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Twenty points that tell the tale of chasm Down must close on Antrim

Antrim 4-23 Down 0-15

By David Mohan

A second Christy Ring Cup final in as many years is the destination for Antrim as the Saffrons crushed Ulster rivals Down in their semi-final in Cushendall on Saturday evening.

Twenty points separated the sides at the final whistle, underlining the gulf in class evident from start to finish.

Ciaran Clarke and Conor Johnston bagged goals in both halves while the third member of the Antrim full-forward line, Neil McManus, clipped over six points as Down simply had no answer to Antrim's ruthless display.

Clarke converted a couple of early frees before his third effort dropped short and McManus controlled superbly and fired over from an acute angle all in the one motion.

Paddy Burke fired over a fourth point straight after while Down finally got themselves on the board eight minutes in with their stand-out on the day, Conor O'Prey pointing from a sideline cut out on the right.

By the 20th minute, Antrim had surged into a 0-9 to 0-4 lead with Conor McKinley and Conor McCann prominent and already the writing was on the wall for the visitors.

Antrim looked dangerous any time they attacked and a goal duly arrived on 25 minutes with McManus fielding superbly from a McCann delivery, popping a pass to Johnston who buried to the net.

Down did respond with points from Danny Toner and Scott Nicholson, but on 30 minutes Clarke hit Antrim's second major despite the best efforts of Stephen Keith to help the hosts into a 2-12 to 0-7 half-time lead.

If Down had any hopes of a second half revival, they were extinguished just 19 seconds after the start when Clarke soloed through the middle and blasted to the net.

Down hit five of the next seven points to trim the gap back to 11, but order was soon restored. Clarke, McManus, McCann, McKinley and substitute Conor Carson all raised flags before Conor Johnston bagged his second goal of the game on 63 minutes.

A straight red card for Down full-back Michael Hughes for a wild challenge on Johnston two minutes prior only added to the visitors' woes, but by this stage it was merely shooting practice for Antrim who marched into the final on June 10 where they will meet Carlow.

"It was a very professional performance and shows the work we've done over the past weeks," said Antrim joint manager, Terence McNaughton.

"We took our chances and maybe even could have had a few more, but I'm very pleased with the work rate from start to finish. The game was really over after 20 minutes.

It was a dismal day for Down manger Marty Mallon who admitted his side had no answer to the relentless performance of Antrim and he acknowledged his county has much ground to make up to be challenging their rivals.

"Antrim were much better," he agreed. "They are two leagues above us and they proved that. They wanted to go to Croke Park."

ANTRIM: C O'Connell; S Rooney, J Dillon, S McCrory; Ciaran Johnston, P Burke (0-1), O McFadden; C McKinley (0-3), P McGill; N McAuley, C McCann (0-3), E Campbell; Conor Johnston (2-1), N McManus (0-6, 1 free), C Clarke (2-7, 0-7 frees). Subs: J Maskey for P McGill (44), C Carson (0-2) for Ciaran Johnston (49), R Diamond for S Rooney (57).

DOWN: S Keith; J McManus, M Hughes, S Ennis; S Nicholson (0-2, 1 free), C Woods, C Taggart; D Hughes, D McManus; C Mageean (0-2), M Magee (0-2), M Ennis; C Egan (0-1), C O'Prey (0-4, 3 frees, 1 sideline), D Toner (0-3). Subs: P Sheehan (0-1) for S Nicholson (45), O McManus for D McManus (60), P McManus for J McManus (65).

REFEREE: Johnny Murphy (Limerick)

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