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Tremendous result for Antrim as they see off Galway in Qualifiers

Antrim hold their nerve

By Conor McLoughlin
Antrim 0-11 -- Galway 0-10

It wasn’t pretty, but it was beautiful. Antrim’s one-point success over Galway marked a new departure for the Saffrons in the Qualifiers, with a deserved but narrow victory. While luck may have escaped them at this stage in the past, like against Kerry in 2009 and against Kildare the following year, everything fell nicely into place for Antrim on Saturday.

The football on display wasn’t brilliant, with Galway and Antrim both wasting several scoring opportunities and deploying extra men in defence, but the history books won’t show that. They will simply read that on July 14th 2012, Antrim beat Galway at Casement Park.

There were many heroes on the day, but three men stand out. Kevin O’Boyle was outstanding at the back, leading a resolute Antrim defence. Michael McCann can be forgiven for his horrendous khaki-style Under Armour after an imperious display at midfield and the unlikely final hero was St Brigids’ Deaghlan O’Hagan, who popped up with the tremendous winning score from 40 metres in the dying seconds.

Antrim began brightly with Conal Kelly drawing a foul for a Tomás McCann free, and then scoring from play after a sustained period of possession.

However, the St John’s man hobbled off with a hamstring injury inside 20 minutes and was replaced by Aodhán Gallagher, who marked his arrival by clipping over a score with virtually his first touch.

By then, Galway had edged in front thanks to three converted frees from Michael Meehan and Mark Hehir (two).

Antrim were playing well, restricting Galway to long-distance efforts.

Conor Murray was working hard shoring up midfield and Mark Sweeney dropped to his familiar sweeper roll with great effect.

Owen Gallagher had a glorious chance to put Antrim in complete control when he was put through on goal and rounded the ‘keeper but lost control of the ball at the crucial moment.

Galway had a goal chance of their own when Conor Doherty worked his way along the end line but the chance was extinguished by the advancing Antrim goalkeeper, Christopher Kerr.

It was a mark of the strength of Antrim’s defence that Galway managed just four points from play all day, and just one in the entire first half when Paul Conroy, who was marshalled superbly by Ricky Johnston, scored a great point on the turn from distance.

That gave Galway a barely-deserved one-point half-time lead, though optimism remained high on the Casement Park terraces.

Antrim flew out of the blocks at the start of the second half. James Loughrey burst forward with a trademark score, before two quick, well-taken Michael McCann points gave Antrim a two-point lead.

But then Galway enjoyed their best spell of the match as they ramped the pressure up on Antrim.

Hehir added another free, and Gary O’Donnell ended a long spell of pressure with a good score, while Conroy had a sight of goal but let the ball slip out of his hands and Sweeney cleared. Antrim were struggling to get out of their own half at times, but a brilliant burst forward by Tony Scullion drew a foul and Tomás McCann stroked it over to edge Antrim in front.

Again Galway had a goal chance but a quite magnificent catch and clearance by Kevin O’Boyle drew warm applause from both sets of fans, as Danny Cummins seemed certain to win the ball in the square.

The Galway fans were applauding on their own moments later when their talisman Pádraic Joyce was introduced for the closing stages and, true to form, the Killererin native scored with his first touch, side stepping two Antrim defenders before coolly handpassing over to edge his side in front.

Again Antrim came back, with newly-wed Tomás McCann scoring from distance.

Galway kept pushing forward, and first Anto Healy and then Aodhán Gallagher sliced efforts wide on the counterattack.

Justin Crozier gave away a simple free when he pulled a Galway forward to the deck and, as the stadium announcer relayed that there would be three minutes of injury time, Joyce stroked over to give Galway the lead.

The nerves were jangling in the stands but on the pitch Antrim kept their composure.

They held onto the ball some distance from goal as substitute Michael Magill manned the square, and every other Antrim player sat deep. Eventually the ball was recycled out to Tomas McCann who popped one over the bar to level the match at 0-10 each with just two minutes left.

Michael Armstrong won possession from the restart and, eventually, the ball fell to another substitute, Deaglan O’Hagan, who, with his first touch, boomed the ball high over the bar to the delight of the Antrim support.

There was still 90 seconds to play, but Antrim held firm and when referee Derek Fahy blew the final whistle, the crowd spilled onto the pitch. A moment to savour for Antrim, and their long-suffering supporters.

Antrim: C Kerr, A Healy (D O’Hagan 0-1), R Johnston, K O’Boyle, T Scullion, J Crozier, J Loughrey 0-1, M Sweeney (M Armstrong), M Johnston, C Kelly 0-1 (A Gallagher 0-1), M McCann 0-3, O Gallagher (M Magill), C Murray, T McCann 0-4, K Niblock

Galway: A Faherty, K Kelly, F Hanley, J Duane, G Bradshaw, G O’Donnell 0-1, T Fahy (K McGrath), J Bergin (T Flynn), F Ó Curraoin, G Sice, S Armstrong (D Cummins), C Doherty 0-1 (G Sweeney), M Meehan 0-1, P Conroy 0-1, M Hehir 0-4 (P Joyce 0-2)

Referee: D Fahy (Longford)

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