Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Hurling Championship
by John McIlwaine
Antrim 1-21 Down 0-18
Antrim booked their place in the Ulster Minor Hurling Final when they saw off the stern challenge of Down in Sunday’s semi-final at Corrigan Park. Ahead by two at the break after playing with the breeze Antrim had a battle on their hands but when the chips were down they produced the goods, none more so than corner forward Seaan Elliott who once again produced that little bit of magic when it was most needed. The seventeen year old, who starred for Antrim in their Celtic Challenge wins over the past four weeks, did it again on Sunday.
Tiernan Murphy opened the Antrim scoring from a free on the left in the second minute, and though Down had a great chance when Callum Smyth missed a good opportunity to level and on six minutes his shot from close range was off target and Deaghlan Smith increased the Antrim lead with a point from play from sixty metres out on the left wing. Seann Elliott made his first impression on the game on ten minutes when he was fouled thirty metres out and converted the resultant free, and after Down had pulled one back through a free by Ruiai McCrickard, Elliott added his second, this time from play.
Three points on the trot from Conor McCrickard, Ronan Costello and Michael McKey saw Down gain a firm foothold in the game and though Ed McQuillan responded for Antrim, two more points form Ruairi McCrickard and Callum Smyth gave Down the lead for the first time.
A Tiernan Murphy point on twenty minutes brought Antrim back on terms but great work by Down full forward Conor McCrickard, who was now operating on the 40, got the Ardsmen back in front and he doubled his team’s lead a minute later with a pointed from sixty metres. Murphy cut the gap to a single point when he pointed a free on twenty six minutes after Seaan Elliott had been pulled down, and Elliott squared things up when he struck a free between the posts from sixty metres out on the right wing a minute later.
A minute before the break team captain Conor McHugh got his team back in front with a sweet strike from out on the left wing and though McKey brought Down back on terms two late points from Elliott and McHugh gave the Saffrons a 0-11 to 0-9 lead at the break.
Down started the second half with a point inside the opening minute but Antrim hit back immediately with one from play by Seaan Elliott and his Dunloy clubmate Deaghlan Smith stretched the lead to three with a great point on the run from out on the left sideline. It was out to four by the thirty sixth minute when Tiarnan Murphy pointed a free from sixty metres but Conor McCrickard had the ball over the bar at the other end inside thirty seconds to cut the gap back to three.
Elliott made it four again when he caught a high ball from a sideline cut and broke away to point on the run, but on forty one minutes Down’s centre back Ruairi McCrickard hit a great point from distance and his namesake Conor McCrickard put just two between the sides with one from play in the forty second minute.
Elliott, who had now moved out onto the half forward line, hit his sixth point of the half from play and he added his seventh from a free in the forty seventh to put four between the teams again and Tiarnan Murphy opened the gap to five when he converted a free from fifty metres. Ronan Costello pulled one back for Down on forty nine minutes and the gap was back to three when Down centre back McCrickard struck a fantastic free from inside his own half.
When McCrickard cut the gap to two with just five minutes left for play it looked like anybody’s game but cometh the hour, cometh the man and Seaan Elliott gave the Saffrons the lift they need when he soloed through fire the ball high into the Down net on fifty seven minutes, and when Tiarnan Murphy hit one from close range the young Saffrons were six clear. Down were far from finished and points from Conor McCrickard and Tom Murray had them back in contention but Elliott added to his impressive total with a pointed free on sixty three minutes to seal the win.
ANTRIM: E McParland; O McAuley, M McGreevy, P Lennon; N McCormack. R McGarry, S Magill; C Boyd, C McHugh 0-2; E McQuillan 0-1, E McMenamin, D Smith 0-3; S Elliott 1-10 ( 0-5fs), T Murphy 0-6 (0-5fs), S Walsh.
Subs: P McMullan for McParland, O Donnelly for McMenamin (42mins), F McCurry for Magill (58mins), C Scullion for McHugh (60mins).
DOWN: M Caldwell; M Napier, T Murray 0-1, R Murphy; C Coulter, R McCrickard 0-5 (0-5fs), B Campbell; P Savage, M McKey 0-2; R Blair, C Smyth 0-1, C Hynes; R Coulter, C McCrickard 0-6 (0-3fs), R Costello 0-3.
Subs: M McAreavy for R Murphy (22mins), D Kelly for R Coulter (42mins).
REFEREE: J O’Connor (Donegal)