Antrim beat Down to reach U-21 final
Ulster U21 Hurling Championship: Down 1-18 Antrim 2-21
ANTRIM’S under-21 hurlers remain on course for their eighth Ulster title in a row after a six-point win over Down in an entertaining semi-final at Ballycran last night.
The opening 25 minutes were nip and tuck. Antrim playing with a strong breeze in the first half and opened the scoring through James O’Connell on two minutes with Alec Delargy stretching the lead three minutes later.
Down had a chance to take the lead when Daithi Sands was fouled in the square after collecting a long ball from Pearse McCrickard. It was McCrickard who stepped up to take the penalty but elected to tap over the bar to cut the gap to the minimum.
The scores then began to come thick and fast with eight points in the next seven minutes after which Antrim led by 0-8 to 0-4. Domhnall Nugent, proving an effective target man for the Antrim puck-outs, began a run of quality points from both sides.
Gerard Hughes, Mark Fisher and the impressive McCrickard were on song for the Ardsmen with Maol Connolly (2) and James O’Connell adding scores for Antrim. The scores continued to mount for both sides and with six minutes to go to the short whistle, just two points separated the sides, with Brook Byers adding Down’s ninth point of the night.
The final five minutes of the first half proved the winning of the game for Antrim however as they outscored their hosts by 1-3 to 0-1 to take a 1-14 to 0-10 lead into the break. Saffron sweeper TT Butler got his name on the scoresheet before a bizarre goal which saw Nugent’s blocked shot ricochet off a Down stick to the net.
Antrim had a half chance on goal moments later when Connolly bore down on goal but was foiled by a superb hook from Barry Trainor. McCaughan then added another free for Antrim before O’Connell completed the first half scoring.
A McCrickard free cut the gap after the restart but on 34 minutes Antrim struck for their second goal, McCaughan batting an Alec Delargy delivery to the net to put the Saffrons 2-14 to 0-11 to the good.
Midway through the second half came the Down rally. Three McCrickard frees closed the gap to six points, 2-16 to 0-16, and when Ryan McCusker’s long range effort deceived Ryan Elliot to land in the Antrim net, just three separated the sides.
In-between, Antrim had another goal chance but Butler’s low drive was superbly saved by Jamie Crowe between the Down posts.
Another McCaughan free was cancelled out by a superb long range effort from Caolan Taggart but that was as good as it got for Down whose last Ulster title at this grade came back in 2004. Antrim sub Ryan McKee, McCaughan and Butler all added late scores with Trainor completing the scoring with a consolation free for the home side.
Down: J Crowe; D Mallon, C Taggart (0-1), M Fisher (0-1f); R Campbell, B Trainor (0-1), L Savage; J Doran, P McCrickard (0-9, 7f, 0-1 ‘65’); B Byers (0-1), R McCusker (1-1), O McManus (0-1); G Hughes (0-1), D Sands, C Fitzsimons (0-2)
Subs: C Coulter (38), N Breen for D Sands (44)
Antrim: R Elliot; D McMullan, T Burns, R Diamond; G Walsh (0-1f), P Burke, C McMullan; C Ross, A Delargy (0-1); M Connolly (0-2), D Nugent (1-2), J O’Connell (0-4); S McCaughan (1-8, 7f), R Delargy, TT Butler (0-2)
Subs: R McKee (0-1), E McManus for P Burke (46), J Maskey (52), C McNaughton for J O’Connell (59)
Referee: A Nash (Derry)