Thursday 14 December 2017

Laverty magic ignites Down

Down 3-13 Antrim 0-10

Three minutes of Mourne magic settled this All Ireland SFC round three qualifier last night as Down put a battling Antrim side to the sword at Casement Park.

With the scores tied at 0-7 apiece, Conor Laverty lit up the Belfast venue with a piece of individual brilliance 15 minutes into the second half.

Just under three minutes later, Martin Clarke had rippled the net for the second Down goal to st up a rematch of last year's All-Ireland final against Cork. Antrim had turned over a four-point deficit to lead just after the restart but the Down goals killed off any chance of an upset.

The opening quarter belonged to Down. Playing with a strong breeze the slick movement of the Down forwards was causing all sorts of problems for the Antrim rearguard who looked decidedly off the pace.

The quality ball into Benny Coulter in particular was proving effective for the Mournemen and it was the mercurial full forward who accounted for half of Down's 0-4 tally by the 15th minute. The other two scores came from the boot of free-taker Mark Poland, who converted frees in the fourth and eighth minutes as James McCartan's side took a 0-4 to no score advantage.

The Saffrons finally got off the mark on 18 minutes when Paddy Cunningham, making his first start in this qualifier run, stroked over a free; however the Antrim back line was exposed again when a long ball in to Coulter produced a free which Poland gratefully converted.

The home side then began to find their form. Justin Crozier took a break from tracking Clarke to stroke over his side's first from play on 25 minutes and 60 seconds later Cunningham converted a free before Niblock fired over from a narrow angle as Antrim added three without reply to close the gap to the minimum.

Niblock, after great work by Scullion and Geard O'Boyle, had a chance to put Antrim into the lead for the first time but Brendan McVeigh was equal to the task.

Poland restored a two-point gap for Down but a fine score from Brendan Herron ensured Antrim, despite playing second fiddle for much of the opening half, went in trailing by the minimum, 0-6 to 0-5.

The Saffrons struck the opening two points of the second half to take the lead for the first time but when Laverty danced through the Antrim defence to blast past Willie McSorley, it was the beginning of the end of the Antrim challenge.

Liam Doyle added a point from play, and the home side had barely a chance to draw breath before a long ball in to Coulter was laid off for Clarke to fire home goal number two on 52 minutes.

Antrim threatened to stay in touch and added two unanswered points through Tomas McCann and Niblock but a third Down goal from Caolan Mooney had the home fans heading for the exits.

SCORERS -- Down: M Clarke 1-4, (0-2f, 0-1 '45'), M Poland 0-4f, C Mooney 1-0, C Laverty 1-0, B Coulter 0-2, L Doyle, P McComiskey, K McKernan 0-1 each

Antrim: P Cunningham 0-2f, K Niblock 0-2, B Herron 0-2, T McCann 0-2, 0-1 '45', D O'Hagan, J Crozier 0-1 each

Down: B McVeigh; A Branagan, D Gordon, A McArdle; C Garvey, K McKernan, G McCartan; D Rooney, K King; C Maginn, M Poland, L Doyle; C Laverty, B Coulter, M Clarke. Subs: D O'Hagan for L Doyle, C Mooney for C Maginn, P McComiskey for D Rooney, P Fitzpatrick for K King, A Carr for B Coulter

Antrim: W McSorley; C Brady, R Johnson, T O'Neill; T Scullion, J Crozier, A Healy; B Herron, A Gallagher; C Murray, T McCann, J Loughery; G O'Boyle, B P Cunningham, K Niblock Subs: M Dougan for G O'Boyle, A Douglas for T O'Neill, M McCann for B Herron, D O'Hagan for A Healy, K Brady for T McCann

Referee: P Hughes (Armagh)

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