McKenna Cup: Monaghan begin their 2019 season with eight-point win over Antrim

Monaghan forward Jack McCarron
Jack McCarron top-scored for Monaghan with five points
Monaghan 1-20 Antrim 1-12
Monaghan scorers: J Mealiff 1-1, J McCarron 0-5 (4f), M Bannigan 0-4 (3f), B McGinn 0-3, D Freeman 0-2, R McAnespie, J Walshe, B Kerr. C Lennon, R Beggan (f) 0-1 each
Antrim scorers: N Delargy 1-0, R Murray 0-6 (3f), P McBride 0-2 (2f), R McCann, C Duffin, P McCormack, E McCabe 0-1 each

Monaghan opened their McKenna Cup campaign with a comfortable 1-20 to 1-12 win over Antrim at Clones.

An experimental Farney side took some time to shake off the cobwebs but once they found their familiar rhythm they never appeared in danger of losing.

James Mealiff scored a goal as Malachy O'Rourke's side hit an unanswered 1-4 at the start of the second half to seal an impressive victory.

Niall Delargy scored a consolation goal for Antrim in a one-sided second half.

The experimental rules had little impact on the game, although both sides can claim the hand-pass limit - an offence penalised five times in total by referee Noel Mooney - cost them scores.

It was Antrim who displayed the greater cohesion and fluency in the opening half with Fintan Burke heavily involved as they twice took the lead and Patrick McCormack, Ryan Murray and Ruairi McCann all found the target in the early stages.

Colum Duffin fired the visitors into a 0-5 to 0-3 lead at the end of the opening quarter, but Monaghan stepped up the tempo to dominate the remainder of the half.

O'Rourke's men were twice denied scores by breaching the three hand-pass limit, with Jack McCarron eyeing up a possible goal chance before the alert Mooney spotted Micheal Bannigan's extra fisted pass.

The setback did little to unsettle the home side as McCarron steered over three frees to ease them clear and they out-scored the Saffrons by six points to one in the final 11 minutes of the half to hold a 0-11 to 0-6 lead at the interval.

The Farneymen tightened their grip on the contest three minutes into the second half when Mealiff appeared on Bannigan's shoulder to take the ball at pace and smash an unstoppable shot past Padraig Nugent in the Antrim goal.

Ryan McAnespie, Bannigan and goalscorer Mealiff showed exceptional appetite and energy as the home side dominated possession for long spells on their way to a 12-point advantage.

Antrim finally responded with a goal, punched home by Delargy from Matthew Fitzpatrick's cross in the 50th minute, for their first score of the second half.

The goal reduced the gap to nine points but the Saffrons were unable to mount a significant challenge despite further scores from Murray, Patrick McBride and Eoghan McCabe.

Monaghan looked in control right to the end as McCarron scored his fifth point of the game with a tidy effort from play and goalkeeper Rory Beggan also got on the scoreboard with a long range free.

Bank of Ireland McKenna Cup Section B

Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, F Kelly, C Lennon; John McCarron, F Connolly, B Kerr; J Mealiff, K O'Connell; J Walshe, M Bannigan, R McAnespie; D Freeman, Jack McCarron, B McGinn.

Replacements: T Kerr for Kelly (49), G Dougan for O'Connell (49), C Boyle for John McCarron (49), C Walshe for Mealiff (55), V Corey for Kerr (55)

Antrim: P Nugent; C Hamill, P Gallagher, O McKeown; D McCormack, N Delargy, P McCormack; F Burke, P Finnegan; M McCarry, M Sweeney, R Murray; M Fitzpatrick, C Duffin, R McCann.

Replacements: A Sweeney for Hamill (h-t), P McBride for P McCormack (h-t), D Lynch for D McCormack (h-t), C Lemon for McKeown (48), E McCabe for Burke (56)

Referee: N Mooney (Cavan).

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