“Anyone with a bit of balls at all isn’t going to let that happen...” Andy McEntee hails fighting spirit but rues one that got away as Antrim fall short against Down

Band parade schemozzle fails to spark life into Ulster Championship quarter-final at Pairc Esler

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Patrick McBride tries to find a way past Down defender Micheal Rooney. Picture: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

ANTRIM weren’t going to be pushed around – they were up for the fight on Saturday night - but missed chances meant they were unable to apply enough pressure to force an unexpected win in Newry.

Even without their attacking spearhead in Aghagallon forward Ruairi McCann, the Saffrons were well in the game deep into the second half but after failing to make inroads with the wind at their backs in the first half, they couldn’t put a run of scores together after the break.

And so, without impressing, Down wriggled off the hook and Antrim manager Andy McEntee was left to reflect on one that got away.

“We knew coming into the game we’d need to take the vast majority of the chances we were presented with,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. We had one very good goal chance at the start and we’d a couple of half chances in the second half. Any one of those might have made a difference, but we just couldn’t close that gap.

“We got it down to three a couple of times and then it went back up to four and we missed a couple of frees in that stage as well. That’s life.”

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Andy McEntee was disappointed with Antrim's finishing against Down. Picture: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

Antrim had lost by nine points when they played Down in Division Three in February and may have given the Mournemen too much respect in the first half when they failed to make the most of having wind advantage.

“We talked about that at half-time - we were a bit slow coming out of defence,” said McEntee.

“We gave Down too much time to get set up. We didn’t inject pace into it when we had the opportunity.

“That’s probably why we were disappointed with our first half performance. In all fairness, the lads fairly dug in in that second half.”

A spicey encounter looked to be on the cards when Down ran through the Antrim players near the end of the band parade. However, pushing and shoving was as far as it went and a player from either side was booked before throw-in.

“Our lads stood their ground,” said McEntee.

“What were they going to do, let Down walk through them? I saw a bit of pushing and shoving - the band was in front of me so I didn’t get to see most of it to tell the truth.

“I’m only assuming Down tried to walk through our lads and I think anyone with a bit of balls at all isn’t going to let that happen.”

Full-back Eunan Walsh was stretchered off in the second half. McEntee explained: “I think he got a blow to the head but the physios were in there and said he is okay.”

However, Antrim could be without last year’s skipper Peter Healy for the entire season after he suffered a setback in his recovery from the foot injury he suffered in last year’s Tailteann Cup semi-final against Meath.

The four-point loss at Pairc Esler means Antrim will now begin to plan for this year’s Tailteann competition.

“We’ll see what the timeline is and maybe the guys will go back and play a club game and we’ll regroup and try and get ourselves ready for the next stage,” said McEntee.

“There is a long summer ahead if we perform and the lads definitely embraced the Tailteann Cup last year and there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same this year.”