Little between Ulster rivals as Down host Antrim in senior championship clash

Down have had the better of Antrim in recent seasons, but the Saffrons' Ulster final win over their rivals this year will give them confidence heading to Ballycran on Saturday
Séamas McAleenan

Glen Dimplex SeniorChampionship Group Two: Down v Antrim (tomorrow, Ballycran, 2pm)

NOTHING much has changed for Down in the past week. No-one expected them to get a win against Kilkenny last week.

Not so for Antrim however. The win in Offaly will have indicated that their position in the top flight is fairly secure for next year. But, with three games at home after tomorrow's visit to Ballycran, a quarter-final spot is a realistic ambition.

The Saffrons’ first half in Birr was something to be expected from a recently-promoted team. They conceded an early goal and were four points down after 20 minutes as they took a while to settle into their own game plan.

Once they got control on the scoreboard around half-time, however, they were on their way and by the end were very comfortable winners.

By contrast Down’s battle with Kilkenny was a bit of a curate’s egg. There were periods of the game they gave as good as they got, but ultimately they lost by 13 points or perhaps more acutely by 24 scores to 11.

They definitely have found it difficult to replace the experienced central players of the past few seasons that took them to this level, although it also has to be said that many of the other players are taking on more work and leadership.

This game, the first between two Ulster teams in the All-Ireland senior championship for more than 40 years, will be well worth the trip.

Down had been able to hold Antrim at arm’s length until four weeks ago when the Saffrons outmanoeuvred them in the first 10 minutes of the Ulster senior final and Down found themselves too far behind to recover.

Antrim, on the other hand, will feel that the result in Edendork got the monkey off their back and, with the impressive result in Birr last week, they will enter Ballycran confident that they can beat their Ulster rivals.

As long as Antrim keep the sliotar flying wide and get early scores on the board, they will justify that confidence. However, they might also have poked the bear and Down’s pride will see them raise their game to a different level.

I think that it will be close, very close.

Niamh Mallon is Down’s main scoring threat and will need to be curtailed. Róisín McCormick is coming close to being that same huge threat for Antrim. She, however, has more players around her who can tag on scores and that is why I think the Saffrons might just edge home.

Elsewhere in Group Two, anything other than clear-cut wins for Kilkenny and Galway will be huge surprise.

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