Super Saffrons storm back to slay Mournemen
Antrim 1-2 Down 0-23
Antrim produced a strong finish to overcome old rivals Down to qualify for the final of the Christy Ring Cup after a thrilling game at Loughgiel on Saturday.
Ciaran Clarke top-scored for the Saffrons with 0-16, 14 of those from placed balls as the hosts held their nerve to advance in a game that epitomised Championship hurling.
At half-time it actually looked like it was going to be Down's day as they completely bossed the opening 35 minutes, but the Saffrons rallied to seal the win.
Antrim's Eddie McCloskey was cautioned after just 10 seconds for a wild pull on James McGrath, but it was Down who were much more up for this in the early stages and opened the scoring through Conor O'Prey.
Down punished Antrim each time they slipped up and moved three ahead before the Saffrons pointed through Conor Johnston.
Down continued to rack up the scores with Danny Toner and Conor Woods leading the way and they only hit their first wide late in the half.
The Saffrons were relying on the free-taking of Clarke to stay in touch and the Ardsmen were full value for their 0-13 to 0-7 lead at the break.
Antrim were much improved from the restart and they stormed right back into the game when Conor Carson improvised to bat to the net on 37 minutes.
This was the score the Saffrons needed and while Donal Hughes replied at the other end, the hosts were on top and by the 45th minute they were back on terms. Down refused to wilt however as they kept pace with Hughes and Toner firing over the points with Clarke and Niall McKenna raising flags at the other end as the heavens opened.
The sides were level going into the final minutes, but Antrim moved ahead thanks to three Clarke frees.
Down's frustrations boiled over at the end with James McGrath and Conor O'Neill (second yellow) red carded. Conor Carson sealed the win for Antrim with a late point after being played in by Connolly. After the final whistle, Down's Jordan Doran received a red card to compound their misery.
ANTRIM: C O'Connell; O McFadden, T McCloskey, C McKinley; S McCrory, N McAuley, M Burke; E Campbell (0-1), Ciaran Johnston; E McCloskey (0-1), J Dillon (0-1), N Elliott; Conor Johnston (0-1), C Carson (1-1), Clarke (0-16, 13 frees, 1 65)
Subs: N McKenna (0-3) N Elliott (HT), J Connolly for J Dillon (HT), S McAfee for Ciaran Johnston (62 mins)
DOWN: S Keith; M Conlan, P Flynn, J McManus; C O'Neill, C Taggart (0-3), J McGrath; S Ennis, F Conway; C Mageean, C O'Prey (0-3, 2 frees, 1 65), D Hughes (0-3); D Toner (0-9, 5 frees), C Woods (0-4), S Nicholson.
Subs: C Egan (0-1) for P Flynn (48 mins), B Byers for S Nicholson (60 mins), J Doran for F Conway (65 mins), O McManus for C Taggart (70 mins).
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)