London’s hurlers came up short of securing a place in the Allianz Division 2A final despite a hard-fought win over Antrim
Kevin O’Loughlin scored 13 points as London held up their end of the bargain but victory for Carlow against previously unbeaten Westmeath means their league campaign is over for this season.
The magnitude of the match was evident in the home side’s play, as they struggled to exert any real dominance as the final whistle drew near.
Antrim, who had demonstrated some fine hurling throughout, pushed for a winning goal late on, but some superb defensive work, led by the imperious Brian Regan, meant London held on. It was the visitors who started sharpest as Donal Nugent caught London napping and fired over a point from distance with just seconds on the clock. The hosts reacted quickly, however, and Antrim struggled to cope with their constant movement and quick ball.
O’Loughlin opened his account with a free before knocking over a 65 with the assistance on the left-hand upright. A couple of minutes later and London were two ahead as Fulham Irish’s Shane O’Donnell took a great catch, spun on his heels and slotted the sliotar between the posts.
At this point it looked as if London would hammer home their advantage as Antrim struggled to get any foothold in the match. A superb pick-up and tidy finish from a tight angle by Stephen Beatty swung the momentum in the visitor’s favour, however, and Ciaran Clarke levelled the scores on eight minutes.
London’s play continued to be strewn with errors and Antrim duly took advantage as James Connolly scored from forty yards out to move his side into the lead.
The game then entered a period of frantic end-toend action; London’s Oisin Gately fired over from the 65-yard line before good work from Beatty put Antrim back in front. Almost immediately, London were level once more as Tomas Lawrence got in on the act.
The away side refused to let the erratic nature of the match affect their playing style and midway through the first half they scored arguably the point of the game with a free-flowing move that carried the length of the pitch.
Conor McKinley whacked the ball downfield before Connolly beat his man and smartly squared it for Conor Johnston. Johnston made no mistake as he feigned to shoot before striking it through the middle of the posts to the delight of the visiting supporters.
If that was a team goal to be proud of, London responded with a fine individual score through Robert Emmetts’ Bill Walsh. Walsh showed great strength and composure to shrug off the advances of two opposing players before finishing off his move.
London then seized the advantage once again through the prolific O’Loughlin – the cornerforward slotting over before Antrim could re-group. But they allowed further sloppiness to re-enter their game and Johnston waltzed through a crowd of players unchallenged before teeing up Connolly to level the scores.
O’Loughlin was seemingly on a one-man mission to ensure that his side had the best opportunity of reaching the league final and he added two more points in quick succession.
A remarkable strike from goalkeeper Eoin Kelly from his own 21-yard line and a simple point from Walsh after tenacious work from Kevin Reid gave London a four-point advantage. Johnston and Martin Duggan traded scores before Walsh chalked up another point as the home side threatened to run away with the tie.
But two frees from Clarke and Johnston, respectively, and a further point from Eddie McCloskey kept Antrim within touching distance. London, however, were not to be outdone, and a huge strike from Regan followed by another fine solo effort from Walsh restored the four-point lead by halftime.
Like in the opening period, Antrim started brighter and they halved London’s lead with a point from substitute Kevin McKernan and a free from Johnston. O’Loughlin replied with a free of his own before Duggan won a personal battle with Bernard Graham and added another point. A superb run and finish from Darren Hamill reduced the deficit but Antrim were soon further behind when London found the back of the net.
McKernan thought he was harshly penalised but, whatever the case, his team were punished as Kelly pumped the ball forward, Reid reacted quickest in the resulting scramble and tapped it to O’Donnell who smashed it home from yards out.
Antrim refused to capitulate and two points from Johnston, the first a free, meant London were still not out of sight. Mark O’Dwyer, who had worked tirelessly throughout, was rewarded with a point of his own 50 minutes in but Antrim responded quickly with a score from McCloskey.
O’Loughlin, who had gone his longest in the match without scoring, slotted over a 65 before another mazy run from McCloskey kept the gap at four.
Another free from O’Loughlin, this one flying dead centre through the goalposts, kept London’s scoreboard ticking and the Sean Treacys man added another score minutes later.
The visitors continued to be a thorn in London’s side and they were rewarded for their persistence when a combination of poor defending and committed hurling resulted in a goal for Niall McKenna.
A point in the last minute of normal time from McCloskey meant London were hanging on, where another Antrim goal would surely have spelled defeat. A nervous few minutes of injury time were full of incident, including a frantic scramble just yards from the hosts’ goal-line, but the visitors couldn’t land the decisive blow and London held on for another impressive league victory.
Ultimately their efforts were in vain, in terms of continuing their league campaign, but manager Fergus McMahon and his squad can be mightily proud of their achievements and the way they have consistently competed at this level.
LONDON: Eoin Kelly (0-1, free); Conor Hickey, Luke Gaule, Conor McAlinden; Tomas Lawrence (0-1), Brian Regan (0-1), Oisin Gately (0-1); Noel McDonnell, Damien Browne; Mark O’Dwyer (0-1), Kevin Reid (0-4), Bill Walsh; Kevin O’Loughlin (0-8, 0-3 frees, 0-2 ’65s), Martin Duggan (0-2), Shane O’Donnell (1-2). SUBS: Henry Vaughan on for Browne, Daryl Roberts for Reid, Ger Mahon for Gately, Michael Murphy for McDonnell
ANTRIM: Gabriel McTaggart; Simon McCrory, Chris McGuinness, Odhran McFadden; Fergus Donnelly, Donal Nugent (0-1), Conor McKinley; Jackson McGreevy, Darren Hamill (0-1); Eddie McCloskey (0-4), Conor Johnston (0-6, 0-3 frees), Barry McFall; James Connolly (0-2), Stephen Beatty (0-2), Ciaran Clarke (0-2, 0-1 free). SUBS: Bernard Graham for McGuiness, Kevin McKernan (0-1) for Clarke, Niall McKenna (1-0) for Beatty, Stephen McAfee for Hamill, James Black for McFall (62)