Joint defending champions Kilkenny lived dangerously at the finish, but they survived to get their Allianz Hurling League campaign off to a winning start at a bitterly cold UPMC Nowlan Park.

At one stage during the second half the Cats were moving really well and they looked comfortable when leading by 2-11 to 1-06. However, they lost their way after that and battling Antrim gave them a right good fright in a gripping finish.

"We had to fight for the win in the end," admitted Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody. "We were in control early in the second half and then the game turned."

A 67th minute goal from Neil McManus brought the losers right back into the match when he cut the gap to 2-14 (20) to 3-9 (18). Seconds into lost time, McManus launched a long range free towards the home goal. Sub Aaron Bradley got a touch to the arriving ball with his hurley and diverted it goalwards from the edge of the square.

Home goalie Darren Brennan did the spectacular and managed to turn the sliotar away to safety. The Cats escaped to victory with the help of a late, late point from John Donnelly.

It was a win for Kilkenny, but it was far from convincing stuff as they also ran up 19 wides. Antrim finished with 14 men after defender, Niall O'Connor was dismissed in the 65th minute after receiving a second yellow card.

Antrim made most of the running during an error-strewn opening half during which the teams shared 17 wides (Kilkenny 10). The visitors hit the front in the third minute when Sean Elliott ran onto a delivery from James McNaughton before cutting through two defenders and crashing a low shot into the net.

With the swirling wind proving a real challenge for both sides, the scoring rate was low. Kilkenny were creating chances, but a failure to take them left them struggling on the scoreboard.

With Ciaran Clarke leading the visitors attack well, Eoghan Campbell a real tiger at centre-back and James McNaughton and the lively Keelan Molloy going well at midfield the visitors took the game to the opposition.

On two occasions they showed four points in front, and when Campbell found the target from all of 85 metres in the 26th minute they reached their best advantage of the match with a lead of 1-5 to 0-3.

Seconds later Paddy Deegan landed Kilkenny’s tenth wide before he popped over a good close-range point. On the half hour mark newcomer, Tom Phelan made a brave burst through the Antrim defence. His shot was half-block. The ball broke to Martin Keoghan, who swept it to the net from the edge of the square.

Kilkenny were in front, 1-06 to 1-05. A point from a free two minutes into lost time from Ciaran Clarke left it all square at 1-06 each at the break.

Kilkenny were much livelier after the change of ends. They opened with early points from John Donnelly (free) and Padraig Walsh before centre-back Huw Lawlor burst up the field to score (1-09 to 1-06).

The home side roared on. A great goal in the 45th minute, finished by Martin Walsh and with Billy Ryan and Tom Phelan involved in the build-up helped Kilkenny into a strong lead of 2-11 to 1-06.

Antrim had to wait until the 53rd minute for their first score of the half, a point from Daniel McKernan. After that they began the crawl back into the match, and they nearly stole a win in the end.

Kilkenny: D Brennan; M Butler, C Delaney, T Walsh; J Maher, H Lawlor (0-01), D. Blanchfield; M. Carey, P. Deegan (0-01); J Donnelly (0-04, 3f), P Walsh (0-02), T Phelan (0-01); B Ryan, M Keoghan (2-02), J. Bergin (0-03).

Subs: C Wallace for Delaney (inj) 22nd min; W. Walsh (0-01) for Bergin ht; C. Heary for J. Maher ht; C. Bolger for B. Ryan 52nd min.

Antrim: R Elliott; N O’Connor, G Walsh, S Rooney; P Burke, E Campbell (0-01), J Maskey; J McNaughton, K Molloy (0-01); N McKenna, C Clarke (0-03), C Cunning; S Elliott (1-01), N McManus (1-02), C Johnston (1-00).

Subs: D McKernan (0-01) for J McNaughton 50th min; E O’Neill for C Clarke 50th min; R McCambridge for K Molloy 66th min; A Bradley for N McKenna 66th min.

Referee: P Murphy (Carlow).