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Kerr out of Antrim tie but Down get fitness boost

 

By John Campbell

Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson does not have his sorrows to seek ahead of the crucial All-Ireland football qualifier clash with Offaly at Tullamore tomorrow week.

Goalkeeper Chris Kerr will be sidelined with an injury he is understood to have picked up during last Saturday's Ulster Championship tie against Down which Antrim lost by 1-18 to 0-14.

But while the Saffrons will miss Kerr's experience between the posts, Down boss Eamonn Burns is hoping to have Ryan Johnston back for the Ulster semi-final against Donegal next Sunday.

The absence of Kerr could see Harbinson now turn to Andrew Hasson for the trip to Tullamore. Kerr, though, was consistent throughout the Allianz League in which Antrim just failed to gain promotion. He conceded just one goal in six matches - against Carlow - as Antrim returned one of the best defensive records in the league overall.

Offaly, who moved quickly to replace manager Stephen Wallace with Paul Rouse, are anxious to win this qualifier to help erase some of the fall-out which followed the former's departure.

There has been acrimony within the county but there is now a feeling that victory over the Saffrons would help restore the momentum that Offaly displayed in the closing stages of the Allianz League.

In their last three games in the competition, they beat Wexford and Westmeath and drew with Sligo, before surprisingly bowing out of the Leinster Championship to Wicklow after extra-time on a 1-20 to 1-16 scoreline.

Meanwhile, the anticipated return of Johnston will be a considerable boost to Down.

The mercurial Kilcoo forward, one of the most stylish players in the province, was forced to miss the Mourne county's victory over Antrim last Sunday, but manager Burns expects him to be ready to face Declan Bonner's upbeat side.

Johnston's ball-handling skills, deceptive turn of pace and game intelligence invariably bring an extra dimension to Down's attacking armoury, which would certainly prove useful against a Donegal defence in which seasoned campaigners such as Paddy McGrath and Eamon McGee are expected to offer solid defiance to the Mournemen.

"Ryan was not one hundred percent for the game against Antrim but hopefully he will be ready to go full throttle in the semi-final," states Burns.

With David McKibbin, Ryan McAleenan, Jonny Flynn and Niall Madine having come off the bench to help the side over the line against the Saffrons, Burns has additional selection options for a semi-final that has captured the imagination.

Down upset the provincial applecart when they overcame Monaghan in the semi-final last year and now they are hoping to throw another spanner in the works by ending Donegal's hopes of landing what would be a first title since 2014.

They may have suffered relegation in the league, but Down certainly do not appear to have carried any residue of disappointment into the Championship.

"We had a lot of very good performances in the league but our problem lay in our decision-making," points out Burns.

"I think had we been a little bit sharper, we would have stayed in Division Two.

"I believe our decision making last weekend against Antrim was better at times - we put the pressure on and took decisions that were right."

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