Antrim took a huge step towards a place in the Joe McDonagh Cup final as they emerged victorious over Kerry at a wet and windy Corrigan Park.

The Saffrons struck for three first-half goals through team captain Conor McCann, who netted a brace, and Michael Bradley. That third strike gave the home side a platform and whilst Kerry roared back to make a fight of it, they couldn't get to within five as the hosts steadied and saw themselves leapfrog the Kingdom into top spot in the table.

On a day that required hard graft as well as guile, Antrim made a dream start playing into a strong wind and driving rain as James McNaughton broke clear, fed Joe Maskey who in turn popped to McCann to crash low to the net in the opening minute.

Kerry replied with the ever-dangerous Shane Conway pointing followed by another effort from Mikey Boyle, but Antrim were that bit crisper in their play with points from Keelan Molloy and Ciaran Clarke preceding their second goal that mirrored the first as another McNaughton break resulted in him passing to the team captain and again, McCann made no mistake.

Points from Shane Nolan and Conway kept the Kingdom in touch with the latter then slaloming through the Antrim defence and lobbing towards the net, but his effort was cleared by Phelim Duffin.

Antrim pressed on with McCann, Clarke, Dan McCloskey and Michael Bradley all raising white flags to leave them 2-06 to 0-04 ahead at the water break. It would get even better on 25 minutes when, after a Kerry point, Bradley took a clever low pass from Eoghan Campbell in his stride and crashed high to the net.

Clarke added a pair of frees as the Saffrons threatened to run riot, but Kerry were right back in the game five minutes from the interval as Conway gathered well, fed Mikey Boyle and he offloaded to Daniel Collins who finished low to the net.

Less than a minute later, they were awarded a penalty when Boyle was adjudged to have been bundled over, but Conway's low shot flew the wrong side of the left post.

The sides traded frees before Kerry had another goal chance. This time Padraig Boyle, minus his stick, was in but his kicked effort was gathered and cleared with Clarke tapping over another free to leave Antrim 3-10 to 1-06 ahead at the break.

Kerry needed a fast start to the second period and they got it as Daniel Collins drove over a point and on 38 minutes, Conway showed good control to take the ball down and lash low into the net.

He added another point straight after as the gap was now down to five.

Shane Conway top-scored for Kerry with 1-07

Antrim rolled up their sleeves and got back into their stride as Kellan Molloy landed a fine score to settle them.

Conor McCann, Clarke and a brilliant effort from Bradley followed with Kerry staying in touch thanks mainly to Conway, but they couldn't really get close enough to mount a challenge in the final quarter as Antrim outscored them by four to three with Clarke (two) Molloy and McCann all on target. 

Kerry would finish with 14 players as Fionan Mackessy was shown red for an off-the-ball incident in stoppage time, but the game had been settled as the Saffrons moved to the top of the group with one game to play, leaving Kerry needing a result in their final game against Carlow next week.

Antrim: R Elliott; P Duffin, M Donnelly, S Rooney; G Walsh, P Burke, J Maskey; E Campbell, K Molloy (0-3); N McKenna, J McNaughton, M Bradley (1-2); D McCloskey (0-1), C McCann (2-3), C Clarke (0-9, 0-7 frees).

Subs used: D Nugent for N McKenna (56), E O'Neill for D McCloskey (61), D McMullan for M Bradley (69), R Molloy for J McNaughton (69), R McCambridge for K Molloy (73).

Kerry: M Stackpoole; J Buckley, B Murphy, E Leene; T O'Connor (0-1), J Diggins, F Mackessy; P O'Connor, S Nolan (0-1); B Barrett (0-1), D Collins (1-2), C Harty; S Conway (1-7, 0-4 frees), M Boyle (0-1), P Boyle (0-1).

Subs used: M O'Connor for J Diggins (53), M Leane for C Harty (61)

Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).