By Sinéad McGlynn
As expected Antrim claimed a 15th consecutive Ulster senior hurling championship title but they were pushed all the way by underdogs Armagh at Owenbeg.
A late flurry of scores, including a brace of goals from James Connolly, was required to finally see off the Orchard challenge.
Indeed there were just three points between the sides with fourteen to play but Armagh’s task became all the greater as they were reduced to 14-men after the second yellow card dismissal of James King.
Antrim registered the opening scores of the game with points from Daniel McKernan and Eddie McCloskey but when Armagh opened their account they did so with a Declan Coulter goal that saw them lead by the minimum.
The Saffron men replied with a flurry of efforts from Ciaran Clarke, James McKeague, John Dillon and Connolly but Armagh were in no mood to lie down as points from Connor Devlin, Cahal Carvill and a trio of frees from Ryan Gaffney drew the sides level after 21 minutes, before the Orchard men snuck back in front, albeit momentarily, through Eoin McGuinness.
A trio of goals then put the Saffron side in the driving seat, heading for the break, with Dillon and Clarke among the scorers. King hit back with an Armagh three-pointer, on the stroke of half-time, but Antrim would lead 3-14 to 2-08 at the interval.
After the break, it was game on a Gaffney floated over a brace of frees before a McGuinness major saw the deficit reduced to four. Antrim responded with a quick 1-01 from Clarke but McGuinness struck again, 3 minutes later with a fourth Armagh goal.
The scene was set for a frantic finish but the reduction in personnel proved too much for the Armagh men as Antrim finished strongest.