Allianz Football League, Division Three
Antrim 1-6 Down 1-15

NINE points seemed about correct as Down maintained their perfect start to football's Division Three at a packed-out Corrigan Park on Sunday, handing Antrim their first defeat in the process.

The Mouremen were solid in defence and sharper on the front foot - to an extent - as they were fairly wasteful in front of the posts: a dozen wides, shots short and a couple of goal chances that came and went until Ceilum Doherty finally rattled the home net late on to put a deserved gloss on the board.

The intensity of the visitors set the tone as they gave little by way of encouragement to the hosts and even when Antrim managed to draw level early in the second period, Conor Laverty's men drove on, limiting the hosts to just one more score.

The teams will meet again in an Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final but in many ways, this game is bigger as both identify progress in the League towards their overall journey.

Defensively, Down were on point, conceding just 1-2 from play and the goal more about Antrim desire than design as a tailing shot saw Marc Jordan retrieve a lost cause and slip in Paddy McAleer who showed superb composure and finishing.

They couldn't build and again when managing to draw level in the second period. Much of this was self-inflicted with stray passes resulting in cheap scores and at times Antrim were their own worst enemy. 

"Ultimately, we weren't good enough there today so we've got to be better," said Antrim McEntee.

"There was a lot of hard showing in the first-half when we looked under pressure but we stuck at it and got level with maybe 10 minutes of the second-half (gone).

"The disappointment is we didn't push on from there and Down took over for those last 20 minutes.

"That bit of accuracy... When you're trying to operate at pace that costs you. Coming out from the back,  a sloppy pass and bang, it's  score there when it's a potential score down there (in attack). That's the most disappointing thing, but there's a lot of fellas out there with their first taste of action like that, so you've got to give them a certain amount of credit as they stuck a it.

"There was a lot of heart shown in the first half when we looked under pressure. We stuck at it, got level but just didn't push on and Down took over."

Down were in command for most of the opening half and early on they made the most of it with the first three points as Pat Havern pointed frees either side of their first from play by James Guinness.

Antrim were struggling to get anything going at the other end but out of nowhere they were level on 11 minutes as Marc Jordan kept an Eoin Hynds shot in that was tailing out, popped to Paddy McAleer who buried his chance.

Down could and should have responded in kind seconds later when Caolan Mooney found himself away one-on-one following an error, but goalkeeper Michael Byrne diverted his soccer-style shot out for a 45 that John O'Hare converted.

The wides were stacking up for Down - seven in total for the first half - but they were back to three in front before an Antrim rally late in the half saw Joseph Finnegan and Dominic McEnhill on the board, but Havern would kick his fourth of the opening half to give the visitors a 0-7 to 1-2 lead at the interval.

Havern extended the gap after the break, but Antrim began to enjoy a productive spell with a pair of McEnhill frees and another from Byrne to level.

The Antrim goalkeeper had to make a smart stop almost immediately from Odhran Murdock, while Daniel Guinness was off-target with a snapshot, but Down had upped the stakes with the next three scores through Murdock, Havern and Oisin Savage.

Peter Fegan looks for a pass as Dominic McEnhill closes in

Peter Fegan looks for a pass as Dominic McEnhill closes in

Byrne pulled one back, but it would be Antrim's last score as Down pulled away in the final 10 minutes as Savage, James Guinness and Danny Magill pointed before Doherty's late salvo, the goal coming as he stabbed home the rebound after his initial shot was blocked with Down rounding off a good day to maintain their 100 per cent record.

"Antrim have a huge spirit and we saw that here when they played offaly, so we knew they weren't going to go away," said Down selector, Mickey Donnelly.

"When we went three up, we thought we were in a good position, but Antrim got the next score. If we got a goal we knew it was going to be crucial and thank God we got it at the end.

"Our target is the League final so two wins over the next games will be crucial."

ANTRIM: M Byrne (0-2f); R Boyle, E Walsh, K Keenan; M Jordan, J Finnegan (0-1), D McAleese; C McLarnon, P McAleer (1-0); E Hynds, N Burns, R McCann (Creggan); P McBride, C McGettigan, D McEnhill (0-3, 2f)
Subs: B Kelly for C McGettigan (HT), R McQuillan for N Burns (54), D Lynch for D McAleese (59), P Shivers for C McLarnon (63), O Doherty for E Hynds (68)

DOWN: J O'Hare (0-1, 45); R McEvoy, P Fegan, C Doherty (1-1); N McParland, M Rooney, P Laverty; O Murdock (0-1), P Havern (0-6, 4f); D Guinness, C Francis, C Mooney; S Annett, J Guinness (0-2), L Kerr (0-1)
Subs: J Ryan for N McParland (5), O Savage (0-2) for J Flynn (33), D Magill (0-1) for S Annett (42), R Magill for C Francis (50), A Doherty for J Guinness (63)

REFEREE: E McFeely (Donegal)