Murphy points way for Antrim as Down stroll to victory
Antrim and Down yesterday took sharply contrasting semi-final routes into next Saturday's Conor McGurk hurling cup final.
While the Saffrons gained a fortuitous draw against Tyrone (0-14 to 0-14) which enabled them to claim their place in the decider, a second-half scoring bonanza powered the Mourne side to an emphatic 5-22 to 1-13 victory over Donegal.
It was the free-taking of Deaghlan Murphy that was to prove crucial in Antrim's progress. He potted 0-9 in all with six of his scores coming from frees, but none were as vital as the last-gasp shot be fired over the crossbar in the closing moments that stamped his team's passport into the decider.
Tyrone manager Mattie Lennon elicited a gutsy performance from his side and with Damien Casey his usual accurate self for the most part - he nonetheless had a few uncharacteristic misses, though - they remained in touch with the Saffrons right until the end.
Indeed, Lennon had considerable cause for optimism when his side led by 0-7 to 0-6 at half-time having earlier enjoyed an even more substantial advantage at 0-5 to 0-1 before their opponents finally left the traps.
It was only when Murphy struck a rich vein of form that Antrim began to look more comfortable and with the busy Nicky McKeague contributing three points, they managed to keep the Tyrone defence under pressure.
When Aidan Kelly landed a late Tyrone point to complement Casey's 12th score, Tyrone looked destined for the final until Murphy's late, late point which now keeps them in the hunt for the trophy.
It was rather different for Down in the other semi-final as they strolled through the second-half in particular.
Donegal were still very much in the picture at the half-way stage when they trailed by 0-14 to 1-19 but Down's goal blitz from Eoghan Sands (2), Daithi Sands, Declan McManus and Ryan Brannigan effectively ended the game as a contest - and provided the winners with an extra layer of confidence in advance of the final.
Down, though, are already fully aware that Antrim will now offer a much more difficult challenge in next weekend's decider, however.