Manager, Jim McKernan, restored
pride in Down hurling when his team came close
to causing an upset against reigning champions,
Antrim, in the Ulster Final in Casement Park.
Arriving on the field late, the Down men had
the initial psychological advantage over Antrim,
who appeared to view Down as an irritant prior
to their all-Ireland appearance against Galway.
Bored with their pre-match
drills, they looked disinterested as the game
began. Their attitude was soon illustrated on
the score-board. After a nervous opening few
minutes, Down took the lead when Stephen Clarke
put the ball in the Antrim net. Captain, Brendan
McGourty, added a point before Conor Woods pulled
on a loose ball to give Down a second goal.
After 24 minutes Down were
ahead by 2-2 to 0-6, and while they were playing
well, their enthusiasm was reflected in the
yellow cards picked up by Conway, Wilson and
Eoin Clarke. Two points from Paul Braniff and
one from Emmet Trainor brought the Down first
half tally to 2-5.
Antrim worked hard for their
scores. They had to rely on four points from
frees in the first half against one to Down
and with Kieran Courtney outstanding in the
Down defence, the Antrim men looked troubled
going in at half time.
But five minutes into the second
half Liam Watson, from another
free, stuck the ball in the Down net, giving
Antrim a lead which they never lost. A second
goal from Karl Stewart five minutes later put
Antrim ahead by 2-11 to 2-6. Down’s point
came from the hard-working Emmet Trainor.
At the same time Down took
off their two corner backs. Liam Clarke was
substituted by Portaferry’s Conor O’Prey
in a tactical switch which allowed the youngster
to roam into the forward line, where he eventually
scored three fine points. Fintan Conway had
a tick to go with his yellow card just six minutes
into the second half and he was replaced by
The substitutions left full-back,
Stephen Murray, more exposed and when Paddy
Richmond scored Antrim’s third goal in
the 54th minute, the game was put beyond Down’s
reach. But they battled on.
McGourty picked off a point
and Braniff scored four more from frees. Simon
Wilson knocked over two 65s and dropped a few
more into the square, but Down were unable to
penetrate a solid Antrim defence.
Antrim had a few players who
could take long-range points from play. Down
did not and they had to work their way further
up-field than Antrim to find a scoring opportunity.
In such a physically demanding match, that proved
too much for the Down men.
Despite matching Antrim in
skills and fitness for much of the contest the
gap between the sides came down to the difference
between Division 1 and Division 2 hurling. Down
did themselves proud and McKernan must take
a lot of credit for this performance. Had Gareth
Johnson not been injured, who knows what might
Jphnston will be back for the
Christy Ring Cup and, on this performance, that
gives great hope for Down hurling.
Down: Graham Clarke, L Clarke,
S Murray, F Conway, S Wilson (0-3, all 65s),
K Courtney, Gabriel Clarke, A Savage, R McGrattan,
P Braniff (0-6, 0-5 frees), B McGourty (0-2),
C Woods (1-0), E
Clarke, E Trainor (0-2), S Clarke (1-0).
Subs: C O’Prey (0-3) for L Clarke (40),
P Hughes for Conway (44), K McGarry for Trainor
(54), B Ennis for S Clarke (61), M Ennis for
R McGrattan (66).