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Saffrons finish McKenna Cup with Ranch victory as league campaign looms

Man-of-the-match Declan Lynch breaks out of defence 
Pic by John McIlwaine Man-of-the-match Declan Lynch breaks out of defence Pic by John McIlwaine
By David Mohan

Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Group B
Antrim 1-14 St Mary’s 0-9

WITH the Dr McKenna Cup now finished for Antrim, attention turns to their opening National Football League Division Four fixture on January 27 against Derry.

The Saffrons will go into this campaign off the back of a fairly comfortable win over St Mary’s at Woodlands on Wednesday night, but once again it came at a cost.

Kevin Quinn was forced off with a gash to the head in the first half, while Ryan Murray hobbled off at the break and Niall Delargy followed him late on as the trio joined others in the treatment room.

Despite the win over The Ranch, Antrim’s interest in the pre-season competition ended due to their previous defeats against Monaghan and Armagh.

The fact they don’t get an extra game in the competition was not of any concern to manager, Lenny Harbinson who said he is happy to let his walking wounded get back to fitness ahead of the Oak Leaf test in Glenavy.

“To be honest, I’m happy not to have any more games at the minute,” he said after Wednesday’s victory.

“We had 22 names listed on the panel tonight, so we are carrying a lot of injuries and we are nearly down to the bare bones.

“It (Derry) will be a massive challenge for us; they were top-scorers in Division Three last year. If you look at their underage structures over the past five or six years – there’s strength coming through, so we’re under no illusions the Derry game will be a massive test.”

Following Sunday’s horror show against Armagh, Antrim were hoping for a reaction and they certainly got it against St Mary’s on Wednesday as they came flying out of the blocks.

Ryan Murray sent them on their way with a good finish from an angle in the opening minute following a patient move and Niall Delargy doubled their advantage soon after.

A quick exchange of passes saw the ball worked back to Kevin Quinn who fired over from distance and a Paddy McBride free made it 0-4 to 0-0 10 minutes in.

While the new hand-pass rules have come in for some criticism, it did lead to a great kick-passing move from Antrim on 12 minutes that ended with Martin Johnston pointing and this was followed by a McBride free.

It took St Mary’s 18 minutes before they hit their first score through Stephen McConville and this was quickly followed by a good Niall Toner point, but the initiative was quickly back with Antrim as they hit the next four points in-a-row before the only goal of the game arrived on 32 minutes.

Mark Sweeney played a long pass into McBride who put his foot on the accelerator and burst through before squaring to Ryan Murray who palmed to the net, injuring himself in the process.

St Mary’s did hit back with a Ryan McSherry score in the final minute of the half, but at the break Antrim held a fully-deserved 1-10 to 0-3 lead.

A McConville free opened the scoring for The Ranch just after half-time, but Antrim hit back with three of the next four scores through Ricky Johnston, Paddy McBride and Owen McKeown to move 1-13 to 0-5 ahead after 52 minutes.

They would raise white just once more however as they dropped off in the final quarter as the St Mary’s bench made their presence felt with Shane McGuigan kicking three scores when introduced, while Paul Gunning and Gerard O’Neill got in on the act.

There was never any real sense a comeback was on however, even with Antrim finishing with 14 as Niall Delargy hobbled off late on after his side had made all five changes, but the fact they were outscored by 0-6 to 0-4 in the second half was a cause for concern admitted Harbinson.

“The second half showed there are a number of things we need to continue to work on,” he stressed.

“It was slightly disappointing in that they out-scored us in the second half and we kicked a number of shots short. We just weren’t as clinical maybe as we were in the first, so there’s still a lot to work.”

It would be fair to say Antrim’s Dr McKenna Cup campaign was a mixed bag.

There was a fairly decent start against Monaghan when they produced some good moments before a horror show against Armagh and a win over St Mary’s in the final game. Add in the experimental rules that are due for review before the start of the league and a host of new faces and it’s fair to say the Antrim management have much to ponder over the next fortnight.

Harbinson accepts early January is a time for experimentation and says he is happy to have been given the opportunity to have a look at players as he finalises his panel for the League.

“We are under no illusions that we were going to be playing a very accomplished Monaghan team – Malachy (O’Rourke) has done some fantastic work there,” he added.

“Armagh are probably the fifth year into their programme, so we knew those games were going to be very challenging, particularly when we took the attitude that we wanted to use all of our panel members who weren’t injured.

“That meant every game we were going to be making a lot of changes and that means you are breaking continuity, but you’re giving everyone a reasonably fair go at it and it allows us to look at all of the players.”

ANTRIM: P Nugent; O McKeown (0-1), R Johnston (0-1), P Gallagher; N Delargy (0-1), M McCarry, D Lynch; M Sweeney, F Burke; K Quinn (0-1), C Duffin (0-1), P McBride (0-4, 2 frees); E McCabe, M Johnston (0-2), R Murray (1-3, 0-1 free). Subs: P McCormick for K Quinn (18 mins), P Finnegan for R Murray (HT), E Walsh for M Johnston (39 mins), D McCormick for R Johnston (56 mins), C Lemon for C Duffin (62 mins)

ST MARY’S: M Reid; R McCusker, P McSorley, M Rooney; C Byrne, C McKinney, K Muldoon; S McConville (0-2 frees), J Hannigan; C Stinton, R Coleman, T O’Kane; D McKinless, N Toner (0-1), R McSherry (0-1). Subs: S McGuigan (0-3, 2 frees) for C Stinton (44 mins), G O’Neill (0-1) for T O’Kane (47 mins), P Gunning (0-1) for D McKinless (49 mins), C White for K Muldoon (58 mins), H McNamee for S McConville (63 mins).

REFEREE: Dan Mullan (Derry)

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