Antrim suffer Ruairi McCann loss ahead of Down clash

Aghagallon ace unavailable for Ulster Championship clash with Mournemen

Antrim’s Ruairi McCann scores a goal  during Sunday’s Allianz Football League Roinn 3 game at Corrigan Park in Belfast
In his only appearance of their Division Three campaign, Ruairi McCann bagged a crucial first goal in Antrim's relegation shoot-out with Wicklow last month. Picture by Colm Leneghan

ANTRIM’S hopes of causing an Ulster Championship upset against Down have suffered a major blow after star forward Ruairi McCann was ruled out of Saturday evening’s game.

The towering Aghagallon man missed much of Antrim’s National League campaign through injury, only returning for their relegation decider against Wicklow on the final weekend of action.

With the Down game only a fortnight away at that point, it looked like perfect timing for Andy McEntee ahead of the start of the Ulster Championship, with McCann expected to lead the line at Pairc Esler.

However, after undergoing an appendix operation during recent days, the 28-year-old is facing another stint on the sidelines, leaving the Saffrons to re-evaluate their plans as their trip to Newry looms.

McCann showed the damage he is capable of inflicting when wreaking havoc on Down during Conor Laverty’s first year at the helm.

He was a menace in the square all night, bagging goals in both halves to leave Antrim in a commanding position towards the end of that 2023 Division Three game – only for the Mournemen to find another gear, overturning a five-point deficit with five minutes to go to claim a dramatic victory.

And his presence was missed when Laverty’s side travelled to west Belfast in this year’s League campaign, the Saffrons short on attacking inspiration as Down pulled away in the final quarter en route to sealing promotion from the third tier.

Antrim were also in the top of the table mix prior to that game after opening wins over Limerick and Offaly, but consecutive defeats to Down, Sligo, Westmeath and Clare left them looking over their shoulder going into that winner-takes-all clash with Wicklow - and it was McCann’s first half goal that ultimately proved the difference as the Saffrons saw off the Garden County at Corrigan Park.