Tough test for Antrim in Newry

Allianz NFL Division 3

Down v Antrim

Pairc Esler- Saturday 6-00pm

Having lost their opening game in this year’s NFL to Offaly at Corrigan Park on Sunday, Antrim travel to Pairc Esler in Newry on Saturday night hoping to get their first points on board but face what looks like a difficult task when they take on a Down team who have made an impressive start to the season under new manager, Conor Laverty.

Down opened their league account with a win over Tipperary at Semple Stadium at the weekend despite being down to 14 men from the 40th minute when Niall McParland was Red carded and will go into Saturday night’s encounter in a buoyant mood.

They started their season confidently with wins over Monaghan and Donegal in the McKenna Cup before losing out to Derry in a penalty shoot-out in the semi-final and carried that good form into the league with a 2-11 to 1-11 win over Tipp.

Pat Havern top scored for the Mourne men at Semple Stadium with 1-4 with 1-2 of his total coming from play but it was Conor Francis’ goal shortly after McParland’s dismissal that swung a tight contest in favour of Laverty’s side in the end.

Ryan Murray is likely to lead the Antrim attack in Newry

Down defended in numbers, denying Tipperary so much as a shot from play in the first half, as Tipperary’s high ball tactic failed to make any inroads before their bench began to make an impact.

When Down attacked, they went for the jugular but their insistence on going for goals misfired in the opening half with Eamon Brown and Barry O’Hagan wasting a couple of easy pointing opportunities.

 Pat Havern showed superb movement floating around the attacking zone and kicked their opening two points, the first from a mark, followed by a fine Odhrán Murdock score.

The same player added a goal after being set up by Eamon Brown as the visitors went on to lead 1-6 to 0-2 at the break.

Down were forced to fight off a strong Tipperary come-back in the second half with McParland’s dismissal forcing them to defend in depth but when Francis tapped to an empty net after a mistake by keeper Michael O’Reilly they looked home and dry.

Three unanswered point from the premier county left it back in the balance but a late Francis free sealed it for Laverty’s side and will leave them strong favourites going into Saturday’s meeting with Antrim.

Offaly keeper, Ian Duffy catches Ruairi McCann with a dangerous tackle during the second half but no penalty was given.

It’s been a difficult introduction for new Antrim manager, Andy McEntee with the Saffron’s missing more than half a dozen regulars from last season and the former Meath Supremo forced to introduce a number of debutants during a McKenna Cup campaign where they lost to both Armagh and Cavan.

Time hasn’t been on their side in terms of preparation but despite defeat in their opening game to Offaly there were certainly signs of improvement and some reasons for optimism.

A below-par opening half display cost Antrim dearly as they fell to a 2-12-0-12 defeat to Offaly in their National League Division 3 opener at Corrigan Park last Sunday and it looked as good as over when Ruairi McNamee capitalised on a spill and netted Offaly’s first half goal, that helped them to a 1-08-0-04 lead at the short whistle.

Antrim rang the changes at half time and with the wind at their backs set about reeling in the Offaly lead and came close to doing just that. Creggan’s Ruairi McCann looked to have cut the deficit with an effort that appeared to have crept over, but the umpire waved it wide to the disbelief of the majority inside Corrigan Park.

The same player should have had a penalty when Offaly keeper Ian Duffy denied him with a dangerous foot block and Antrim rallied in the final quarter with five unanswered scores leaving just a goal between the sides in added time.

Indeed a couple of those points could have been goals and as they pushed for an equaliser they were caught on the counter-attack when Bernard Allen beat Mick Byrne in the race to a loose ball to flick it over the head of the Antrim net minder.

Dermot McAleese sends over an Antrim point against Offaly and should retain his place against Down in Newry on Saturday night

McEntee will have taken encouragement from the second half performance of his side and will hope they can build on it at Pairc Esler and will have a better idea of just what his best side might be.

Aghagallon’s Ruairi McCann, Kevin Small, Patrick Finnegan, Odhran Eastwood and Patrick Mervyn all made varying impacts from the bench and will be hoping for a start in Newry while Michael Byrne, Peter Healey, James McAuley, Niall McKeever, Paddy McBride, Marc Jordan, Conor Stewart, Pat Shivers, Ryan Murray and Ruairi McCann are all likely to start if fit.

Down will start Saturday night’s game as odds on favourites and rightly so but if Antrim can reproduce the intensity and drive from the start that they displayed during the second half last Sunday then they might not be too far away.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.