Conor McGurk Cup final
ANTRIM retained the Conor McGurk Cup with comfortable 14-point win over Down at Corrigan Park on Friday night.
Saffron boss Darren Gleeson used the game as an opportunity to run his eye over his extended panel and, with back-to-back home games against Wexford and Laois on the horizon, the former Tipperary All-Ireland winner will have been pleased by the effort of the squad.
Eoin O’Neill certainly threw his hat into the ring for a starting berth next weekend with a Man-of-the-Match performance at centre-forward while Shea Shannon gave a near flawless display of free-taking on his home pitch.
Indeed, O’Neill and Shannon bagged the first and fourth goals for Antrim respectively with Niall McCormack and substitute Peter McCallin also finding the net.
Down were reliant on free-taker Oisin McManus for scores with the Liatroim clubman scoring 0-12 on the night.
Ronan Sheehan’s men also suffered a double injury blow in the opening 20 minutes when they lost full-back Tom Murray and corner-forward Tim Prenter.
A hat-trick of early frees from Shannon got Antrim off to a strong start with McManus replying with a brace of frees at the other end.
A fine solo and an excellent finish from O’Neill saw Antrim land the game’s first goal on 12 minutes and when Shannon hit his fourth free moments later, the writing was already on the wall for the Ardsmen.
Three further McManus frees and a free from centre-back Marc Fisher kept them in touch, but a classy point from wing-back Ryan McCambridge preceded Antrim’s second goal from Niall McCormack and the gap was back to seven points.
Down failed to score from play in the first half with Fisher and McManus tagging on a point each from placed balls while Antrim were denied a third goal when Niall O’Connor was brillaintly hooked by Down’s Ryan McCusker late in the half.
Still, Nicky McKeague and Shannon stretched Antrim’s lead to 2-10 to 0-8 at the interval and the hosts picked up where they left off in the early stages of the second half.
O’Neill and Shannon hit back-to-back points from play while the St John’s clubman converted another free five minutes into the second half.
Down finally landed their first point from play on 41 minutes when Fisher finished off a great team move while Paul McMullan was called into action to deny Padraig Doran from close range moments later.
Antrim had no such trouble finding the net and Shannon linked up with substitute Peter McCallin for the former to fire in at the back post to move the Saffrons 3-13 to 0-10 clear on 45 minutes.
Down replied with a goal of their own when substitute Ronan Costello got on the end of a pass from McCusker to fire past McMullan.
Down goalkeeper Paddy McNally then made a great stop to prevent Shannon from plundering another goal for the hosts.
Sheehan’s side did manage to hit a purple patch on the hour mark with rally of unanswered points from McManus (free), Eoghan Sands and Paul Sheehan while Costello tagged on a brace of points from play late on.
However, Antrim were never in danger of losing the contest. McCambridge and substitutes James McNaughton and Keelan Molloy were all on target late on while Shannon capped a fine display by scoring Antrim’s fourth and final goal in injury-time.
ANTRIM: P McMullan; P Duffin, M Donnelly, A Crawford; R McCambridge (0-2), R McGarry, N O’Connor; Ciaran Johnston, N McKeague (0-1); C Bohill (0-1), E O’Neill (1-2), N McCormack (1-1); Dan McCloskey, Conor Johnston (0-2), S Shannon (1-11, 0-7s, 0-3 ’65).
Subs: P McCallin (1-0) for McCormack (43), A O’Brien for O’Connor (43), Declan McCloskey for Ciaran Johnston (51), C McHugh for Bohill (51), J McNaughton (0-1) for O’Neill (60), K Molloy (0-1) for McKeague (62).
DOWN: P McNally; M McAreavey, T Murray, D Rooney; G Hughes, M Fisher (0-3, 0-2fs), N McFarlane; P Savage, PJ Davidson; R McCusker, R Blair, N Fitzsimons; P Doran, O McManus (0-12, 0-10fs, 0-2 ’65), T Prenter.
Subs: D Hughes for Prenter (11), C Watson for Murray (19), M Conlan for McFarlane (HT), R Costello (1-2) for Doran (43), E Sands (0-1) for Davidson (43), M Patterson for Rooney (43), P Sheehan (0-1) for Fitzsimons (57).
REFEREE: J Connors (Donegal).