Down are back in semis

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Down are back in semis thumbnail CONOR Maginn races away from Antrim's Mark Sweeney at Pairc Esler.

DOWN cruised into an Ulster semi-final showdown with Donegal following Saturday's win over Antrim.

DOWN ...1-18
ANTRIM ...0-14.

The pre-match favourites tag didn't seem to weigh heavy on the Mourne men as they easily took care of what was a poor Antrim side with bewildering tactics.

Eamonn Burns got his tactics right by pushing up on Antrim's kick-outs and they were rewarded with a goal due to the pressure they put on the Saffrons.

In truth, Down should have been further ahead and they can also be thankful for some woeful Antrim shooting as the game seemed to be petering out.

Kevin McKernan's black card was unfortunate as his first half contribution was excellent and he took his goal brilliantly just before receiving his marching orders.

5,589 was the official attendance, which was better than the 4,000 expected by the Ulster GAA Council but 15,000 short on the crowd that turned out in the first round against Armagh last year.

Of course, Antrim were not going to draw a crowd.

But the decision to rise prices to 30 if purchased on the day, as well as the clash of timing against the Championship League meant that Pairc Esler had little to no atmosphere which wasn't anything the players could control.

Manager Eamonn Burns was happy with the win but he wouldn't be drawn into whether he feels his men could make back-to-back Ulster Finals.

"We won and that was the main thing, this was a banana skin and Antrim came well prepared and organised and we knew that was going to be the case," said Burns.

"It took us a wee bit of time to settle in but once we got our feet on the ground and our systems running I thought we coped ok."

It was Antrim that strolled into an early lead as Matthew Fitzpatrick and Patrick McBride (free) opened the scoring. And Antrim's Ryan Murray looked to go for goal but he couldn't get past the resilient Darren O'Hagan who stood him up brilliantly.

Any other defender and Murray was through.

Down got off the mark on seven minutes when Caolan Mooney came sweeping through at speed and coolly steered his shot between the posts. It was a fine strike made even more impressive given that he was bed-bound with a stomach bug on Thursday.

Donal O'Hare scored his first of seven points to level the score and Shay Millar floated his shot between the posts after McKernan's visionary cross-field pass.

Antrim refused to press Down's kick-outs which permitted the Mourne men plenty of time and space to kick-start attacks.

Patrick McBride levelled the score with a super long-range point but O'Hare's free on 17 minutes put Down ahead again and they stayed in front for the remainder of the game.

Big Peter Turley had an excellent game in the middle, with some tremendous fetches and tidy tackling too.

Down then stretched their legs and their lead as Kevin McKernan ran from deep to fist over the bar, Shay Millar nabbed his second point from wide on the right wing and then full-back Benny McArdle, who had a great game powered through to slot his shot between the posts.

Antrim's Conor Murray halted the rot with a point but O'Hare's third converted free doubled Down's lead.

McBride pulled a point back before Connaire Harrison turned his marker and struck a fine point. Down were finding their groove and with 33 minutes they found the net.

The alert Shay Millar picked up on a poor Chris Kerr kick-out, won possession and he fed the ball to McKernan who closed in before slipping the ball neatly into the net.

However, less than 30 seconds later he received a black card, which seemed harsh.

Down led 1-09 to 0-05 at the break and they took their foot off the pedal in the second half.

Anthony Doherty's and O'Hare's frees kept Down ahead while McBride and Ryan Murray picked up points for the Saffrons.

Burns could afford to take his key men off with a look to the semi-final and Sean Dornan impressed with two points while the reliable Colm Maginn also popped up with his traditional point.

Mooney, O'Hare and Harrison were taken off early as Down manager explained.

"We took Caolan off because he had a bug around Thursday and he wasn't eating at all and we knew if we got to the stage near the end of the game that we had a lead that we believed we could retain we would take him off and we did that and we took Connaire [Harrison] and Donal [O'Hare] off as well as a precautionary measure," said Burns.

With 58 minutes gone Antrim were reduced to 14 men after Ricky Johnston received a red card and the game was up.

Down switched off in the final few minutes but they had done enough to secure a well-deserved victory, which was aided by dreadful shooting from Antrim.

But it was Down's day and the manager was content.

"I thought in the last ten or 20 minutes we could have been a wee bit more composed in front of goals and apart from that I thought we coped quite well and played what was put in front of us.

"I think our scoring rate was where it should be and I was reasonably happy with our shot volume but I wouldn't be overly happy with our accuracy which gives us something to work on going forward."

While there was much made last week about the fact Armagh had no Crossmaglen players, it was odd that Down played without any Kilcoo players, mainly due to Darragh O'Hanlon's injury.

"Darragh picked up a knock and he has been off work, not sleeping and he has had a hard time of it, so he has made a bit of a comeback.

Ryan [Johnston] wasn't 100 percent coming into tonight but he will be ready for the semi-finals," said Burns.

"We had a lot of very good performances and what happened to us in the National League was our decision making in front of goal.

"If our decision making had of been a little bit sharper we would be in Division Two yet. You live and die by it."

DOWN: Marc Reid, Colm Flanagan, Brendy McArdle (0-1), Anthony Doherty (0-3, 3f), Darren O'Hagan, Niall McParland, Caolan Mooney (0-1), Peter Turley, Niall Donnelly, Kevin McKernan (1-01), Conor Maginn, Shay Millar (0-2), Donal O'Hare (0-7, 5f), Connaire Harrison (0-1), Ronan Millar.

Subs used: Sean Dornan (0-2) for Kevin McKernan black card (35'), Johnny Flynn for S Millar (50'). David McKibben for Mooney (56'), Ryan McAleenan for Flanagan (56'), Conor McGrady for Harrison (59'), Niall Madine for O'Hare (66').

Yellow cards: Niall Donnelly (26'), Colm Flanagan (39').

ANTRIM: Chris Kerr, Peter Healy, Patrick Gallagher, Niall Delargy, Kevin O'Boyle, Ricky Johnston, James Laverty, Patrick McAteer, Niall McKeever, Mark Sweeney, Conor Murray (0-4, 1f), Ruairi McCann, Ryan Murray (0-2, 1f), Matthew Fitzpatrick (0-1), Patrick McBride (0-4, 2f).

Subs used: Colum Duffin for Gallagher (ht'), Stephen Beatty for McKeever (49'), Kristian Healy (0-2) for McCann (49'), Declan Lynch for Laverty (55'), Odhran Eastwood for McAleer (62'), Michael McCarry for Healy (70').

Yellow cards: Patrick McAleer (33').

Red cards: Ricky Johnston (58').

Referee: Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary)


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