B O’Halloran somehow got back to clear the ball before all of it had crossed the whitewash.
Kerry led 1-7 to 0-9 at half-time but it was clearly anyone’s game and a Clarke point seconds after the restart for Antrim levelled it up yet again.
Antrim reasserted their authority throughout the third quarter and reeled off six points in a row to put significant daylight between the teams for the first time.
McManus was sprung from the bench in the 45th minute and required just three minutes to split the posts with an audacious effort from way out on the right wing.
McManus’ second point from a 65 came just before the water break and left the northerners in pole position with a 0-16 to 1-8 lead.
Their lead was out to six points by the hour mark with Clarke and sub Conall Cunning both on the mark.
Kerry got a strong kick from the bench and subs Padraig Boyle, Colm Harty and Brendan O’Leary all pointed as they piled on the pressure in the closing minutes.
But the closest they got to Antrim was two points and the 2017 Christy Ring Cup finalists held on for a hugely important win.
Scorers for Antrim: Ciaran Clarke 0-11 (8fs), Neil McManus 0-4 (2fs, 165), Conall Cunning 0-2, Niall McKenna 0-2, Michael Bradley 0-1, Conor McCann 0-1, James McNaughton 0-1.
Scorers for Kerry: Shane Conway 0-9 (8fs), Mikey Boyle 1-0, Michael O’Leary 0-2, Daniel Collins 0-2, Brendan O’Leary 0-1, Colm Harty 0-1, Paudie O’Connor 0-1, Padraig Boyle 0-1.
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Joe Maskey, Paddy Burke, Gerard Walsh; Eoghan Campbell, Keelan Molloy; Niall McKenna, James McNaughton, Michael Bradley; Daniel McCloskey, Conor McCann, Ciaran Clarke.
Subs: Conal Cunning for McCloskey h/t, Neil McManus for Molloy 45, Donal Nugent for McCann 45, Conor Johnston for Bradley 64, Aodhan O’Brien for McKenna 70.
KERRY: John B O’Halloran; Bryan Murphy, Tomas O’Connor, Eric Leen; Jason Diggins, Fionan Mackessy, Michael Leane; Brandon Barrett, Paudie O’Connor; Michael O’Leary, Shane Nolan, Shane Conway; Daniel Collins, Mikey Boyle, Maurice O’Connor.
Subs: Barry O’Mahony for M O’Connor 42, Padraig Boyle for P O’Connor 49, Colm Harty for M Boyle 55, Brendan O’Leary for Barrett 61.
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway).