Glen Rovers Armoy 3-11 Pádraig Sairséil 0-17
Glen Rovers gave themselves a fighting chance by seeing off relegation rivals Sarsfields in an O'Neill's Antrim ACHL Division 2 match that was marred by ugly scenes right at the end in Armoy on Wednesday evening.
The tension was evident pre-match as both teams went through a concentrated warm-up knowing a big two points were at stake.
Kevin McKernan settled any early Paddies' nerves with a free from inside his own half and Ciaran McErlain responded in kind before Sarsfields corner-back Jack Daniels hit a superb score, winning the ball in front of his man before bursting through to point from just inside the opposition half.
Further frees from the hurl of McKernan saw the visitors race into an early lead before the home side could settle themselves with the opening goal.
A foul on Conor Christie resulted in a 20m free for Rovers and while all around were expecting a simple point, Johnny McErlain had other ideas and hammered his free low, deflecting off a defender's hurl and into the net to level the match.
Midfielders Kevin McKernan and Ciaran McErlain then swapped scores before the home side raised the second green flag of the evening, a speculative PJ McBride effort deceiving David Ward in the Sarsfields goal and dropping into the net before Owen Kinney added a point to give the hosts a sudden four-point lead.
Sarsfields refused to panic and hit back with another McKernan free and a fine effort from Ryan O'Neill, the full-forward plucking a high ball from the sky and firing over.
Armoy's John Dillon then ended a slick passing move from the hosts by launching a huge effort over the bar, only for McKernan to equal the feat immediately. Not to be outdone, Rovers half-back Martin McErlain then sent a long-range effort of his own over the bar to leave three between the sides.
The last ten minutes of the first half saw a flurry of scores as both sides found their feet. Niall McKenna slotted his first of the evening, a neat touch on the left allowing him space to shoot over from the flank, before scores from Ciaran McErlain and Thomas Burns opened up a four-point gap.
Daniel McKernan got his name on the scoresheet as the Sarsfields forwards began to click before a foul on Johnny McErlain allowed Trevor Linton to split the posts from a free. The joy was short-lived though as Niall McKenna sent over the immediate response, before Johnny McErlain and Daniel McKernan traded scores to bring the first half to a close in breathless fashion.
The second half began lethargically, both teams somewhat deflated after the late exertions of the first. It was eight minutes before either side registered a score, a Niall McKenna effort wide on the Sarsfields left raising the white flag to narrow the gap to just two, before the hosts netted their third of the evening.
Joe McBride pounced on a mistake in the away defence and wriggled free to fire past David Ward. The referee seemed to award a free out before confirming the goal, much to the frustration of the Sarsfields defence.
Armoy then won a free from the resulting puck out, which Johnny McErlain converted before a foul on Daniel McKernan allowed Kevin to fire over a free of his own to leave the visitors trailing 3-10 to 0-14 with fifteen minutes left to play.
McKernan followed his score up by plucking a clever Ward puck out from the air, bursting forward twenty yards and launching it over the bar. Another McKernan free from the right flank had the visitors within three points before Johnny McErlain eased any Armoy worries about missed chances by landing a free wide on the right hand side.
A foul on Ryan Carson allowed McKernan to fire over a free and reduce the gap to three with just three minutes remaining before a flashpoint resulted in ugly scenes in front of the pavilion.
As Kevin McKernan had carried the ball into the Armoy defence, the referee deemed him to have overcarried the ball and a scuffle broke out as both sides contested the decision.
This turned out to be the last play of the evening as the game descended into ugly and violent scenes that resulted in referee Darren Mullan having to be escorted from the pitch and that will no doubt come under investigation by the County Board.
Two vital points for the home side who enter the final two games three points behind both Glenariffe and Sarsfields and with a fighter's chance of survival.
Glen Rovers Armoy: Timmy Burns, Shane Devlin, Charlie McCormick, Emmet O'Hara, Liam Dillon, John Dillon (0-01), Martin McErlain (0-01), Ciaran McErlain (0-02f, 0-01), PJ McBride (1-00), Trevor Linton (0-01f), Owen Kinney (0-01), Thomas Burns (c) (0-01), Joe McBride (1-00), Johnny McErlain (1-02f, 0-01), Conor Christie.
Pádraig Sairséil: David Ward, Peter Corr, James Cunningham, Jack Daniels (0-01), Niall McAlea, Eoghan Rodgers (c), Caillin Caldwell, Kevin McKernan (0-07f, 0-03), Gary Lennon, Ryan Carson, Niall McKenna (0-03), Daniel McKernan (0-01f, 0-01), James McKernan, Ryan O'Neill (0-01), Tomás Doherty.
Referee: Darren Mullan