Antrim ride their luck to secure hard-earned Dr McKenna Cup win over Down in Newry
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, Section B: Down 1-10 Antrim 1-12
From Andy Watters at Pairc Esler
RICKY Johnston's head and Paddy McBride's right fist played crucial parts as Antrim saw off Down to begin the year with a hard-earned victory over Down at Pairc Esler last night.
McBride scored the Saffron's goal to send Antrim four points ahead early in the second half and they never lost that lead although Down came mighty close to forcing a draw at the death when Barry O'Hagan's piledriver struck the back of Johnston's head (and went over the bar) after it had crashed off the crossbar.
Antrim began well and Tomas McCann and Creggan's Ruairi McCann (from a free after referee Maggie Farrelly had spotted a foul on full-forward Odhran Eastwood) had both missed early chances before Down made them pay when Niall McParland's long ball sent Ryan O'Higgins through and he buried his shot past Oisin Kerr with three and-a-half minutes gone.
Ruairi McCann registered Antrim's first score of 2022 with a sweetly-struck free off the ground but he decided to take his next, two minutes later, out of his hands and hit an upright.
However, Eastwood's mark left just a point in it after 13 minutes but Liam Middleton, working hard in midfield, sent Down on the attack and Packie O'Hagan (a late replacement for Pat Havern) pounced on Barry O'Hagan's mishit free to whip over a score before Patrick McBride and Pat Shivers (a free) left it level at 1-1 to 0-4 at the first water-break.
The action heated up a little after Liam Middleton and Michael McCann rubbed shoulders in midfield but, with the evergreen McCann dropping back into defence as sweeper, Antrim proved hard to break down. They countered with purpose too and James Laverty gave the Saffrons the lead for the first time with a good finish off his left boot.
Down veteran Kevin McKernan replied off his right to leave it level again at 0-5 apiece and then Caolan Mooney, who hadn't been in the game, broke for the ball, turned his marker and sent his county back into the lead.
Ruairi McCann (off the ground again) restored parity with another sweet strike and he kicked the next free out of his hands to edge the visitors ahead. The lead last 15 seconds however as Barry O'Hagan burst onto McKernan's pass and curled over the equaliser.
Down were lucky there was only one in it (0-8 to 1-4) at the break because Antrim dominated the closing stages after being gifted possession after possession and they had kicked three poor wides before Ruairi McCann landed his fourth free after Anthony Doherty had been booked for a late tackle on debutant Ronan Boyle.
Antrim's charity didn't extend into the second half however. Less than two minutes' had gone when Jamie McCann raced through a day-dreaming Down defence and fisted the ball to the far post where McBride was waiting to hammer it into the home side's net.
Barry O'Hagan replied with a free and McKernan got on the end of a fluent move to reduce the arrears to two points before Darren O'Hagan looped over another point to leave just one in it.
But Antrim, well-drilled and playing with confidence, edged two ahead when Mick McCann kept a cool head in front of the Down posts to make it 1-9 to 1-7 and a minute later he leapt to catch Rory Burns's 45 under his own crossbar to keep it that way.
Barry O'Hagan didn't find the distance with a free but he was on target with a mark and the Clonduff forward levelled from another placed ball with 10 minutes left.
Antrim hit back. Substitute Conor Murray found a little space to wriggle onto his right foot and restore his side's lead and then O'Hagan, looking dangerous but lacking support up front, shot wide on the stretch and McBride increased his personal tally to 1-2 with a neat finish before Ryan Murray added another as the game entered injury-time.
Down had a late chance to level it. Eight Antrim men manned the line as Barry O'Hagan stood over a free on the 14-yard line. He smashed his shot at goal but it hit the bar, ricocheted down, hit the back of Johnston's head and over the bar. A bizarre finish but Antrim will take it.
Down: R Burns; P Fegan, B McArdle, G Collins; J Connery, N McParland, J McGeough; A Doherty, L Middleton; R O'Higgins (1-0), C Mooney (0-1), C O'Rawe; B O'Hagan (0-5, 0-1 mark, 0- frees), P O'Hagan (0-1), K McKernan (0-2)
Subs: D O'Hagan (0-1) for McGeough (17), R Carr for Connery (HT), T Prenter for P O'Hagan (41). A Lynch for McParland (43), C Poland for McArdle (55), J Donaghy for McKernan (55), C Francis for Middleton (60)
Yellow card: Doherty (8)
Antrim: O Kerr; R Boyle, R Johnston, E McCabe; P Healy, J Laverty (0-1), J McCann; K Small, M McCann (0-1); P McBride (1-2), P Shivers (0-1 free), R McCann (0-4 frees); J Gribbin, O Eastwood (0-1 mark), T McCann
Yellow card: P McBride (57)
Subs: D McAleese for R McCann (45), P McCormick for Boyle (45), R Murray (0-1) for Eastwood (50), C Murray (0-1) for P Shivers (55) J McAuley for J McCann (55), D McCormick for T McCann (64), B McCormick for Small (69)
Referee: M Farrelly (Cavan)