Antrim are Ulster U21 hurling champions for the seventh successive year following a hard-fought 1-19 to 0-17 victory over Derry at Ballinascreen.
Conor Johnston (1-4) struck the only goal of the game after five minutes, while the unerring free-taking of Deaglan Foley (0-11) kept the determined Derrymen in touch until the dying moments. Just two points separated the sides with five minutes remaining, but the victors reeled off four of the next five to clinch the silverware and a place in the All-Ireland series.
Seeking a first title at this level since successfully defending their crown in 2008, the hosts gave a good account of themselves but ultimately had to bend their knee to a stronger Antrim side that will now face Wexford on Saturday, August 22nd for a place in the All-Ireland final.
The sides remained deadlocked at the end of an entertaining first half: Derry 0-10, Antrim 1-7. With the breeze at their backs, the losers started well with points from Foley and Brendan Rogers but the Saffrons then hit 1-2, including Johnston's all-important goal and points from Johnston and James Connolly, before the Oak Leafers in turn replied with five unanswered scores.
Cormac O'Doherty's sublime sideline cut and further scores from Foley (two frees), Eamon McGill and Rogers gave Kevin Ryan's charges plenty to think about and a wonderful save by Conor Owens to deny Saul McCaughan demonstrated that the underdogs were up for the battle.
It was nip and tuck for the remainder of the half and three more Foley points (two frees and a '65') in reponse to scores from Niall McKenna and Johnston ensured that Tom McLean's men were on terms at the interval. Johnston's converted free seemed likely to give the visitors the narrowest of leads at the break but that man Foley made sure it was all to play for upon the resumption.
The holders came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half wiht points from Eoghan Campbell (2) and McKenna, but replies from Mark McGuigan and Foley (2) kept the hosts in touch after 40 minutes, 1-11 to 0-13. But the winners became increasingly dominant and tagged on the next two points through McCaughan and Connolly to lead by a goal at the three-quarters stage.
The next four points were shared to leave Johnston's first-half goal still separating the teams after 52 minutes but the Glensmen - captained by Ryan McCambridge - stepped on the afterburners again to pull away for a comfortable win in the end. Midfielder Michael Dudley brought his tally for the night to 0-3 and wing back Maol Connolly also got his name on the scoresheet late on.
Antrim have now won a total of 33 Ulster U21 hurling titles (tonight's success is a welcome boost in what has otherwise been a year to forget for the Glensmen), while Derry's wait for a fifth goes on.
Antrim - C Heyden; J McGoldrick, P Burke, T Burns; D O'Hara, R McCambridge, M Connolly (0-1); E Campbell (0-2), M Dudley (0-3); P McBride, J Connolly (0-3, 1'65), N McKenna (0-3); C Johnston (1-4, 0-3f), T O Ciaran, S McCaughan (0-2). Subs: S McBride for T O Ciaran, C Ross (0-1) for D O'Hara, D Murphy for P McBride, D Traynor for D Murphy.
Derry - C Owens; S Doyle, J McCullagh, C Quinn; M McGrath, M Mulgrew, E McGill; T McCloskey (0-1), G Bradley (0-1); B Rogers (0-1), M McGuigan (0-1), D Foley (0-11, 10f, 1'65); J O'Dwyer, C O'Doherty (0-2), B Douban. Subs: T Brady for B Douban, B Laverty for T McCloskey.
Referee - J Clarke.