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Stunning dozen for Antrim

By David Mohan

Antrim 4-21 Down 1-17: Antrim secured a 12th successive Ulster Senior Hurling Championship title at Celtic Park in Derry with a 13-point victory over Down to finally bring the curtain down on the 2013 competition.

However, the margin of victory does not tell the full story of a game played in front of a paltry yet not unexpected attendance of 139 as the Ardsmen – playing their second game in as many days – gave the defending champions a real test for three quarters of this encounter.

Playing in fine winter sunshine, the Saffrons made the brighter start and were on the board in the opening minute through a Ciaran Clarke free after Daniel McKernan had been held.

Antrim continued to dominate the opening exchanges with their short passing game creating countless opportunities.

Conor Carson and Niall McKenna pointed either side of Ciaran Johnston's goal, the wing back firing to the net from the left after gathering the rebound from his initial shot.

That left Antrim 1-3 to 0-0 ahead eight minutes in and there was a real danger a mauling would ensue.

However, Down steadied and hit three of the next four scores through Paul Sheehan, Stephen Dineen and Michael Turley.

Antrim were certainly the better of the sides and were dominating around the field, with Barry McFall, Simon McCrory and Neal McAuley catching the eye.

Points from Neil McManus and an excellent effort from McKenna restored the six-point advantage, but Down were given a lifeline on 21 minutes when Danny Toner blasted into the net after Antrim goalkeeper Seanan McToal – who appeared to be fouled – had his hand-pass blocked.

However just a minute later, McManus blasted home from a 20 metre free and pointed 60 seconds afterwards, but this did not deter Down who finished the final 10 minutes of the half stronger to hit four of the last five points – the pick coming from Turley – to cut Antrim's lead to four, 2-8 to 1-7, at the halfway stage.

Whatever was said to Antrim at the break certainly had the desired effect as Kevin Ryan's men came firing out of the traps and hit three scores in as many minutes through Paul Shiels, substitute Conor Johnston with his first touch, and a McManus free.

However Down rallied, and by 50 minutes the gap was just a goal, 2-12 to 1-12, thanks mainly to the accuracy of Sheehan.

Moments later, Down were gifted a chance to draw level when Ciaran Johnston was adjudged to have over-carried despite appearing to be fouled, but Conor Woods saw his shot at goal from a 20 metre free flash over the bar.

This acted as something of a turning point as Antrim stepped it up a notch with Shiels pointing before Darren Hamill put daylight between the sides when he swept the ball into the net for his side's third goal after an initial McManus shot had been saved.

Antrim pulled away at this point with Shiels and Carson their scorers in chief.

Down's misery was complete when Conor O'Prey was given a straight red card on 60 minutes for a wild pull on Simon McCrory, but this was never going to alter the ultimate outcome of this game.

Classy Antrim still hadn't finished.

There was still time for a fourth Antrim goal when Conor Johnston capitalised on a fumble by Down goalkeeper Stephen Keith to gather and blast home to add to older brother Ciaran's first half major to seal a 12th successive Liam Harvey Cup triumph for the Saffrons.

ANTRIM: S McToal; B McFall, C McKinley, M Bradley; S McCrory (0-2), N McAuley, Ciaran Johnston (1-0); E Campbell, J McGreevy; N McKenna (0-3), C Carson (0-4), P Shiels (0-6, 2 f); D McKernan, N McManus (1-4,1-1 frees), C Clarke (0-1 f). Subs: S McAfee for J McGreevy (27 minutes), Conor Johnston (1-1) for D McKernan (HT), D Hamill (1-0) for C Clarke (49 minutes), T Ó Ciarán for M Bradley (53 minutes), N Elliott for N McKenna (61 minutes).

DOWN: S Keith; R Brannigan, P Flynn, S Ennis; B Nicholson, C Woods (0-2 f), J McGrath (0-2); D Hughes, M Hughes; P Sheehan (0-8, 7 f), C O'Neill (0-1), B Coleman; M Turley (0-2), S Dineen (0-1), D Toner (1-0). Subs: C O'Prey for B Coleman (40 minutes), M Ennis for M Turley (40 minutes), C Dorrian (0-1) for C O'Neill (55 minutes), C Taggart for R Brannigan (58 minutes), C Hughes for P Sheehan (64 minutes)

Referee: Eamonn Hassan (Derry).

Belfast Telegraph


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