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McKinley looks forward to weekend off after Antrim knock out Down

Antrim 3-15 Down 0-12

By John Martin

Antrim boss Dominic McKinley is looking forward to well-earned rest after his side's sixth outing in as many weeks saw the Saffrons through to the Christy Ring Cup semi-final.

Between Allianz League, Ulster senior championship and Christy Ring Cup fixtures, Antrim's hurlers have had a busy schedule recently, but their comfortable 12-point win over neighbours Down at Cushendall on Saturday ensures a free weekend before their May 20 semi-final.

"There's no doubt the players are drained and It's a telling factor. We need to freshen up. It's been a tough few weeks and we know that that wouldn't be good enough but we also know our players and we have confidence and belief and they have belief in what we're doing," said McKinley.

"It was seriously scrappy in the second half and when we lost the man, we lost our shape a bit. Overall we're content that we're in the semi-final of the Christy Ring. In the next two weeks we'll get a bit of hurling done."

Down meanwhile, are back in action on Saturday in the quarter-final against either Carlow or Roscommon. It was a depleted Down side that took the field at Cushendall with Paul Sheehan and Danny Toner both missing from the full forward line, and John McManus and Chris Egan missing from the back line.

"We're short of forwards. Danny Toner was a massive loss to us. Antrim are two leagues above us and they've players coming out of their ears. We have three senior clubs," said Down manager Marty Mallon.

"But we're going to keep going. Antrim are a massive step up but we'll keeping banging away at it. We've 20 lads in there who are committed and passionate."

Down had started the brighter in Saturday's Round 2A clash and led by 0-3 to no score thanks to free-taker Scott Nicholson, but two penalties - despatched by Ciaran Johnston - had Antrim leading 2-6 to 0-9 at the break.

Niall McKenna extended the lead after the restart but Antrim found themselves down to 14 men when Conor Johnston saw red for a second bookable offence. Ciaran Clarke's accuracy from placed balls kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Saffrons while Down, playing against a strong breeze, notched their first score of the second half through Declan McManus on 52 minutes.

Antrim notched their third goal when Clarke intercepted a short puck out to fire past Keith. The Saffrons could also afford the luxury of a late missed penalty after Sean Ennis dragged Conor McCann back after he was put through on the Down goal by Clarke.

Antrim: O'Connell; McCrory, Dillon, Diamond; Campbell (0-2), Burke, Ciaran Johnston (2-0f); McKinley, McGill (0-1); M Connolly, McCann (0-2), McNaughton; Johnston (0-1), McFadden, Clarke (1-7, 5f, 0-1 '65'). Subs: Rooney for Diamond (39), N McKenna (0-2) for Connolly (ht), McKernan for McNaughton (51), Carson for McGill (65), Maskey for Burke (66)

Down: Keith; Taggart, Hughes, Ennis; B Nicholson, Woods, Ennis; Hughes, McManus (0-3); Mageean, Magee, O'Prey; Sands (0-1), Johnston (0-1), Nicholson (0-7f). Subs: Bell for Woods (21), McManus for Magee (55)

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