Mournemen ready to raise their game
Once Down slipped into gear, at Casement Park on Saturday evening, Antrim's further interest in the All-Ireland SFC was blown out of the water.
Three goals by the visitors swept them into the fourth qualifying round with a 3-13 to 0-10 victory.
Maybe, as both managers emphasised after the final whistle, the closing scoreline didn't do Antrim justice, but nevertheless, the Mournemen were full value for their win and they now march on to face Cork next Saturday - which will be a different matter.
"It will certainly be another step-up," reflected Down boss James McCartan. "We have played Division Four teams before Antrim and didn't set the world alight. Antrim were Division Two, but Cork will be different.
"They beat us in last year's All-Ireland final and convincingly in the league."
Down controlled the opening quarter and shot into a four-point lead inside 15 minutes before Antrim found the target. The Saffrons were getting plenty of the ball, but weren't making use of it until Paddy Cunningham tossed over a free-kick in the 18th minute.
Mark Poland answered that one before Justin Crozier, Paddy Cunningham (free) and Kevin Niblock narrowed the gap to 0-5 to 0-4.
Then came a blow to Antrim when it seemed a goal was on. Niblock sliced through the Down defence and when in a one-on-one situation with Down goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh, the Antrim winger seemed to be tugged back by an opponent as he was about to shoot. McVeigh brought off a flying save and the chance of a goal disappeared.
Poland and Brendan Herron, with a tremendous effort from the right wing, exchanged points before Down went in at the break 0-6 to 0-5 ahead.
A point by Herron and one by Gerard O'Boyle shot Antrim ahead by the eighth minute of the second half and between the 49th and 51st minutes the Mournemen wrapped up victory.
First Conor Laverty jigged his way through the Saffron's defence and shot home. Corner-back Aidan Brannigan then rifled over a point and after that Clarke exploded an angled rocket to the Antrim net. It was now 2-8 to 0-7 and Antrim were on their way out of the championship.
When teenage sub CaolÃ¡n Mooney netted on 61 minutes the door was firmly slammed closed on the home side who managed only five points during the second-half.
Referring to the Niblock incident, Antrim boss Liam Bradley said: "It was a penalty, but the Down goalkeeper did bring off a great save."
ANTRIM: W McSorley; C Brady, R Johnson, T O'Neill, T Scullion, J Crozier (0-1), A Healy, B Herron (0-2), A Gallagher, C Murray, T McCann (0-1, a '45'), J Loughrey, P Cunningham (0-2, 2f), G O'Boyle (0-1), K Niblock (0-2). Subs: M Dougan for O'Boyle (46); A Douglas for O'Neill (50), M McCann for Herron (52), D O'Hagan (0-1) for Healy (57), K Brady for T McCann (63).
DOWN: B McVeigh; A Brannigan (0-1), D Gordon, A McArdle, C Garvey, K McKernan (0-1), G McCartan, D Rooney, K King, C Maginn, M Poland (0-4, 4f), L Doyle, C Laverty (1-0), B Coulter (0-2), M Clarke (1-4, 2f, one '45'). Subs: D Hughes for Doyle (40), D Mooney (1-0) for Maginn (44), P McComiskey (0-1) for Rooney (48), P Fitzpatrick for King (63), A Carr for Coulter (64).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).