Hurling and camogie

Antrim largely overshadow Down with 15-point victory in Ballycran sunshine

Down's John McManus and Michael Hughes (2) challenge Antrim's airborne Seaan Elliott during the Joe McDonagh Cup round two match at Ballycran.
Pic Philip Walsh
Kenny Archer at McKenna Park, Ballycran

Joe McDonagh Cup, round two: Down 3-16 Antrim 6-22

Summer weather, cricket bowling figures, but no real advertisement here for the return of an Ulster Senior Hurling Championship.

Antrim, who had won the last 16 titles including the last final in 2017 - and that the second in a row against Armagh - cruised to a 15-point triumph against their former rivals Down, with this match effectively won by the end of the first quarter.

It's a quarter of a century since Down were crowned provincial kings and although the sons of some of their stars of the Nineties are showing promise they still have some way to go to get close to their neighbours.

The hosts started sluggishly but didn't perform poorly overall - they are just a level below the Saffrons, who showed the value of their recent experiences in Division One, while Down failed to get up to the top flight.

Antrim netted the first of their six goals before the clock had reached double figures - in seconds, not minutes. Ciaran Clarke finished it, but it was made by a storming run straight from the throw-in by big Joe Maskey.

The symbolism of Maskey towering over Jordan Doran was obvious; despite the Ballygalget man's energy and tenacity, Antrim were head and shoulders above Down.

Down seemed to be caught unawares and Stephen Keith's net rippled again in the 12th minute when Seaan Elliott grabbed the first of his two goals.

The wind driving down the pitch seemed to have been entirely knocked out of Down.

The Dunloy man showed the value of pace and trickery but the similarly-sized Down forwards were struggling to make any impact against the wall-like Antrim rearguard.

Not men, but giants.

Maskey, full-back Gerard Walsh, centre-back/sweeper, and centre-forward Domhnall Nugent formed a spine fit for a diplodocus, one that proved hugely hard for Down to get over or around, but Antrim's movement was raptor rapid too.

A mammoth wind was playing its part, but Down's efforts to keep the score down before the break were hampered by their own poor handling, ceding possession to Antrim in dangerous positions on a few occasions.

Even in those rare times when they received the ball Down's attackers were off target, with Marc Fisher their only forward to score from play until Daithi Sands opened his account with almost half an hour.

Factor in the elements and Antrim's combination of skill and power and there was much too much for Down to cope with, and they trailed by 0-8 to 2-13.

Indeed, facing into that wind from the start of the second half, the Saffrons put any thoughts of a turnaround to bed early with a blast of 1-3, to quickly extend their lead from 11 to 17 points.

That third goal was the result of what appeared a harsh black card and penalty against full-back John McManus, when the speedy Seaan Elliott cut across him and was tripped, with the number 13 seeming to do plenty more for a 'clear goal-scoring opportunity'.

However, there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Antrim were by far the superior side, always able to respond to anything and everything that their hosts threw at them.

Down never gave up, scoring goals of their own through Daithi Sands (46th minute), impressive substitute Chris Egan (57th minute), and Eoghan Sands (59th minute).

Yet Clarke supplied Elliott to lash in Antrim goal number four in the 48th minute, and even when the Saffrons moved 18 points clear in the 55th minute, 4-19 to 1-10, their backs were still hounding and harrying the Down forwards.

That two-goal Down blast inside two minutes still left the hosts 11 points behind, 3-11 to 4-19 - and within three minutes Antrim goaled again, Conor Johnston racing through to round the exposed goalkeeper Keith and hit the empty net.

Big Domhnall Nugent then made it a six-hit in the 68th minute, forcing the sliotar in from close range.

Besides that glut of goals Antrim also had the accuracy from frees of Conall Cunning, who converted eight as well as a couple of points from play.

They had scoring power all over the pitch too, with Walsh sending a free over from deep, deep inside his own half, Maskey scoring from distance, and wing-back Paddy Burke concluding the rout with a monster score against the breeze.

Antrim now prepare to 'welcome' their recent rivals Carlow, the Barrowsiders seeking to recover from their own 15-point home hammering by Kerry, while Down will host Offaly.

An all-Ulster Final remains a possibility, but anything other than an Antrim win in that would be a shocking blast from the past.

Down: S Keith; M Hughes, J McManus, T Murray; C Woods, M Conlon (0-1), D Mallon, C Teggart; P Og McCrickard (0-2), J Doran; L Savage, P Sheehan (0-2 frees), M Fisher (0-2); D Sands (1-4), E Sands (1-0).

Substitutes: G Hughes (0-1) for Doran (40); C Egan (1-2) for Sheehan (43); D McCartney for Mallon (53); P Doran (0-1) for Fisher (57); O McManus (0-1 free) for McCrickard (60).

Antrim: R Elliott; P Duffin, G Walsh (0-1 free), N O'Connor; P Burke (0-1), E Campbell, R McGarry; J Maskey (0-1), J McNaughton; C Cunning (0-10, 0-8 frees), D Nugent (1-2), C McCann (0-2); S Elliott (2-1), C Clarke (2-1, 1-0 penalty), C Johnston (1-2).

Substitutes: N McManus for McNaughton (43); E O'Neill for McCann (48); M Donnelly for O'Connor (51); D McKernan (0-1) for Maskey (57); C Bohill for S Elliott (69).

Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).

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