Antrim start McKenna Cup campaign with a win

Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, Section A round 2

Down 1-10–1-12 Antrim 

By Kevin Herron 

Antrim began their Bank of Ireland McKenna Cup campaign with a deserved 1-12-1-10 win over Down at Park Esler this evening. 

Despite trailing to an early Ryan O’Higgins goal the Saffrons led at the break thanks to a couple of late Ruairi McCann frees. 

An early Patrick McBride goal looked to have given his side some breathing space in the second half- though Down levelled the game at 1-09 apiece with ten minutes remaining. 

Enda McGinley’s men finished strong with substitutes and brothers Conor and Ryan Murray scoring either side a second Patrick McBride point. 

Antrim v Down, McKenna Cup. L-R, Michael McCann, Kevin Small, Jamie Gribben, Tomas McCann, Odhran Eastwood, Paddy McBride, Pat Shivers, Peter Healy, James Laverty, Ricky Johnston, Jamie McCann, Ruairi McCann, Eoghan McCabe, Ronan Boyle.
Paddy McBride gets clear of his marker to send over a point

They did have to survive some late pressure though but ultimately got the job done and head into their final group game with Donegal with a spring in their step. 

Antrim started brighter without registering a score in Newry- not for the want of trying however- Tomas McCann and Ruairi McCann (free) were off target before the games opening score arrived. 

Rory Burns kick-out was claimed by Gerard Collins to claim a defensive mark, his offload to Barry O’Hagan switched the emphasis to attack and O’Hagan sold a marvellous dummy before finding the run of Ryan O’Higgins to fire beyond the reach of Oisin Kerr and into the net. 

Antrim hit back through a converted Ruairi McCann free off the ground, but the Creggan forward spurned another free in the aftermath and sent a 45’ off target as the Saffrons scoring chances weren’t equating to scores. 

An advanced mark by Odhran Eastwood resulted in the visitors second score, moments after Oisin Kerr cut-out a dangerous opportunity at the other end. 

Down restored their two-point advantage through a Barry O’Hagan free that dropped in the small square to Packie O’Hagan- a goal chance may have been on the cards, but the late replacement for Pat Havern opted for a point instead. 

Antrim full back Ricky Johnston comes up to join the attack near the end of the first half

At the first half water-break the sides were drawn level, Patrick McBride kicked a magnificent point and after Tomas McCann was felled; club-mate Pat Shivers kicked the resulting free to make it 1-01-0-04. 

The Saffrons hit the front for the first time after 22 minutes when James Laverty kicked an angled score following a nice interchange from Tomas McCann. 

Kevin McKernan split the posts and levelled the game for the second time in the half and his side regained the lead after substitute Darren O’Hagan found the run of Caolan Mooney to land a point and make it 1-03-0-05. 

Three minutes before the interval Ruairi McCann levelled with his second converted free of the ground of the evening and he quickly had the chance to edge his side ahead for the second time after referee Maggie Farrelly tried to play advantage and it didn’t materialise. 

McCann didn’t pass up the opportunity and landed his first free out of his hands, he would land another before the half was out after Down thought they had levelled courtesy of a Barry O’Hagan point- but at the midway point Antrim were 0-08-1-04 to the good. 

Antrim’s Mick McCann who had a great game at midfield for the Saffrons
Ryan Murray sends over a late Antrim point

Antrim made a dream start to the second period and hit the net within the first two minutes. 

Jamie Gribbin found the run of club-mate James Laverty who bore down on goal and drew the attention of Rory Burns, before slipping in Patrick McBride at the back post for a simple palm to the net to make it 1-08-1-04. 

Down ate into the Saffron advantage with Barry O’Hagan converting a free and then Kevin McKernan fizzed the ball over the bar after a quick charge forward. 

A single point separated the sides when McKernan stretched out his leg and pierced the ball through to Darren O’Hagan to clip the ball over the bar. 

Barry O’Hagan almost gifted a second goal to Antrim after his poor defensive clearance was seized upon by Tomas McCann who was quickly swarmed upon, he recycled possession and it eventually fell to brother Michael to land a point and give his side a 1-09-1-07 lead. 

Antrim were perhaps guilty of trying to sit deep too early and paid the price when Barry O’Hagan won an advanced mark and converted, O’Hagan converted a free for his fourth score of the evening to make it 1-09 apiece. 

Going into the last ten minutes the visitors regained the lead through a fantastic score courtesy of substitute Conor Murray. 

Down almost forced a goal opportunity from the next attack, Caolan Mooney slipped the ball into the path of first half goal scorer Ryan O’Higgins who tried to head for the target again, but a magnificent steal from corner forward Jamie Gribbin, back helping out his defence, turned defence to attack. 

Patrick McBride steered his side into a two-point lead with his second point of the evening. Ryan Murray’s free dropped short but his team-mates pressed eagerly and won back possession with McBride eventually picking up the ball and driving it high between the posts. 

Murray looked to have atoned for his miss with the insurance score to move his side three-points ahead. 

Barry O’Hagan’s late goal effort from a free crashes off the Antrim crossbar, rebounds down and hits Ricky Johnston on the back of the head, and goes back over for a point as the Saffron fans breathed a sigh of relief

However Down fought to the bitter end and a 14-yard free gave Barry O’Hagan a goal chance, Antrim crowded the line and O’Hagan sent his shot towards the crossbar with a deflection off Ricky Johnston diverting the ball over the bar rather than under. 

Thereafter the Saffrons retained possession and saw the game out to begin their McKenna Cup campaign with a victory and knowing a win over Donegal in Portglenone on Saturday could see them advance to the last four of the competition. 

Tomas McCann finds an opening in the Down defence.

Down: R Burns, P Fegan, B McArdle, G Collins, J Connery, N McParland, J McGeough, A Doherty, L Middleton, R O’Higgins (1-00), C Mooney (0-01), C O’Rawe, B O’Hagan (0-05, 0-01 advanced mark, 0-03f), P O’Hagan (0-01), K McKernan (0-02). Subs: D O’Hagan (0-01) for J McGeough (17), R Carr for J Connery (HT), T Prenter for P O’Hagan (41), A Lynch for N McParland (44), J Donaghy for K McKernan (56), C Poland for B McArdle (56), C Francis for L Middleton (60). 

Antrim: O Kerr, R Boyle, R Johnston, E McCabe, P Healy, J Laverty (0-01), J McCann, K Small, M McCann (0-01), P McBride (1-02), P Shivers (0-01f), R McCann (0-04f), J Gribbin, O Eastwood (0-01 advanced mark), T McCann. Subs: P McCormick for R Boyle (45), D McAleese for R McCann (45), R Murray (0-01) for O Eastwood (50), C Murray (0-01) for P Shivers (56), J McAuley for J McCann (56), D McCormick for T McCann (64), B McCormick for K Small (69). 

Referee: Maggie Farrelly (Cavan) 

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