By John Martin
THE Carlow footballers’ promotion hopes are hanging by a thread after drawing with Antrim on Sunday at Glenavy.
Sean Gannon gave Carlow the perfect start when palming the ball to the net after five minutes for the game’s first score, but Antrim dominated the final quarter to earn a share of the spoils.
The hosts levelled matters for the first time in the game in the 69th minute having trailed since Gannon’s opening score.
Turlough O’Brien’s side were dealt a blow before the game when influential midfielder Brendan Murphy was ruled out through flu. John Murphy stepped up from the bench to play a sweeper role with Eoghan Ruth joining Sean Murphy in the middle of the field.
And it was, that midfield partnership dominated the early stages and provided the platform for the Gannon goal, with Darragh O’Brien teeing up the ball for the Éire Óg man to palm to the net.
In a five-minute spell, Jordan Morrissey, Paul Broderick and Ross Dunphy all added points from play to give the visitors a six-point cushion – 1-3 to no score – by the 12th minute.
Antrim finally got off the mark through a Paddy Cunningham free but Broderick then converted for Carlow, gratefully accepting an extra 10 metres awarded by referee Conor Doureen for some back-chat from the home players.
Antrim kept in touch with two placed balls, one apiece for Paddy McBride and Cunningham, but both frees were won by Conor Murray who was causing problems when running at the Carlow defence. Antrim’s only real goal chance came on 27 minutes when Ruairi McCann swung his left foot at a loose ball just outside the small square but Robert Sansom was equal to the task.
Carlow had chances to extend the lead further but struggled to judge the strong cross-field breeze at times, and ended the half with four wides. There were no such issues for Murray who slotted over in first half injury time to cut the gap to three points, 1-4 to 0-4, at the short whistle.
Morrissey extended the Carlow lead after the restart before Antrim again punished Carlow indiscipline through a Cunningham free. Darragh Foley restored the four-point gap, winning a miss-struck free by Broderick to make the score 1-6 to 0-5 on 54 minutes.
The introduction of former All Star nominee Mick McCann boosted the Antrim midfield and the home side started to win more possession in the middle third. Colum Duffin scored Antrim’s second point from play with sub Odhran Eastwood taking over free-taking duties to convert a brace by the 60th minute to leave the minimum between the sides.
Substitute Colm Hulton raised Carlow’s first flag in 12 minutes with his first touch of the game but Saffron captain Declan Lynch cancelled out that score seconds later. A Broderick free put Carlow two ahead on 67 minutes and looked like securing the points for the Barrowsiders but an excellent Murray effort was judged to have been caught by Sansom behind the crossbar, and once again just one point separated the teams.
Eastwood then converted his third free of the day to level matters. Antrim were reduced to 14 men late on when Lynch received a second yellow card. Both sides had chances to secure a win in the four minutes of injury time but a draw was probably a fair result on the day.
Carlow now sit third from bottom on three points, five points behind leaders Limerick. Next up for O’Brien’s side is a trip to Dungarvan to face Waterford on Saturday night.
Antrim: A Hasson; P Gallagher, R Johnston, M Gardiner; D Lynch (0-1), J McAuley, P Healy; C Duffin (0-1), M Jordan; D McAleese, P McBride (0-1 free), N Delargy; P Cunningham (0-3 free), R McCann, C Murray (0-2). Subs: K Quinn for D McAleese (ht), C Small for P McBride (ht), O Eastwood (0-3 free) for P Cunningham (51 mins), M McCann for M Jordan (53 mins), E Nagle for R McCann (65 mins)
Carlow: R Sansom; L Roberts, S Redmond, J Moore; J Morrissey (0-2), R Walker, R Dunphy (0-1); J Murphy, S Murphy; S Gannon (1-0), D O’Brien, E Ruth; D Walshe, P Broderick (0-3, 0-2 free), D Foley (0-1). Subs: C Doyle for D Walshe (51 mins), C Hulton (0-1) for R Walker (60 mins), L Walker for D Foley (65 mins), D St Ledger for P Broderick (71 mins)
Referee: C Doureen (Cavan)