Down too strong for Antrim but Burns is raising the bar higher
Down 1-18 Antrim 0-14
Down eased past a disappointing Antrim challenge in Pairc Esler, Newry on Saturday night to book their Ulster Football Championship semi-final place.
The outcome was rarely in doubt as, after a sluggish start, the hosts hit their stride and Kevin McKernan's goal on the stroke of half-time set them on their way. McKernan would play no part in the second half as a black card for needlessly hauling down Niall Delargy ended his evening, but it mattered little in the context of the game.
Antrim woes were compounded by a straight red shown to defender Ricky Johnston late on. He will now miss their round one qualifier.
Both managers felt the timing of the goal had a major impact on the game, although winning boss Eamonn Burns wasn't totally satisfied with the performance of his team.
"We won and that's the main thing," said Burns. "It was always a banana skin. Antrim came well prepared and well organised and we knew that was going to be the case. It took us a bit of time to settle, but once we got our feet on the ground and our system running, we coped OK."
Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson felt his players simply didn't fire on the day.
"I'm disappointed to lose by seven points, knowing the determination, commitment and effort these lads have put in over the last six or seven months," said Harbinson.
"It didn't really reflect itself on the first half performance so, from that perspective, I'm disappointed. Tactically we were trying to keep the game tight so we were trying to play a certain way and then to concede a goal a few minutes just before half-time, it meant the course of the game was going to take a different shape in the second half."
Antrim made a bright start with points from St John's pair Matthew Fitzpatrick and Paddy McBride (free). Down took the lead on 11 minutes with a point from Shay Millar following a great cross-field pass from McKernan and the home side were never headed from that stage.
With Niall McKeever stationed at centre-forward in front of Ryan Murray, his anticipated duel with Peter Turley never materialised and the Downpatrick native bossed the middle third with Millar a constant threat.
Turley's dominance forced Kerr to go short with his kick-outs, but Down's high press forced an error from the Antrim 'keeper and McKernan took advantage on 18 minutes.
Worse was to follow on the stroke of half-time as Millar intercepted a short kick-out intended for Fitzpatrick before offloading to McKernan, who rifled the ball under the advancing Kerr. McKernan's involvement was ended when ref Derek O'Mahony black carded the Burren ace after he bundled over Delargy in the final act of the half.
To their credit, Antrim performed much better after the break and they matched Down's tally of 0-9 for the second half.
DOWN: M Reid; C Flanagan, B McArdle (0-1), A Doherty (0-3, 0-3fs); D O'Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney (0-1); P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan (1-1), C Maginn, S Millar (0-2); D O'Hare (0-7, 0-5fs), C Harrison (0-1), R Millar.
Subs: S Dornan (0-2) for McKernan (B/C, HT); J Flynn for R Millar (50mins), D McKibbin for Mooney (56mins), R McAleenan for Flanagan (56mins), C McGrady for Harrison (59mins), N Madine for O'Hare (66mins)
ANTRIM: C Kerr; P Healy, P Gallagher, N Delargy; K O'Boyle, R Johnston, J Laverty; P McAleer, N McKeever; M Sweeney, C Murray (0-2), R McCann; R Murray (0-4, 0-1f), M Fitzpatrick (0-1), P McBride (0-4, 0-2fs).
Subs: C Duffin (0-1) for Gallagher (HT), S Beatty for McKeever (49mins), K Healy (0-2) for McCann (49mins), D Lynch for Laverty (55mins), O Eastwood for McAleer (62mins) M McCarry for P Healy (70mins).
Referee: D O'Mahony (Tipperary).