Battling Saffrons undone by ruthless Offaly

Antrim 4-09-5-11 Offaly

                                                                  Kevin Herron, Antrim Ladies P.R.O.


All-Ireland junior champions Antrim fell to their first defeat of the Tesco homegrown Division four league after a five point defeat to joint league leaders Offaly at Casement Park on Sunday. This was Antrim's first competitive fixture of 2013 after Carlow conceded last weeks game. Brian Coyle was without the services of a number of key players, with Mariosa McGourty and Cathy Carey playing Camogie for their universities, while goalkeeper Ciara McCoy was an absentee due to holiday and Bridget Scullion also missed out. This meant that a youthful Antrim side took to the field against a Offaly side that blew away Derry in their first game by 41-points, and defeated Roscommon in their last outing.


Offaly made the brighter start to the game and took the lead after less than a minute at a bright but cold Casement Park , when corner forward Kim Fury sent the ball over the bar to open the scoring. The Leinster side doubled their advantage two minutes later; after a foul inside the Antrim half the referee awarded a free, and other corner forward Mairead Daley converted the kick to double Offaly advantage. From the resulting kick out by Emma Kelly Offaly raced into a three point lead, this time Kelly Cunningham was on hand to take advantage of the error the make 0-03-0-00 Offaly. Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse for Brian Coyles side it did; on six minutes a defensive error lead to Mairead Daley picking up possession, and the full forward supplied the finish to put Offaly firmly in control of the game.


Antrim were yet to really threaten early on, but when the first chance came the saffrons took advantage. Mairead Cooper caught the ball well on the Offaly 14-yard line, and cut inside before blasting past Offaly keeper Laura Devery to cut the deficit to three points with ten minutes gone. Offaly responded though with two points of their own; first Mairead Daley worked a fine score, before Daley combined with Kelly Cunningham to put Offaly five to the good. Antrim began a period of sustained pressure and were soon on terms with their Leinster counterparts; Anna Finnegan worked a good move with Clare Timoney who was fouled, and Kirsty McGuinness converted the resulting free, before Timoney herself got in on the act converting a point despite good pressure from the Offaly defence.


On 18 minutes Antrim were given a huge chance to level proceedings when the referee spotted an infringement in the area and awarded a penalty. Kirsty McGuinness was tasked with converting, and didn't disappoint with an excellent shot drilled into the top left hand corner past Devery to level the game 2-02-1-05. Offaly almost responded immediately at the other end, though Clare O'Brien scuffed her shot wide when the goal was on. Though Offaly did regain the lead a couple of minutes later; good work in the corner between Treasa McManus and Kim Fury gave Aoife Norris the chance, and the Offaly number 12 was able to find the net to restore Offaly's three point cushion 2-02-2-05.


Antrim showed great character and determination despite their set-back; from Emma Kelly's kick out the ball was worked well upfield and fed into the path of Clare Timoney, the half forward bore down and goal and had the simplest of finishes into the net to level proceedings for the second time 3-02-2-05. Less than a minute later Antrim took the lead for the first time, Kirsty McGuinness and Helen Ward combined, and the ball broke to Clare Timoney who popped the ball over the bar to give Antrim a one point lead. Although Offaly responded well and it wasn't long before they regained the initiative, the ball broke to Mairead Daley in a dangerous position, and Daleys high shot dropped into the net past Emma Kelly to put the Leinster side 3-03-3-05 ahead.


Antrim though finished the half strongest and it soon showed on the scoreboard; a good run by Mairead Cooper finished with a ball threaded into the path of Maebh McCurdy, whose effort that was seemingly goal bound ended up going between the posts for a point. On the stroke of half time proceedings were level for a third time, when Kirsty McGuinness turned her marker and fired between the posts to make it 3-05-3-05. Antrim took the lead again before the break with two scores in injury time; first Maebh McCurdy was fouled on route to goal and Kirsty McGuiness converted the resulting free, before Anna Finnegan fired over the bar to make the scores 3-07-3-05 at the break.


Playing with the wind Offaly would be hoping to take advantage; and it that's exactly what they did a minute into the half when Amy Kerrigan sent a long ball into Kelly Cunningham, and despite initially dropping the ball Cunningham recovered and smashed the ball home to give Offaly a two point lead 3-07-4-05. Offaly started strongly and added a second point with two minutes, Kerrigan won the ball just beyond the midfield and took the ball in before firing over the bar to put three between the sides. Six minutes into the second half things went from bad to worse for Antrim; Mairead Daley was fouled in the area and the referee had no choice but to signal for a penalty, despite Emma Kelly's best efforts Daley converted the resulting kick and Offaly were seemingly coasting 3-07-5-06.


What followed from the visitors was an onslaught, with attack after attack though credit must go to the Antrim defence for containing the visitors in a spectacular 15 minute spell. Elaine Sullivan combined with Kim Fury to a grab a point, before Clare O'Brien followed this with a second point in quick succession. Two further scores followed from Kelly Cunningham; one from play and the other from a free, before Mairead Daley finished off Offaly's scoring as their lead was now ten points 3-07-5-11. Antrim rallied late on though, their first score of the half arrived on the 22nd minute as Kirsty McGuinness converted a free. A further point followed soon, before a good move between the full forward line resulted in Maebh McCurdy finding the net to half the deficit to five points 4-09-5-11 but by this stage it was too little too late.

The full time whistle sounded to confirm Offaly's 100% start to the league campaign continued. The Leinster side undoubtedly clinched the win with a superb 20 minute spell at the start of the second half, and will be glad to have left Belfast with their unbeaten start intact. Antrim meanwhile can take some positives from the game, with a very young side playing some good football at times throughout the first half, though their inability to find scores until the 22nd minute of second half was what ultimately cost them.


Antrim side: Emma Kelly, Rebekah Hemsworth, Brona Reilly, Niamh Adams, Aine Tubridy, Catherine Mullan, Nicole Kelly, Anna Finnegan, Gerardine McCann, Mairead Cooper, Clare Timoney, Kirsty McGuinness, Maebh McCurdy, Helen Ward, Maedhbh Laverty. Subs: A Carelton, C Wilson, C Sullivan, L O'Neill, E McAtree, N Rafferty, R Carson, A Carson, M McDonald


The Antrim ladies are back in competitive action against Louth away on Sunday the 3rd of March. A venue has yet to be decided.