Antrim have the best scoring difference of any of the top of the table teams across the Allianz Football League, and on Sunday afternoon made a step closer to promotion and a Division 4 Final in Croke Park, with a hard earned three-point win over London at the Irish TV Grounds in Ruislip.
Cathal og Greene, Dave McGreevy and Lorcan Mulvey had outstanding games for the hosts but a fifth minute goal from Kevin O’Boyle was the difference as the visitors dug deep to secure victory, against a London team firmly keen on victory.
London manager Ciaran Deely had targeted this match as an important must win game for his squad, but his sides search for a first win since beating Wicklow in the final round of the 2015 Allianz League continues, after a gritty Antrim performance.
The visitors were pushed hard by a determined London side, with the teams tied on three occasions, all in the second half, until Antrim pulled away with four of the final five scores to take a three-point win.
There was a sense of deja-vu about this game from a London perspective.
In each of their games so far they had started positively with some opening points, but then fell foul of conceding a goal to their opponents, and ultimately losing the match – a carbon copy was again produced on Sunday afternoon – although unlike their previous three games, they left themselves right within ear-shot of a potential win until very late in this game.
London bagged two early points but O’Boyle’s goal handed Antrim a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the ninth minute of the second half.
Tomas McCann was on song from frees with four points overall, including three from placed balls, while his brother Michael also put in an excellent shift, returning from injury.
Tomas revealed after the game that he had injured himself in the prematch warm-up, but played through the pain barrier to deliver an excellent display over the 70 minutes.
Antrim impressed at midfield, where John Carron and Niall McKeever battled with James Moran and Mark Gottsche, but the men who wore numbers 8 and 9 respectively for Antrim, but found themselves in other positional roles for the Saffrons really put in an impressive shift.
Former London player Sean McVeigh and Lamh Dhearg’s Conor Murray were excellent throughout, with McVeigh sweeping up a lot of ball in defence, in a game which saw Antrim win all of their own 11 kickout’s over the 70 minutes.
Both players kicked just a wides apiece, while offering great assets, with Conor scoring two points from play – both in the second half. Antrim led by 1-3 to 0-2 after 16 minutes, following a Tomas McCann pointed free, but London registered three of the next four scores. Adrian Moyles, the impressive Cathal Óg Greene and former Cavan player Lorcan Mulvey all hit the target, with Tomas McCann again delivering a pointed free for the visitors during this spell.
A Patrick McBride point saw a goal margin between the sides after 32 minutes, but London cut the gap with scores from Mulvey and London native Moyles to ensure a 1-5 to 0-7 interval score-line.
London took this game to Antrim on the restart, but a string of black cards threaten to derail the quality of football on show.
McBride went for Antrim, whole Cormac Coyle, Moyles and Adrian Hanlon were dismissed for the hosts – all in a 15- minute spell. The sides were tied at 0- 10 to 1-7 following Hanlon’s dismissal with 11 minutes remaining.
Conor Murray took control with two impressive points from play, with O’Boyle also on target. Although Mulvey’s fifth point ensured London cut the gap to two points with three minutes remaining, Antrim stayed ahead until the end, despite strong pressure on their defence late on.
Niall Delagy was solid at centre-half-back, while Antrim keeper Chris Kerr made a tremendous block on a Dualtach Molloy goal shot in injury-time, to remain unbeaten.
Two points clear of Wexford at the top, it’s back to the home comforts of Corrigan Park, Belfast next Sunday, as the Saffrons aim to continue their unbeaten run, with Waterford coming to town.
LONDON: Conor Campbell; Philip Butler, Ciaran Dunne, Darragh Quinn; Dave McGreevy, Danny Ryan, Colin Dunne; James Moran, Mark Gottsche; Adrian Moyles (0-4, 3fs), Cathal Óg Greene (0-1), Liam Gavaghan; Sean Hickey, Eoin Murray (0-1), Lorcan Mulvey (0-5, 1f). SUBS: Dualtach Molloy for E Murray (35, blood sub); Dean Moore for S Hickey (HT); Cormac Coyne for D Quinn (45), Alan Dunne for C Coyne (46, black card); Dualtach Molloy for A Moyles (50, black card), Adrian Hanlon for J Moran (52, inj); Eoin Mageean for A Hanlon (59, black card).
ANTRIM: Chris Kerr; Conor Burke, Sean McVeigh, James Laverty (0-2); Richard Johnston, Niall Delargy, Michael McCann; John Carron, Niall McKeever; Patrick McBride (0-1), Conor Murray (0-2), Matthew Fitzpatrick; Kevin O’Boyle (1-1), Tomas McCann (0-4, 3fs), Kevin Niblock. SUBS: Martin Johnson for C Burke (44); Ryan Murray (0-1) for P McBride (45, black card); Mark Sweeney for J Carron (51); Dermott McAleese for S McVeigh (58); Michael Armstrong for M McCann (70).
REFEREE: James Bermingham (Cork)