Down forced to work hard by Antrim to retain Ulster crown
WHEN holders Down began yesterday’s Ulster senior final in Clones with an unanswered 1-3, it looked as if the retention of their title was a foregone conclusion.
However, Antrim battled their way back into contention to give the holders a real scare before Down ran out four-point winners.
It was something that player-of-the-match and Down captain Fionnuala Carr touched on after she picked up Corn Rosina McManus.
“Momentum is everything in sport and we got that at the start. It was a great start, we couldn’t have asked for a better one.
“But once Antrim settled, they disrupted that momentum and we couldn’t get it back. We were always ahead but they were with us all the way.
“Towards the end there were some high frees dropping in on us in the goal area and who knows what would have happened if one had gone in.
“There are a few of us that played for Down for many, many years and couldn’t win an Ulster senior.
“It feels so good to get two-in-a-row and going into the All-Ireland in a fortnight’s time, we will appreciate these two hard games.”
Antrim manager Pat Ryan was bursting with pride in his side’s performance.
“We always felt we had a chance in this game, most outside the team didn’t. But we knew that the start was important. We didn’t get that good start and to come back the way we did was brilliant.
“I think we proved ourselves today and, going forward, we can really do well.”
However, that start from Down was game-defining. Orla Gribben pulled down a high diagonal ball to open the scoring with a point, Sara Louise Carr added a great second from 45 metres and Sorcha McCartan off-loaded for Niamh Mallon to find the net. Barely three minutes had passed.
Carr added her second point in the sixth minute while, at the other end, Katie McAleese opened Antrim’s account.
Antrim made a few switches and settled. While Down were still dominating general play, their wides started to mount and, between the 21st and 29th minutes, McAleese popped over four frees to bring her side within a point, only for Mallon to hit a brilliant response and end the first half at 1-4 to 0-5.
Antrim opened the second half strongly with a point from Branagh Orchin. The teams exchanged points before the second Down goal in the 42nd minute.
Sara Louise Carr scored it, but her sister Fionnuala started the move by finding Paula O’Hagan down the left wing. Mallon took possession and cut inside but her shot was brilliantly saved by Megan Coyles only for the younger Carr to fire home.
The Saffron response was positive, a point for Maeve Kelly, followed by another McAleese free.
Down, however, held their shape for the last 10 minutes to take their second successive crown, but Antrim will have restored pride in the jersey with young players like Amy Boyle, Laoise McKenna and Maeve Kelly announcing themselves on the senior stage alongside the excellent McAleese.
Down had a little too much experience, although with 14 wides recorded for the second week running they may review the game a little more critically in a few days’ time.