Late charge help Down overthrow the Saffrons

Late charge help Down overthrow the Saffrons

11 April 2018

ANTRIM’S failure to score after the fifth minute of the second half and a tally of 1-4 from Down’s potent forwards in the final ten minutes ensured the Red and Black U-17 hurlers retained their unbeaten record in group H of the Celtic Challenge last Tuesday afternoon at the Dub.

The first half was a low scoring affair as both teams struggled to get to grips with the terrible underfoot conditions. The incessant rain left the expectant crowd free of any thoughts of witnessing a fast, free-flowing game firmly at home.

After a series of misses from both sides it was Antrim who registered the first two scores through Colla McDonnell and Caolán O’Duffin in the opening ten minutes, as the Saffrons attack was forced to take their scores from distance. 

It wasn’t until the 15th minute that Down began to steady themselves via a Caolan Coulter point. Rory Brown and Sean Campbell at midfield were central to most of Down’s attacks and had several chances drift agonisingly wide of the mark. 

Two minutes later Stuart Martin broke a tackle and from 40 metres out drove the sliotar over the bar to bring Down level.

Two further points from Coulter saw Down establish a two-point lead as both teams raised the tempo. 

As the clock quickly approached the half way mark, a long speculative ball from Brown looked destined for the Antrim net as it skidded over the turf. But the cat-like reactions of Bailey Graham scrambled the sliotar to the other side of the post and wide.

Inspired by their goalkeeper’s bravery, Antrim hit back through some great team work by Padraig McGilligan and Enda Og McGarry, resulting in Dáire Murphy drawing a foul and tapping over the resulting free from 21 metres out.

Moments into the second half, Antrim once more levelled the contest with an Og McGarry 70m free, but with just under three minutes played Antrim’s tormentor-in-chief Coulter made no mistake as he fired low and hard past Graham for the opening goal.

Antrim’s response was instant. With five minutes gone an Og McGarry free, quickly followed by a Liam McLoughlin point from outside the 21m line, left Antrim trailing by the minimum.

However, that was to be their last score of the match.

What followed in the next five minutes decided the outcome of the game.

]Antrim were probing and prodding the Down defence at every turn as the game ratcheted up a notch and when they eventually found the slightest of holes, a stunning save from Down net minder Cahal Lavery denied Antrim a crucial score that could have swung the game in their favour. 

Within a minute Coulter latched on to a clever pass from Sean Campbell, soloed free of his marker and popped the sliotar over the crossbar. 

With Down ahead by two points the game entered the final quarter. This had been a finely-balanced contest between two equally matched teams.

Antrim had asked all the questions of their Ulster rivals in atrocious conditions, but just couldn’t find the right answers when it mattered most.

Sean Hughes, who along with Coulter and Stuart Martin proved to be Down’s winning combination, was next to register a point. Coulter grabbed his fifth and final score of the day with another score from distance.

Down were now four points clear and within sight of the finishing line when Stuart Martin, under heavy pressure and knowing he would be hooked, elected to bat the sliotar to the net Shane O’Donnell-style — much to the relief of the many Down supporters on the sideline. 

Two further points from Hughes and Campbell saw Down gain an impressive nine-point victory over their rivals.

After the game had ended referee Tarlach Conway presented the best and fairest award winners to Down’s Sean Campbell and Antrim’s Barry Scott.

Down: Cahal Lavery; Oran O’Connor, Cian Lyons, Michael Toner, John Dorrian, Ciaran Watson, Lukas Boyd, Sean Campbell (0-1), Rory Brown, Sean Hughes (0-2), Stuart Martin (1-1), Owen McDermot, Eoin Magee, Liam Hogan, Caolan Coulter (1-5). Subs: Ciaran McMullan for Magee, Aodhan Furlong for McDermot.