Galway comprehensively outgunned Antrim in this afternoon’s All-Ireland first round qualifier at Casement Park, giving the recently crowned Ulster champions a serious lesson in championship hurling.
Crowning his championship debut, the prodigious Joe Canning grabbed two goals and Damien Hayes, Alan Kerins and Kerril Wade (2) also found the Saffrons’ net as Ger Loughnane’s men blasted ahead.
Overcoming a poor start, Antrim did well to get back level (0-10 to 1-07) thanks to a Michael Magill goal and a clutch of Donal McNaughton points.
But, producing some stirring hurling from the 28th-minute onwards, Galway cracked home two quick goals through Canning to claim a 2-13 to 1-08 half-time lead.
The second half was completely one-sided and Antrim’s challenge faltered further with Michael McCambridge’s dismissal.
Late green flags from Kerins and substitute Wade were hardly needed as Galway turned their focus to next Saturday’s second round tie with Laois, while Antrim will have to bounce back quickly as they face Waterford on the same day.
In front of a crowd numbering 2,000, Antrim and Galway were meeting in the SHC qualifiers for the third time in four years.
In those previous years Galway rattled off winning tallies of 3-29 (2005) and 2-31 (2007) and despite a ten-week break from competitive action, Loughnane’s side still looked set to test the -18 point handicap today.
The Clare man made six changes to the team he selected for April’s NHL Division 1 final defeat to Tipperary, with Canning, James Skehill and Cyril Donnellan their only championship newcomers.
Antrim were boosted by key forward Paddy Richmond’s recovery from a dead leg and while they were without honeymooning captain Sean Delargy, Michael Magill was available again after time out with a calf injury.
The Saffrons edged ahead in the opening minutes but ominously, by the ninth-minute, Galway had flung over six successive points – four of them from the 19-year-old Canning.
One of Canning’s early scores could easily have been a goal as a trademark blistering strike just cleared Ryan McGarry’s crossbar.
Antrim bolstered their defence by dropping corner forward Paul Shiels into their rearguard and that tactic looked to be paying dividends as the hosts hung onto Galway’s coattails.
Not deterred by hitting four early wides, the Saffrons kept in contention with points from McNaughton, Karl McKeegan and Michael Herron.
Joint-managers Dominic McKinley and Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton had good reason to be pleased with their side’s display up to the 28th-minute when Antrim got back on terms, much to the home supporters’ delight.
But conceding that series of scores, including Magill’s well-taken goal, seemed to spur Galway into action and the men from the west found an extra gear in the minutes leading up to half-time.
They noticeably upped the tempo around centre-field and in their attack – their passing was crisper and their running off-the-ball top notch – with Canning, Alan Kerins, Iarla Tannian and Damien Hayes all impressing.
Canning was given an ideal chance to reply to Magill’s goal when he was presented with a 20-metre free and he made no mistake with a thunderous shot past McGarry and his defenders.
The Portumna clubman was denied by McGarry in open play just a few moments later but points from Tannian and Fergal Healy made up for that missed opportunity.
Eddie McCloskey almost worked himself a goal-scoring chance at the other end but Kerins did well to get back and flick the ball away from him.
Two minutes before the break, Canning nestled an angled shot into the back of the hosts’ net, confidently taking his personal tally to 2-04.
A Karl Stewart point initiated a mini-response from Antrim but corner back Damien Joyce, who roamed forward with his man Shiels on defensive duty, had the last word of the opening half.
Nine Galway players had got on the scoresheet in the opening 35 minutes and with the rain beginning to teem down, the flood of scoring continued in the second period.
11 minutes after the restart, Galway were 3-17 to 1-08 to the good with an excellent overhead pass from Canning teeing up Hayes for his goal.
The gulf in class became painfully evident as Galway galloped into an unassailable lead.
Although they kept plugging away, Antrim were fighting a losing battle and McCambridge’s sending-off for striking, midway through the half, could not have come at a worst time.
Kerins and Wade slotted home their goals to give a very sorry look to the scoreboard.
On this evidence, Galway are very real contenders for this year’s All-Ireland title but Loughnane knows full well that much bigger challenges lie ahead.
This result does nothing for Antrim or Ulster hurling, or indeed the All-Ireland series.
McKinley and McNaughton will have to work miracles to keep Antrim's summer alive as a wounded Waterford side, whose manager Davy Fitzgerald was in attendance today, lie in wait.
ANTRIM: R McGarry; A Graffin, J McKeague, M Kettle; C Herron, K McKeegan (0-02, 0-01f), J Campbell; K Stewart (0-02), M Magill (1-00); M Herron (0-02), E McCloskey, D McNaughton (0-04, 0-04f); P Richmond, C Donnelly, P Shiels.
Subs used: M McCanbridge for Kettle, PJ O'Connell for D McNaughton, S McNaughton for Stewart, S McCrory for Magill.
GALWAY: J Skehill; D Joyce (0-01), F Moore, O Canning; S Kavanagh, J Lee, D Forde; A Cullinane (0-02), F Healy (0-02); A Kerins (1-01), C Donnellan (0-03), I Tannian (0-03); D Hayes (1-02), E Cloonan (0-01), J Canning (2-06, 1-02f).
Subs used: N Healy for Forde, A Callanan for Tannian, K Wade (2-00) for Cloonan, C Callanan for Skehill, M Kerins for Donnellan.
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)