Bord Gais Energy U20 Hurling
Leinster Championship Qualifier
Antrim 3-24 Down 2-14
Saturday October 17
Brendan McTaggart reports from McKenna Park, Ballycran
Antrim had 13 points to spare over Down on Saturday afternoon as they booked a date with Dublin in the first round of the Leinster championship. Despite early signs of rust and cobwebs, the Saffrons cruised to victory in the second half with 3-20 of their final score coming from play.
Bizarrely, four of the five goals came in injury time, Antrim with the lions share. Daire Murphy with two majors in a twenty minute cameo that will have done his chances of making the starting 15 on Wednesday evening against Dublin no harm at all while Seann Elliott took his tally to 1-6 for the match with his major just moments earlier.
Aaron Bradley shone with five points to his name over the 70 minutes while Dominic McEnhill was the main focal point for the Saffron attack. The Rossa man excelled on the edge of the square and made life hell for the Down defence with his aerial ability and how he was able to make something from nothing.
On another day, McEnhill would have been an automatic choice for man of the match but Ryan McGarry was hugely impressive at centre half. His reading of the game in front of him, his positional sense and delivery of ball into the Antrim forwards was impeccable all afternoon but he had plenty of support. Niall O’Connor was restless on the edge of his own square while Declan McCloskey was immense beside McGarry on the half back line.
Down showed plenty of spirit and passion throughout but once Antrim settled, they looked a more accomplished side. Padraig Doran top scored for the home side with his 37th minute goal adding to his eventual tally of 1-6 with Ronan Blair, Cathal Coutler and Stuart Martin also catching the eye for the Ardsmen but they struggled to contain the Saffrons. Once they got their noses in front, Antrim rarely looked like yielding their lead and turned the screw in the second half.
Down started brightly and had Antrim chasing shadows in the opening exchanges. They held a two point lead at the first water-break but Antrim dominated the remainder of the second half to hold a five point lead at half time (0-12 to 0-7).
With whatever wind there was at their back for the second half, Antrim extended their lead to seven before the opening goal of the game. Billy Campbell delivering the sliotar long into the heart of the Saffrons defence. Antrim were caught under the dropping ball and Stuart Martin stole in behind before passing to Doran who made no mistake with a composed finish.
The Saffron response was emphatic and game ending. Seven points scored to just one from Down either side of the second half water-break gave them a six point lead going into the final 10 minutes and while Down looked for the scores, they were reliant on Doran’s frees to stay in touch.
Antrim’s first goal came in the last minute of normal time – Cormac McFadden sending the sliotar to McEnhill and he found Daire Murphy. A goal made in Rossa and gave Antrim daylight. Their second major came two minutes later with Seaan Elliott taking advantage of a stray poc out before Tim Prenter scored Down’s second goal with the next attack. Just reward for the Down forward who was tireless throughout. Antrim and Murphy had the final say. McEnhill involved once again in creating the chance with Murphy’s second major the last action of the hour and adding further gloss to the score line for Antrim.
Antrim: T Smith; R McCollan, N O’Connor, C McKay; C McKernan, R McGarry, D McCloskey; N McCormick (0-2), P Boyle; O Donnelly (0-1), A McGrath (0-1), C McFadden (0-2); S Elliott (1-6, 4f), D McEnhill (0-4), A Bradley (0-5)
Subs: E McCusker for C McKay (14); D Murphy (2-2) for O Donnelly (41); L Heenan for P Boyle (50); D McKeogh (0-1) for A McGrath (54)
Down: O McDermott; M McAreavy, E Maguire, R Convery; N McFarlane, C Coulter, B Campbell; C Watson, J Hughes (0-1); J Hanrahan, R Blair (0-3, 1f), S Martin (0-2); P Doran (1-6, 6f), S Campbell, T Prenter (1-2)
Subs: A Dorrian for E Maguire (HT); T Murphy for J Hughes (41); E Magee for S Campbell (54)