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McKernan strike crucial as Down cruise past Saffrons

Down 1-18 Antrim 0-14

Down’s Kevin McKernan scores the only goal of the game in Newry last night. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Down’s Kevin McKernan scores the only goal of the game in Newry last night. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Ciaran Gallagher

Down cruised into the Ulster SFC semi-finals with a facile seven-point victory over Antrim at Páirc Esler last night. In front of an attendance of 5,589 in Newry, the home side overcame a fairly slow start to take control in the second quarter before dominating for the remainder.

Ulster finalists last year, Éamonn Burns' men came into this match off the back of an up-and-down league campaign that resulted in relegation from Division 2.

The Mourne men also led by seven at the break, 1-9 to 0-5, with veteran Kevin McKernan finding the net before picking up a black card in the space of one mad minute.

While the game appeared to be over as a contest as early as half-time, Antrim enjoyed a bright start. The visitors led by two after five minutes - Matthew Fitzpatrick and Patrick McBride kicking scores to three Down wides.

Boasting the stingiest defence in the league after conceding a meagre 67 points over the spring, Antrim frustrated Down early on as they played with 13 men behind the ball for long periods but the hosts' runners eventually began to pick holes, working their way into scoring positions.

Caolan Mooney, Peter Turley, McKernan and Shay Millar were in good form in the opening half, while Donal O'Hare contributed three points from frees.

Patrick McBride of Antrim in action against Peter Turley of Down. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Patrick McBride of Antrim in action against Peter Turley of Down. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

The Saffrons' efforts to break at speed from a defensive set-up was upset by their sloppy hands with Brendan McArdle's 21st-minute point for Down summing up Antrim's problems as the hosts showed patience to work the ball into a scoring position after winning possession.

Three wides in the space of five minutes just prior to the half-hour mark failed to derail Down's momentum as they held Antrim scoreless for 10 minutes in the same period.

McKernan put them in a comfortable position a minute before half-time, finding the net after a Shay Millar pass following some more sloppy Antrim defending, but the Down veteran did not have long to celebrate. Only moments after raising a green flag, McKernan pulled down Antrim defender Niall Delargy in an attempt to claim a Mooney delivery inside the Saffrons' 'D' and referee Derek O'Mahony produced a black card.

That dismissal did not have much of an impact in the second half, however, as Down dominated for the most part before a late Antrim scoring burst.

Caolan Mooney of Down in action against Niall McKeever of Antrim. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Caolan Mooney of Down in action against Niall McKeever of Antrim. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

O'Hare and the lively Conor Maginn were busy throughout - the two combining in the 50th minute as O'Hare tested Antrim goalkeeper Chris Kerr, who was forced to palm the Down forward's shot over the bar.

While the tireless Ryan Murray and Patrick McBride made some impact on the scoreboard for Antrim, the 58th-minute dismissal of Ricky Johnston made a bad night worse for the Saffrons after the centre-back clashed with Down substitute Jonny Flynn.

While Down now progress to an Ulster semi-final date at Celtic Park next month, it seems unlikely that the winner of today's match between Derry and Donegal will be quaking in anticipation of that fixture.

Meanwhile, Antrim drop into tomorrow morning's back-door draw with much to work on.

Scorers - Down: D O'Hare 0-7 (5f); K McKernan 1-1; S Millar, A Doherty (2f), S Dornan 0-2 each; C Mooney, B McArdle, C Harrison, C Maginn 0-1 each. Antrim: R Murray 0-5 (1f); P McBride 0-4 (2f); K Healy 0-2; M Fitzpatrick (f), C Duffin, C Murray 0-1 each.

Down: M Reid; C Flanagan, B McArdle, A Doherty; D O'Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney; P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan, C Maginn, S Millar; D O'Hare, C Harrison, R Millar. Subs: S Dornan for K McKernan (BC, 36), J Flynn for R Millar (52), C McGrady for C Harrison (61), N Madine for O'Hare (67), R McAleenan for C Flanagan (56), D McKibbin for C Mooney (56).

Antrim: C Kerr; P Healy, P Gallagher, N Delargy; K O'Boyle, R Johnston, J Laverty; P McAleer, N McKeever; M Sweeney, C Murray, R McCann; R Murray, M Fitzpatrick, P McBride.

Subs: C Duffin for P Gallagher (h-t), S Beatty for N McKeever (50), K Healy for R McCann (50), D Lynch for J Laverty (56), O Eastwood for P McAleer (64), M McCarry P Healy 70.

Referee: D O'Mahoney (Tipperary).

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