Antrim cantered to their ninth Ulster Senior Hurling Championship on the bounce at Casement Park yesterday, outclassing a disappointing Down side from the throw-in on their way to a new record of consecutive provincial titles.
With Down having turned over their neighbours during this year’s Division Two League campaign, a close encounter was predicted at the Belfast venue — but the game was over as a contest after 15 minutes when Antrim led by double figures.
It was one-way traffic for most of the 70 minutes. Fourteen seconds after the throw-in, a Liam Watson point had Antrim into a lead they would not relinquish. By the 15th minute the same player put Antrim 1-7 to no score to the good when firing past Graham Clarke, with Johnny Campbell landing a long-range effort to put 11 between them.
Paul Braniff finally got Down off the mark but Karl McKeegan then bagged the first of his 2-4 tally having switched to the right wing. The superb Shane McNaughton and two more McKeegan points piled on the agony for Down, and although Johnny McCusker stopped the rot for the Ardsmen, a second Antrim goal from McKeegan saw Antrim 2-14 to 0-2 ahead on 31 minutes.
Eoin Clarke notched Down’s third on 33 minutes but McNaughton completed the first half scoring to leave Antrim 2-15 to |0-3 ahead at the break.
McKeegan bagged his second and Antrim’s third three minutes into the second half, with Colm McFall unselfishly off-loading to the Cushendall clubman, and two minutes later PJ O’Connell ran through the Down defence to blast past Clarke.
Playing with a stiff second-half breeze, Down finally managed to string together two back-to-back scores, with James Coyle and McCusker adding points.
Antrim boss Dinny Cahill had the luxury of resting some his charges ahead of Saturday’s All Ireland qualifier against Carlow.
Things got worse for Down when talisman Paul Braniff saw red for a high tackle on Cormac Donnelly, with Thomas McCann, Neil McManus, O’Connell and McKeegan all adding further points. Down sub Paul Keith took advantage of a poor puckout to slot home a goal for Down.
The minor final went as predicted with Antrim’s under-18s finally getting the better of a dogged Armagh side to win 2-19 to 0-10.
ANTRIM: C O'Connell; K McGourty, C Donnelly, S Delargy; P Shiels, J Campbell (0-1), C Herron (0-1); S McNaughton (0-6, 1f), K Stewart; C McFall, T McCann (0-1), L Watson (1-4, 1f); PJ O'Connell (1-1), N McManus (0-4, 2f), K McKeegan (2-4) Subs: S McCrory for K Stewart, J McKeague for J Campbell, J McIntosh for L Watson, M Devlin for S McNaughton, B McFall for C McFall
DOWN: G Clarke; P Hughes, S Murray, S Ennis; D Flynn (0-1), F Conway, M Ennis; A Savage, C Coulter; C Woods, S Clarke (0-2), E Clarke (0-2); J Coyle (0-1), P Braniff (0-1f), J McCusker (0-2, 1f). Subs: S Wilson for P Hughes, C O’Prey for F Conway, K McGarry (0-1) for C Coulter, P Keith (1-1) for J McCusker, R McGrattan for M Ennis
Referee: E Hassan (Derry).