Ulster Senior Camogie Championship final
Down 0-15 Antrim 0-9
TEN points from team captain Niamh Mallon helped Down to the Ulster Senior Camogie Championship title over Antrim at a sunny Rossa Park on Saturday.
This was a fully merited victory for Paul Donnelly's side who were never behind and indeed, once they opened the scoring they remained in front until the final whistle.
Mallon was in fine scoring form, but this Down victory was built on an excellent defensive performance, spearheaded by Dearbhla Magee as aside for a 10-minute spell after the break, they dealt with much of what Antrim threw at them.
The Saffrons were certainly a little off-colour and had a poor day in front of the posts with nine wides, so there can be few complaints as they were out-hustled for the most part and despite the visitors being two players shown red - one after the final whistle - this was a deserved victory for Down.
Both sides passed top a couple of early opportunities before Down's Niamh Mallon broke the deadlock from a free on eight minutes.
The team captain doubled the Down lead in an identical fashion as Antrim struggled to make much headway in attack. Too often there were aimless balls pumped into the forwards who were outnumbered, but a lot of credit had to go to Down full-back Dearbhla Magee who was mopping up everything coming her way.
The Saffrons were finally off the mark on 12 minutes as Amy Boyle gathered off a break and sent her shot between the posts, but another Mallon free straight after cancelled this out.
Caitrin Dobbin edged Antrim closer, but Mallon again responded immediately, this time from play as she gathered well along the right sideline and split the posts.
Roisin McCormick fired over from deep for the hosts, but Down always found a reply and Sarah-Louise Graffin popped inside to Lauren Clarke for a score before Graffin then thumped over herself.
A Dobbin point from play was the Antrim reply, but Down finished the half on top as Mallon got on the end of a pox-out to cut inside and land her fifth of the opening period before Graffin landed again from deep to help Down into a fully deserved 0-8 to 0-4 lead at the break.
The gap was extended within 25 seconds of the restart when Mallon went on a run and fed Graffin to score, but Antrim soon sparked into life with Siobhan McKillop leading the way, rattling off three points in as many minutes to whittle the gap down to two.
They could, and probably should, have hit the front on 36 minutes as good work forced a turnover with Roisin McCormick sprinting clear and passing inside to the unmarked Caitrin Dobbin, but Down goalkeeper Catherine McGourty read the situation brilliantly to get off her line and smother the Loughgiel attacker's shot out for a 45 that was sent wide of the posts.
Shannon Graham did find her range shortly after to make it a one-point game, but this was as close as Antrim would get as their challenge stagnated and momentum was broken by a Niamh Mallon point from a free on 41 minutes and this would prove to be something of a turning point as Antrim couldn't maintain their pressure.
Indeed, the hosts had goalkeeper Caitriona Graham to thank for a great stop from Dearbhla Coleman, but a pair of Mallon frees and another from play saw the gap pushed out to five.
Graham then made another excellent save, this time from Saoirse Sands whose frustration at her shot going out for a 45 got the better of her and was sent off with seven to play.
Mallon would convert that 45 to put six between them but although Antrim now had the numerical advantage, they couldn't make it count with a run of wides from play and placed ball as the minutes ticked by.
Caitrin Dobbin did see a free whizz over when a goal was required late on, but a point from Down's Anna Mulholland in stoppage time sealed their win.
There was a red card for Down's Gerra McGrattan after the final whistle for a swipe at Aine Magill almost simultaneously as the referee called a hault, but the two dismissals were the only blights on a great day for Paul Donnelly's side.
ANTRIM: C Graham; L McKenna, K Laverty, M Lynn; M McGarry, C Conlon, C Patterson; A Boyle (0-1), M McKillen; S McKillop (0-3), S Graham (0-1), K McKillop; C McArthur, R McCormick (0-1), C Dobbin (0-3, 2f)
Subs: A Connolly for L McKenna (42), A Magill for C McArthur (42), N Cosgrove for M McGarry (50), F Kelly for K McKillop (52)
DOWN: C McGourty; A Savage, D Magee, R Smyth; B Savage, B Fitzpatrick, A Mallon; I O'Hare, C McGilligan; L Clarke (0-1), D Savage, S Sands; D Coleman, SL Graffin (0-3), N Mallon (0-10, 6f, 1 45)
Subs: O Boyle for A Mallon (48), A Mulholland (0-1) for C McGilligan (57), G McGrattan for R Smyth (57)
REFEREE: Sean Curran (Derry)