Down capitalise on Antrim’s lack of self-belief

Down 1-18 Antrim 0-14
The Ulster Championship trundles along. After the champagne of last Sunday in Healy Park, a return to more traditional mis-matches, Antrim playing craft-beer hipster with their concession of kickouts, carefully planned defence and unorthodox shape, against the stout Down team that forced the issue until the old Antrim we know - that brittle one - emerged with a meek surrender.

Plenty were giving Antrim a chance, given their superb defensive record in the league and a couple of injury doubts for Down, but they went after Antrim once they caught the scent of a bit of blood from four rapid-fire points in the middle of the first half put them in a decent position.

By simply pressing up on the Antrim kickout, they cleaned up through Peter Turley when Saffrons goalkeeper Chris Kerr was forced to go long, and when they attempted to work it short, the Antrim defence were lax and strangely out of sync.

It was one such effort to Niall Delargy, with Delargy sauntering too casually to the ball before Shay Millar intercepted, ferrying to Kevin McKernan who turned it into a goal - that buried Antrim, leaving the score 1-9 to 0-5. And it wasn’t even half-time yet.

The sides broke even in the second half scoring, but the contest was all about what was transpiring in Kiev rather than Newry as the poor crowd began filtering out.

Down manager Eamonn Burns hadn’t been able to catch any of Antrim’s league games in the flesh, but he had their joint-manager from last year - Gearoid Adams - recruited as Down selector before the draw was even made.

“It was a difficult day for Gearoid,” he said afterwards. “Gearoid is an Antrim man, he played for Antrim, he managed Antrim. So we didn’t lean on him too heavily. If he wanted to volunteer, we took the information, but I am sure he is glad it is out of the way now.”

Burns also backed up the feeling among players that although they fell out of Division Two, it wasn’t necessarily indicative of their play over the Spring.

“We had a lot of very good performances,” he noted. “A lot of our problems during the league were down to our decision-making in front of goal. If our decision-making had have been a little bit better we would still be in Division Two.”

Asked if it was better on Saturday night, he added: “At times. We put the pressure on, turned their kickout over and took our point. Maybe during the league we were trying to work a goal too much.”

Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson is used to working with teams that aspire to winning honours, having led St Gall’s to the club All-Ireland title in 2010, but for the most part it looked like his players simply did not travel to Newry with the requisite belief.

Although they had a mass defence, Harbinson insisted the instruction was to get up the field in support of a two-man forward line of Niall McKeever and Ryan Murray, but they didn’t or couldn’t do it.

“It’s a tough learning curve for all of us in management as well as in the panel, but our key priority which I’ve been saying all year is we’ve got to get out of Division 4 and you’ve got to try and play at a higher level over a sustained period of time if you really want to compete and Down have been doing that in their recent history in the last 10 years – they’ve been playing at that higher level on a consistent basis,” he explained.

Scorers for Down: D O’Hare (0-7, 5 frees), K McKernan (1-1), S Dornan, S Millar (0-2 each), A Doherty (0-2, frees), C Mooney, C Maginn, B McArdle, C Harrison (0-1 each).

Scorers for Antrim: P McBride (0-4, 2 frees, R Murray (0-4, 1 free), C Murray, K Healy (0-2 each), C Duffin, M Fitzpatrick (0-1 each)

DOWN: M Reid; C Flanagan, B McArdle, A Doherty; D O’Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney; P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan, C Maginn, S Millar; D O’Hare, C Harrison, R Millar.

Subs: Dornan for McKernan (H-Time, Black card), J Flynn for R Millar (51m), R McAleenan for Flanagan (56m), D McKibbin for Mooney (56m), C McGrady for Harrison (60m), N Madine for O’Hare (67m)

ANTRIM: C Kerr; P Healy, P Gallagher, N Delargy; K O’Boyle, R Johnston, J Laverty; P McAleer, N McKeever; M Sweeney, C Murray, R McCann; R Murray, M Fitzpatrick, P McBride.

Subs: C Duffin for Gallagher (H-time), S Beatty for McKeever (50m), K Healy for McCann (50m), D Lynch for Laverty (56m), O Eastwood for McAleer (63m), M McCarry for P Healy (69m)

Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary)

Attendance: 5,589.


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