ANTRIM HAVE SPRUNG a massive surprise against Wexford in this afternoon’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling championship semi-final at Semple Stadium.
The Saffrons, with Eoghan Campbell playing a sweeper role to perfection, shocked the Leinster champions in Thurles to become the first Ulster team to reach the final of this competition.
Corner forward Ciarán Clarke bagged 1-5 (including 0-5 from frees) and centre forward Stephen McAfee hit 1-4 from play as the Ulster champions earned a landmark win.
Managed by senior boss and Waterford native Kevin Ryan, Antrim were never overawed by Wexford and trailed just once in the entire game.
Ian Byrne’s free in the second minute handed Wexford the lead but Antrim led all the way to the finish after McAffee’s fortuitous goal in the third minute.
Antrim had the lead out to eight points, 2-13 to 0-11, with twenty minutes remaining before Wexford threatened a revival.
Conor McDonald scored a last minute goal to cut the gap back to just three points before Jack Guiney tagged on another score for Wexford.
But time ran out for the Slaneysiders and it’s Antrim who march on to contest an historic final against Clare or Galway on September 14.
The Saffrons produced an impressive first half display at Semple Stadium, with Stephen McAfee and Ciarán Clarke on target with goals.
All six of Wexford’s forwards scored from play, as well as midfielder and captain Lee Chin, but the Model County still found themselves four points adrift at the break.
Antrim, who led by 2-7 to 0-9 at the break, got off to a flier in the third minute when Stephen McAfee’s speculative effort was fumbled into his own net by Wexford goalkeeper Brian Murphy, as he attempted to catch the greasy sliotar.
And Antrim scored a second goal in the 13th minute when Ciaran Clarke cut in from the left touchline before flashing a low shot across the boughs of Murphy and into the bottom corner of the Town End netting.
That strike handed Antrim a 2-4 to 0-4 lead and they would lead again by six before Wexford hit four of the last six points on offer in the opening half, including two from senior star Guiney.
Scorers for Antrim: Ciarán Clarke 1-5 (0-5f), Stephen McAfee 1-4, Jackson McGreevey & Niall McKenna 0-2 each, Ciarán Johnson & Daniel McKernan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: Jack Guiney 0-7 (6f), Conor McDonald 1-1, Garry Moore, Ian Byrne (1f) & Rhys Clarke 0-2 each, Lee Chin 0-1.
ANTRIM: Ger Dixon (Cú Chulainn); Conal Morgan (Naomh Eoin), Matthew Donnelly (Mac Uilin), Tiernan Coyle (Na Seamróga); Tomás Ó’Ciaráin (Naomh Gall), Paddy McNaughton (Ruairí Óg), Ciarán Johnson (Naomh Eoin); Jackson McGreevey (Naomh Gall), Eoghan Campbell (Ruairí Óg); Niall McKenna (Pádraig Sairséil), Stephen McAfee (Mac Uilin), Shane Dooey (Cú Chullain); Daniel McKernan (Pádraig Sairséil), Conor McCann (Creágan), Ciarán Clarke (Mac Uilin).
Sub: David Kearney (Ruairí Óg) for McKenna (58).
WEXFORD: Brian Murphy (Shelmaliers); Garret Foley (St Mogue’s Fethard), Conor Goff (Oulart-the-Ballagh), Eoin Conroy (Naomh Éanna); Andrew Kenny (Buffers Alley), Shane O’Gorman (Adamstown), Dermot O’Leary (St Patrick’s); Lee Chin (Faythe Harriers), Aaron Kenny (Oulart-the-Ballagh); Jack Guiney (Rathnure St Anne’s), Ian Byrne (Ferns St Aidan’s), Garry Moore (Glynn-Barntown); Conor McDonald (Naomh Éanna), Barry Carton (Cloughbawn), Rhys Clarke (Faythe Harriers).
Subs: Aidan Nolan (HWH-Bunclody) for Byrne (36), Conor O’Leary (Oulart-the-Ballagh) for Dermot O’Leary (43), Tony Ffrench (Adamstown) for Aaron Kenny (51).
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).