It was far from straightforward, but nevertheless Derek Lyng oversaw a victory in his first Allianz National Hurling League game in charge of Kilkenny.
All eyes will now be on next Sunday’s mouth-watering tie with Tipperary at UPMC Nowlan Park (Live on KCLR).
Antrim started strong in front of a large crowd in Corrigan Park with their ever-reliable free-taker Conal Cunning and James McNaughton pointing for the home side, while fine scores from goalkeeper Aidan Tallis, Paddy Deegan and Paul Cody saw Kilkenny find their way back to equal terms.
It looked as though the Cats would seamlessly move through the gears as Billy Drennan (free) and John Donnelly gave them the lead for the first time before Galmoy sharpshooter Drennan powered through the opposition defence and hit a bouncing shot into the bottom corner to make it 0-03 to 1-05.
That was not the case however, with Drennan and Cunning exchanging scores at the midway point of a lively first half before Conal Bohill, Neil McManus and Cunning points made it a one-score game.
The Leinster champions replied with Cody’s second score of the opening 20 minutes and a third Drennan free that brought his tally to 1-03 and Kilkenny’s to 1-08 as they took a four-point lead into the closing stages of the first half.
The hosts refused to accept their fate as Neil McKenna beautifully finished off two excellent moves, but Kilkenny were finding their scores with greater ease as the experienced Walter Walsh got on the scoresheet for the first time from the puckout that followed and with the last play of the half Martin Keoghan split the posts with an excellent effort.
That left the scoreboard reading Antrim 0-09 to 1-10 Kilkenny at the interval with both sides far from their best.
Cunning and Drennan frees were the only scores in a scrappy opening period after half-time as Antrim made a string of changes while Lyng kept with his starting line-up in the opening ten minutes of the half.
The home fans finally became engaged in the game as Keelan Molloy and Paddy Burke both hit superb scores from play to make it a three-point game once more with 50 minutes on the clock, Antrim 0-12 to 1-12 Kilkenny.
A sixth free of the game from Cunning reduced the deficit to two points as Drennan’s frees remained the only source of scores for Kilkenny with less than 15 minutes of normal time remaining.
A low-scoring second half continued as the conditions worsened with Kilkenny struggling to create many clear-cut chances from open play to the frustration of the small number of away supporters who made the long trip to Corrigan Park.
Corner forward Billy Ryan got Kilkenny’s first score from play in the 65th minute after he gathered a long-range free from David Blanchfield to make it 0-15 to 1-15 before Keoghan followed that up with an insurance score as the game entered four minutes of additional time.
Antrim manager Darren Gleeson cut a frustrated figure as Drennan sealed the victory for Kilkenny and extended his own personal tally to 1-06 on his league debut before Keoghan pointed again.
Tipperary await Kilkenny next Sunday as Kilkenny take to the UPMC Nowlan Park pitch for the first time in 2023.
Kilkenny: Aidan Tallis, Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Niall Rowe, Cillian Buckley (C), Padraig Walsh, David Blanchfield, Paddy Deegan, John Donnelly, Walter Walsh, Cian Kenny, Paul Cody, Billy Drennan, Martin Keoghan, Billy Ryan
Substitutes: Darren Brennan, Padraic Moylan, Des Dunne, Conor Heary, Darragh Corcoran, Shane Murphy, Tom Phelan, Shane Walsh, Gearoid Dunne, Alan Murphy, Niall Brennan
Antrim: Ryan Elliott, Paddy Burke, Ryan McGarry, Niall O’Connor, Gerard Walsh, Eoghan Campbell, Conal Bohill, Michael Bradley, Joe Maskey, Niall McKenna, Keelan Molloy, James McNaughton, Conal Cunning, Neil McManus, Eoin O’Neill
Substitutes: Tiernan Smyth, Phelim Duffin, Stephen Rooney, Caolan McKernan, Enda Og McGarry, Scott Walsh, Rian McMullan, Sean Elliott, Conor Johnston, Paul Boyle, Seamie McAuley,