Ulster Senior Hurling Championship Final
ANTRIM 6-21 ARMAGH 4-14
Antrim hurlers finished off a bad year on a positive note with a 15th Ulster successive senior hurling title after a provincial final that was more competitive than had been expected.
Armagh, appearing in only their second ever final, made a game of it for long enough at Owenbeg but the sending off of midfielder James King in the 58th minute, when there were just three points between the teams, was pivotal.
Antrim, who missed out on promotion this year and lost a controversial Christy Ring Cup final replay to Meath, powered clear with the extra man.
They outscored 14-man Armagh by 2-5 to 0-2 in the last 15 minutes to claim a 56th Ulster senior hurling title.
A Declan Coulter goal in the third minute had Armagh briefly ahead but points from Eddie McCloskey, James McKeague and John Dillon pushed Antrim ahead in the early stages.
Ryan Gaffney’s frees kept Armagh in touch while Fiachra Bradley, a late replacement in the Armagh starting line-up, scored two points from play in the opening half.
It was competitive in the opening 20 minutes or so before the saffrons bagged three goals in a six-minute spell before the interval.
John Dillon’s goal in the 24th minute was followed by a second when Conor Carson got the last touch through a sea of bodies.
Ciaran Clarke, who hit 1-4 in the first half, hit goal number three on the half hour mark. Totally unmarked, he collected James Connolly’s pass and drilled the ball low into the far corner of the net.
James King buried a shot into the top corner for a spectacular Armagh goal in first-half injury time to leave the orchard men trailing by 3-14 to 2-8 at half time.
The third quarter was most competitive spell in the game and once full-forward Eoin McGuinness turned neatly and blasted the sliothair into the net in the 38th minute, it was game on.
Ciaran Clarke, who top-scored with 2-7, scored his second goal in the 45th minute when he dummied past two players to slide a shot in at the near post. But Armagh rallied again, McGuinness flicking Kieran McKernan’s pass into the net.
Gaffney’s frees brought Armagh to within three points whenever King was sent off and it had a massive impact on the game, James Connolly bagging two late goals for Antrim.
Scorers for Antrim – C Clarke 2-7 (3f), J Connolly 2-2, J Dillon 1-2, C Carson 1-1, B McCarry, D McKernan 0-3 each, J McKeague, E McCloskey 0-1 each, C McNaughton 0-1 (f)
Scorers for Armagh – E McGuinness 2-2, R Gaffney 0-7 (7f), J King, D Coulter 1-0 each, J McKeague, C Carvill 0-2 each, C Corvan 0-1
ANTRIM: C O’Connell; S McCrory, N McAuley, B Graham; F Donnelly, P Burke, J McKeague; E Campbell, D McKernan; E McCloskey, J Dillon, J Connolly; B McCarry, C Carson, C Clarke
Subs: O McFadden for McCrory (16), S Delargy for Graham (26), S McCrory for Donnelly (47), C McNaughton for McKernan (64)
ARMAGH: S Doherty; C Clifford, A McGuinness, C Devlin; J Corvan, N Curry, F Bradley; K McKernan, J King; R Gaffney, C Carvill, D Carvill; D Coulter, E McGuinness, C Corvan
Subs: P McKearney for Bradley (60), A Toal for D Carvill (68), O Curry for A McGuinness (68)
REFEREE: Eamonn Hasson (Derry)
Report: Orla Bannon