Familiar faces are set to clash on the Ulster stage

Ulster SFC
Down v Antrim
Saturday, Newry, 6pm

By Michael McMullan

THE last time the Antrim bus pulled out of Páirc Esler, one topic would’ve dominated the sombre mood on board.
How did they lose? The Saffrons pulled defeat from the jaws of victory. In a game they controlled, a scrappy Conor Poland goal in the 69th minute saw the sides deadlocked. It was the greater Down composure that found a way to win.
This season’s Division Three meeting of the sides was very different. Michael Byrne made a brilliant first-half save to keep Antrim in the hunt at Corrigan Park with Paddy McAleer’s goal coming against the run of play.
Antrim did claw themselves back level before Down eventually wore them down with a potent running game that saw them ease home, 1-15 to 1-6.
Both teams have similar scars from the Tailteann Cup. Antrim will rue their decision making at different times during their semi-final defeat to Meath.
Down, who hit Laois for eight goals in their semi-final, also came a cropper against the Royals.
For Conor Laverty’s side, there are more scars from the recent Division Three final and Jonathan Lynam’s goals as Westmeath took home the silverware.
Yes, promotion was the main ingredient in Down’s one game at a time season, but defeat leaves them in danger of missing out competing for the Sam Maguire.
If they are dealt another Tailteann Cup ticket, they just have to make full use of it this time.
The other concern is their poor record in finals continues. Since DJ Kane lifted Sam 30 years ago, and aside from the McKenna Cup, Down have played in 12 finals – in league or championship – without managing to win.
Their epic 2003 Ulster final draw against eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone is the only time they avoided defeat.
When Pat Havern won the throw-in to tee up Miceál Rooney for a run and point in the recent league final against Westmeath, there was a pep in the step.
Down’s pace and ability to engineer goals was putting teams to the sword all year but Westmeath didn’t allow them down the middle. Yes, they’d be given the freedom on the wings, in pot-shot territory, but the central channel was clogged.
That’s why shipping Lynam’s first goal was such a dagger. John McGovern was a mismatch in terms of height and he didn’t get goalside. Not properly. Add in the fact that the perfectly floated ball, the fact it came diagonally, left it almost impossible to defend against. It will be a passage of play Andy McEntee will have watched more than once since.
Ruairi McCann, the Aghagallon version, was injured for much of the season but will miss Saturday with illness.
Of the eight goals he scored last season, two came on that night in Páirc Esler last year when Antrim had Down by the throat. It will be a threat Down won’t need to focus on now.
Elsewhere, Down will know the recent run of form Paddy McBride is on. All 13 of his points have come in the last four games and he’ll have Pierce Laverty or Peter Fegan for company.
Given his presence, Ryan McEvoy will be tasked with trying to curb McCann’s aerial threat. They’ve the added advantage of the Kilcoo man’s engine. He’s well capable of getting forward and with McCann missing so much action, McEntee will need to ensure there is a runner elsewhere to track McEvoy.
Another reason for their defeat to Down last season was losing Dermot McAleese to injury. The Portglenone man is one of the Saffrons’ key players. Having played much of his earlier football in attack, he gives them an outlet going forward from wing-back.
The same can be said for Marc Jordan who has put in some excellent performances in another consistent season.
Antrim’s main concern will be the midfield area where they’ve struggled to find a settled pairing. They’ve been without Paddy McAleer.
Likewise, Down haven’t found a partner to fully complement what Murdock brings. Havern drifts out. Johnny Flynn, Ryan Johnston, Caolan Mooney and Niall McParland have had spells out there.
That’s where goalkeeper Byrne’s varied kicking game comes into play. Antrim will need runners and pockets of space to give Byrne a chance to give them a platform.
The last two meetings of the sides have been different in a lot of ways.
This one will be too. It’s championship. Down are at home and will have been stung by their Croke Park defeat. If they find the net, they’ll book a semi-final spot. It will be interesting to see what Antrim can do to turn the tables.

LAST MEETING 2024 Antrim 1-6 Down 1-15- NFL Div 3

DOWN pulled away for a comfortable victory at Corrigan Park.

Pat Havern led the way with six points and Ceilum Doherty’s late 1-1 put a gloss on the board

Down were wasteful but had the pace to open up Antrim with Doherty coming upfield to beat Michael Byrne after the Antrim ‘keeper had made some impressive saves.

Four Havern scores cancelled out Paddy McAleer’s goal for a 0-7 to 1-2 half-time lead.

Havern extended the gap after the break, but Antrim began to enjoy a productive spell Dominic McEnhill and Byrne levelling matters.

Down upped the ante with scores from Odhrán Murdock, Havern and Oisin Savage pushing them to a comfortable win.

Down: J O’Hare (0-1, 45); R McEvoy, P Fegan, C Doherty (1-1); N McParland, M Rooney, P Laverty; O Murdock (0-1), P Havern (0-6, 4f); D Guinness, C Francis, C Mooney; S Annett, J Guinness (0-2), L Kerr (0-1)

Subs: J Flynn for N McParland, O Savage (0-2) for J Flynn, D Magill (0-1) for S Annett, R Magill for C Francis, A Doherty for J Guinness

Antrim: M Byrne (0-2f); R Boyle, E Walsh, K Keenan; M Jordan, J Finnegan (0-1), D McAleese; C McLarnon, P McAleer (1-0); E Hynds, N Burns, R C McCann; P McBride, C McGettigan, D McEnhill (0-3, 2f)

Subs: B Kelly for C McGettigan, R McQuillan for N Burns, D Lynch for D McAleese, P Shivers for C McLarnon, O Doherty for E Hynds

2024 Antrim 1-6 Down 1-15 – NFL Div 3
2023 Down 2-18 Antrim 2-17 – NFL Div 3
2022 Down 1-10 Antrim 1-12 – Dr McKenna Cup
2020 Down 2-17 Antrim 0-14 – Dr McKenna Cup
2018 Down 1-18 Antrim 0-14 – Ulster SFC



Derry 0-13 Down 0-10
Down 2-15 Cavan 1-15

Wicklow 0-13 Down 0-18
Down 3-16 Limerick 0-9
Antrim 1-6 Down 1-15
Down 4-12 Offaly 2-14
Down 2-17 Sligo 1-8
Westmeath 0-13 Down 1-10
Down 3-15 Clare 1-10
Down 0-13 Westmeath 2-10


Monaghan 1-15 Antrim 0-13
Antrim 1-9 Fermanagh 1-10

Limerick 2-7 Antrim 2-14
Antrim 2-5 Offaly 1-7
Antrim 1-6 Down 1-15
Sligo 1-20 Antrim 1-13
Antrim 0-9 Westmeath 0-13
Clare 0-15 Antrim 0-12
Antrim 1-14 Wicklow 0-14


Pat Havern 0-53 (35f, 1m)
Odhrán Murdock 3-10 (3-0 pens)
Liam Kerr 2-17 (3f, 1m)

Dominic McEnhill 2-19 (10f, 1m)
Patrick McBride 0-13 (1f)
Ronan Boyle 2-5

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