Antrim's future looking bright under Bradley
Down 0-10 Antrim 1-12: Antrim completed their Power NI McKenna Cup campaign on a high when they outgunned their hosts Down at Pairc Esler, Newry last night.
And in doing so, they offered manager Liam Bradley a generous ration of encouragement in advance of the Allianz League.
Yet Antrim threatened to press the self-destruct button more than once in the first-half when they were repeatedly guilty of unforced errors from which Down launched blistering counter-attacks.
But despite a lion's share of possession in the first quarter, Down were unable to translate their superiority onto the scoreboard and with 15 minutes gone the sides were deadlocked at 0-3 each, Liam Doyle, Aidan Carr and Darragh O'Hanlon having scored for the home side while Paddy Cunningham was Antrim's sole scorer.
However, when Bradley's side protected their possession better in the second quarter, moved the ball much more quickly and accurately and revealed greater cohesion up front, the game underwent a transformation.
The in-form Cunningham struck a telling blow for the Saffrons when he swept the ball to the Down net after Michael Pollock had made a searing break and when Philip Maguire tacked on two exquisite points, Antrim were suddenly in a much more comfortable position at 1-5 to 0-5, Niall Madine having snapped up a brace of breakaway points for James McCartan's team.
But his opportunism was a mere pinprick in Antrim's soaring confidence as Michael McCann, Pollock and Colm Duffin swooped for points.
Down had no intention of throwing in the towel and when Liam Doyle, the busy O'Hanlon and Madine landed points, they were back in contention at 1-9 to 0-9.
Impressive substitutes C J McGourty and Brian Neeson tipped the scales in Antrim's favour with finely-executed scores in the closing stages that provided their manager with a rather unexpected bonus as the league looms.
"It's always good to get a win and I thought that we showed great commitment and composure for the most part," said a clearly pleased Bradley at the end.
* ONE of the most enduring eras in GAA history has ended following Mick O'Dwyer's announcement that his inter-county managerial days are over.
It ends a 60-year involvement with inter-county football as player and manager with his native Kerry and as manager in Kildare, Laois, Wicklow and Clare.
Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, J McCarthy, S McNamee; C Garvey, A Carr (0-1), R Boyle; K King, P Fitzpatrick; D Turley, L Doyle (0-2), D O'Hanlon (0-3, 0-2f); B Coulter, N Madine, (0-4), S Bell. Subs: B McArdle for Turley (30 mins), D O'Hagan for Doyle (45), D Turley for King (54), G McArdle for Fitzpatrick (63), M Lively for Garvey (66). Black card: D McCartan (62).
Antrim: C Kerr; K O'Boyle, S McVeigh, N Delargy; M McAleese, M Johnston, J Lavery; M Sweeney (0-1), M McCann; C Murray, P Maguire (0-2), P Kelly (0-2); P Cunningham (1-3), C Duffin (0-1), M Pollock (0-1). Subs: J Crozier for McAleese (42), B Neeson (0-1) for Duffin (43), C J McGourty (0-1) for Kelly (53), T McCann for Cunningham (53), C Kelly for McVeigh (59).
Referee: Stephen McNamee (Tyrone)