Ulster U17 Hurling Championship final
Antrim 6-13 Down 1-13
Goals win games and that was certainly the case on Saturday at Dunsilly when Antrim fired home three in each half to kill off the challenge of a plucky Down in this Ulster U17 Hurling championship final to claim the Danny McNaughton Cup.
Despite the recent poor weather the Dunsilly pitch was in fairly good shape but the strong wind made life difficult for both sides with the young Saffrons adapting better to the difficult conditions. Those first half goals gave Antrim a 3-5 to 0-12 half time lead despite playing into the wind and they went on to press home their advantage in the second half.
Roan McGarry top-scored with 2-7 for the home side who pulled away after the break though Down fought to the end but depended too heavily on Cathal Coleman and Shea Pucci who accounted for all of their scores, while Antrim had a much better spread of scorers over the hour.
Playing against the wind in the first half, Antrim got off to a great start when Enda McGurk fired to the net after 30 seconds when his shot dipped wickedly and deceived Cian Clarke in the Down goal.
The Ards men responded however as Coleman landed a free and added another one from play either side of a Pucci effort on the turn to draw level. Ronan Fitzgerald and Coleman traded points before Down took the lead for the only time when Pucci fired over his shoulder for an excellent point to give his side the lift they needed.
However, they suffered another major blow on 18 minutes as Charlie McAuley played an excellent low diagonal ball into the forwards with Fitzgerald collecting and racing through and despite Clarke’s best efforts the ball finished in the net.
Coleman replied at the other end, but Roan McGarry opened his account from a free and then added goal number three when he took a pass and raced through to finish superbly before Coleman replied with three for Down to close the gap to two.
Both sides traded points in the period leading up to half time with Niall Magee on target for the Saffrons and Coleman replying for Down to leave two in it in favour of Antrim who led 3-5 to 0-12 at the half way stage.
With the elements now in their favour, Antrim looked favourites to push on in the second half and they were quick to press home their advantage as McGarry pointed a free before substitute Fionn Jemfrey saw his shot saved by Clarke but the ball broke to Orrin O’Connor who made no mistake from close range.
The momentum was very much with the Saffrons as McGarry pointed another free with Ben O’Kane adding from play and suddenly the gap was out to eight and then on 40 minutes O’Connor did well to find the advancing Daragh Donnelly who blasted to the net to put the game out of Down’s reach.
The Mourne men were struggling for scores into the breeze and it was midway through the second period before Coleman added to their tally from a free.
They went looking for goals but full-forward Coleman had a 20-metre shot at goal saved before Antrim replied with a goal at the other end when McGarry met Liam Glackin’s long delivery in his stride to double superbly to the top corner.
The Saffrons pressed home their superiority in the closing stages as McGarry converted three frees and Ben O’Kane added another from play, but it was Down who had the final score of the game as Pucci saw his 20-metre free stopped on the line but he followed up to finish from close range.
It proved too little too late however and Antrim now advance into the Leinster Championship where they will meet Galway in their opening fixture at Darver in two weeks.
ANTRIM: S Og McLaren; R Cunning, C Baudant, J Scullion; N Magee (0-1), L Glackin, C McAuley; E McGurk (1-1), B O’Kane (0-2); R Fitzgerald (1-2), C Kane, D Donnelly (1-0); R McGarry (2-7, 0-7 frees), O O’Connor (1-0), C Mooney.
Subs: F Jemfrey for C Kane (HT), P McDonnell for R Fitzgerald (53), S Og Blaney for D Donnelly (57), C Walsh for O O’Connor (59), C Shortt for R Cunning (60).
DOWN: C Clarke; D Rogers, J Dynes, P McGarry; S McCollum, L Morgan, S Doyle; P Loughrey, R Teggart; C Boyle, S Pucci (1-3), B Teggart; J Dougan, C Coleman (0-10, 7 frees), S McCarthy.
Subs: B Murray for D Rogers (48), M Gilmore for C Boyle (52), F Ferguson for S McCollum (57)
REFEREE: James Connors (Donegal).
Rosey’s Rocket. Antrim’s Ronan Fitzgerald fires the ball to the Down net during the first half of Saturday’s Ulster Minor Hurling final at Dunsilly. Pic by John McIlwaine