Leinster U20 Hurling Championship qualifier
Down 2-14 Antrim 3-24
ANTRIM powered to a handsome victory over Down in Saturday’s Leinster U20 Hurling Championship qualifier at Ballycran as they set-up a meeting with Dublin at Darver on Wednesday evening (7pm).
The young Saffrons grew into this contest after slow start and found their scores a little easier, but the margin of victory was perhaps a little unkind on the hosts as Antrim’s three goals came in added time.
They were still comfortably ahead at this point and will take much from this victory as all six starting forwards registered with substitute Daire Murphy hitting 2-2 when introduced to give them cause for optimism heading into Wednesday’s first round encounter.
“It was good scoring and we went through spells, but we haven’t done a lot of hurling, so we knew it was going to be scrappy at times,” said Antrim manager Karl McKeegan after.
“We switched off at times and Down played good hurling, but you could see a bit of rustiness in our players. Once we got into our stride and played the ball in early, we got some great scores.
“We told them to up the intensity and then the hurling started to take over. There are some great hurlers there and that will give them a good lift for Wednesday night.”
Antrim will need to raise their game for the challenge against Dublin but as Saturday’s game went on, they showed they are capable of some fine hurling and will hope to continue that winning momentum into a midweek game that whilst logistical problematic, still offers an ideal challenge to help bring this crop of players on.
“It’s tough on anybody, but especially young boys being asked to travel down on a Wednesday night, but they have to look forward to games like this,” added McKeegan.
“That game today will have brought a few of them on and we’ll hope to drive it on now.
“We’ll reiterate to them on Monday night that this is Dublin and okay, they may not be Kilkenny or Wexford, but they are a big county in hurling, so this is a cracking game for us. The lads will get themselves ready and hopefully we’ll give them a good shot.”
Down certainly opened much brighter on Saturday as they were quicker to the breaks and while Antrim took a 0-2 to 0-1 lead with Dominic McEnhill’s shot whistling just over, the hosts began to motor and hit four points in-a-row through the ever-dangerous Tim Prenter, Padraig Doran, Ronan Blair and Stuart Martin.
An Oisin Donnelly point brought Antrim back to within two at the water break, but they managed to reorganise during this slight break and began to exert control in the second quarter as the scores began to flow.
Seaan Elliott knocked over the frees with McEnhill, Aaron Bradley, Niall McCormick and Cormick McFadden getting in on the act to help build a 0-12 to 0-7 lead at the half.
Paddy Doran converted a free early in the second period for Down but Antrim extended their lead with Bradley pointing either side of a fine Anton McGrath effort to move Antrim seven clear before Down roared back into proceedings.
Doran converted a free and then he lashed to the net after Stuart Martin poked the ball into his direction, with another free tapped over soon after leaving just two between the teams after 42 minutes.
Antrim quickly made the changes and they had the desired effect as another Bradley brace and Niall McCormick point helping them into a 0-18 to 1-11 lead at the water break.
Antrim powered on upon the resumption with McEnhill (two), Elliott and Murphy registering with a pair of Doran frees Down’s only reply.
Antrim were seven clear as the game moved into stoppage time when the goals suddenly flowed.
Murphy whipped to the net off a break and then Seaan Elliott pounced on a stray puck-out to race through and score.
Down found one of their own when Tim Prenter blocked down Antrim goalkeeper Tiernan Smith and returned to the net, but the Saffrons had the final say as Murphy flicked to the net overhead with the final act of the game to put a gloss on the final score.
“We are proud of the lads as they worked hard,” said Down manager Ronan Sheehan.
“At the first water break, we probably lost our momentum that stage and Antrim got on top.
“In the second half, we got back into it and got to within two, but they got back again and got a couple of goals in injury-time that probably put a gloss on it.
“It’s disappointing when you have to line out without everyone there, but we have a lot to build on with that young squad.”
DOWN: O McDermott; M McAreavey, E Maguire, R Convery; N McFarlane, C Coulter, B Campbell; C Watson, J Hughes (0-1); J Hanrahan, R Blair (0-3, 1f), S Martin (0-2); P Doran (1-6, 0-6 frees), S Campbell, T Prenter (1-2). Subs: A Dornan for E Maguire (HT), T Murphy for J Hughes (42), E Magee for S Campbell (54).
ANTRIM: T Smith; R McCollam, N O’Connor, C McKay; C McKernan, R McGarry, D McCloskey; N McCormick (0-2), P Boyle; O Donnelly (0-1), A McGrath (0-1), C McFadden (0-2); S Elliott (1-6, 0-4 frees), D McEnhill (0-4), A Bradley (0-5). Subs: E McCusker for C McKay (13), D Murphy (2-2) for O Donnelly (42), R McAteer for C McKernan (42), L Donnelly for P Boyle (51), D McKeogh (0-1) for A McGrath (54).
REFEREE: James Connors (Donegal)