Ulster sides fall short at last fence in bid to enhance status
Antrim and Down experienced heartache in abundance yesterday when they both lost in their respective crucial tests in the Allianz Hurling League.
The Saffrons had hoped to make the most of their home advantage at Pearse Park, Dunloy, when they confronted Laois in a Division 1B relegation play-off but they simply had no answer to the superbly accurate Ross King, in particular, and went down by 1-16 to 0-17.
And Down, who had beaten Mayo handsomely in a scheduled Division 2B fixture last weekend (3-19 to 0-14), found the westerners in much more frugal mood in yesterday's divisional final at Kingspan Breffni, and went down by 1-15 to 0-14.
For both Ulster sides, these defeats are a setback with Antrim in particular having won just once in six outings including yesterday's all-important mission.
They trailed Laois by 1-9 to 0-7 at the break after a Paddy Purcell goal had breathed new life into the visitors, yet the Saffrons, nonetheless, managed to steal a march on their opponents when Paddy Burke, Eoghan Campbell, James McNaughton and Conor Johnston joined the ever-accurate Neil McManus in a points-scoring blitz.
But just when it looked as if they might be able to turn the screw, Antrim leaked crucial scores with King, who scored 10 in all, Purcell, Cha Dwyer and Willie Dunphy to the fore.
It was a shattering defeat for the home side who now return to Division 2A knowing that the path back to the top tier will be anything but easy.
Down's failure to enhance their status is also viewed as a disappointment given the quality of some of their performances.
Yet their defeat to Donegal in particular and yesterday's setback formed a devastating dual disappointment.
Kenny Feeney proved the ace in the Mayo pack by landing 11 of their points while Keith Higgins, better known for his exploits with the Mayo football team, proved a constant thorn in Down's side.
Brian Morley grabbed the only goal of the game yet Down had looked comfortable in the first quarter before King set to work on effectively dismantling their morale.
No wonder Down manager Martin Mallon cut a disconsolate figure at the finish - he knew his team had promised much but ultimately failed to deliver when it mattered most.