Antrim claim Ulster hurling crown

Antrim 3-19 Down 2-15

A trio of second-half goals helped Antrim secure their seventh Ulster SHC title in-a-row at Casement Park today.

Down took a 2-05 to 0-10 half-time lead thanks to goals from Stephen Clarke (7 minutes) and Conor Woods, who doubled on Brendan McGourty's 19th-minute sideline cut.

But the Saffrons turned things around. Liam Watson goaled from a 21-yard free, four minutes into the second half.

Karl Stewart finished off a sweeping move for goal number two and he then turned provider for Paddy Richmond's 54th-minute major.

Antrim captain Paddy Richmond lifted the Liam Harvey Cup after what was a topsy-turvy performance which will have to be improved on if they are to test Galway in the All-Ireland qualifiers in a fortnight's time.

The defeat for a spirited Down side, who were missing some key players due to injury, was a disappointing way to end their championship campaign.

The Mourne men have been drawn in a group with Carlow and London for the 2008 Christy Ring Cup and that will now be their main focus.

They will hope Gareth 'Magic' Johnson can get back to full fitness. He was sorely missed this afternoon and Down's injury list is so lengthy that wing forward Emmet Trainor was forced to play today with a broken bone.

Injured duo James McKeague and Donal McNaughton were also forced off the Antrim side, with their starting berths going to Neil McGarry and Paddy McGill.

Confusion over the throw-in time saw the game get underway at 3.39pm, nine minutes late, and Down looked the more potent in the early stages.

Despite points from Liam Watson, Karl McKeegan, Paul Shields and Enda McCloskey, Down ended the first quarter with a 2-01 to 0-06 lead.

Goals from Stephen Clarke, whose flicked finish got the better of Ryan McGarry, and Woods, who did well to follow the flight of McGourty's sideline ball, shot the underdogs ahead.

McGourty had struck their only point but soon, efforts from Michael and Ciaran Herron helped Antrim square up the game at 0-08 to 2-02.

However, Down, without an Ulster title since 1997, stuck to their task and in the closing minutes three well-executed points from Paul Braniff kept Jim McKernan's charges ahead for the break.

Playing the crisper and more direct hurling on the resumption, Antrim soon hit the front although Down had a couple of bad wides early on.

The game began to open up when Watson blasted home to the net from a 21-yard free. He added a point from a free some moments later to give Antrim a 1-11 to 2-05 buffer.

The Saffrons had a taste for goals and they got their second when Stewart was on the end of a lengthy move which began out in midfield.

Although they kept in touch with points from Braniff and McGourty, Down's number was up when Stewart played in Richmond for the third goal.

The Down management reacted by moving Braniff to centre-forward and they hunted for late goals from close-in frees but McGarry and his defence were rock solid.

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