Offaly force Antrim into relegation play-off
Updated: Sunday, 31 Mar 2013 18:06
Offaly condemned Antrim to a relegation play-off with a 0-21 to 0-19 win in Division 1B at Casement Park.
The sides were level seven times in the first half, including 0-11 apiece at the break, with Antrim's Neil McManus and Shane Dooley of Offaly sharing the majority of the scores.
Antrim led by four points midway through the second period, but they failed to score from the 55th minute onwards as Dooley, Ciaran Slevin and Rory Hanniffy shot Offaly home.
"It seemed that any time we were going to get a lead the referee was going to stop us anyway" - Kevin Ryan, Antrim manager
The Faithfuls landed six unanswered scores at the end of this Allianz Hurling League clash to secure third place in the Division 1B table and leave Antrim facing a relation play-off against Carlow.
The pre-match mathematics gave Offaly a chance of a place in the divisional final and Antrim a shot at avoiding the relegation game against the Barrowsiders, however results elsewhere ensured that those permutations were academic.
Nevertheless, both sides served up an entertaining clash in bitterly cold conditions in Belfast.
The early exchanges were a predictable shoot-out between opposing talismen McManus and Dooley, who shared the first 12 points between them.
On 20 minutes James Mulrooney became the third name on the scoresheet as Offaly edged 0-07 to 0-06 ahead.
A McManus free levelled matters before Brian Carroll and Paul Shiels traded scores. An excellent effort from Simon McCrory, followed by a Shane McNaughton point, had Antrim two points to the good while, in between, Dooley tried his luck from a close-in free but the Antrim rearguard were equal to the task.
Antrim's first real chance on goal came just before the break when a McManus effort broke for Conor Carson, but the full-forward failed to connect at the edge of the square.
Slevin then added two points to ensure the sides went in level, 0-11 each, at the interval.
Two more points from McManus, who was just edged out by Slevin for man-of-the-match, restored Antrim's cushion after the restart.
By the 46th minute the teams were level for the eighth time when Slevin landed his third from play, but four unanswered scores from the home side looked like a second victory of the campaign was within reach for Kevin Ryan's Saffrons.
After 57 minutes the gap remained at four points when Tony McCloskey and Slevin swapped scores, but Antrim failed to raise another flag.
Slevin (0-02) and Dooley brought the visitors to within a point, with Hanniffy supplying the leveller on 61 minutes.
Kevin Brady added point number 20 for the Faithfuls with four minutes left on the clock and Dooley converted an injury-time free to see Offaly over the line.
Referee Alan Kelly left Casement Park with the jeers of the home support ringing in his ears, and the Galway official also incurred the wrath of Antrim manager Ryan after the game.
"I never talk about referees but I just can't believe that (performance). It seemed that any time we were going to get a lead the referee was going to stop us anyway," said the Waterford native.
"Any momentum we were getting was being pulled back on us for nothing. I still thought the game was there and I put it down to the referee just taking any momentum we had away from us."
ANTRIM: R McGarry; C McKinley, A Graffin, M McFadden; S McCrory (0-01), N McAuley, P Shiels (0-02); M Donnelly, J McGreevy; S Beatty, N McManus (0-12, 0-10f), E McCloskey (0-01); D McClean, C Carson, S McNaughton (0-01).
Subs used: T McCloskey (0-01) for Donnelly, S McAfee (0-01) for McClean.
OFFALY: J Dempsey; C McDonald, D Kenny, P Cleary; P Camon, R Hanniffy (0-01), K Brady (0-01); C Slevin (0-07, 0-04f), B Carroll (0-01); C Egan, D Molloy, G Healion; S Dooley (0-10, 0-07f, 0-01 sl), J Mulrooney (0-01), T Carroll.
Subs used: C Parlon for T Carroll, O Kealey for Molloy, S Ryan for Camon.
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)