Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Uladh

Ulster SFC: Down v Antrim – Match Preview, Pivotal Players and Previous Meetings

April 13th, 2024

Down v Antrim

Páirc Esler, 6pm (Live on BBC 2)

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Doire)

Antrim’s last visit to Páirc Esler left Andy McEntee and his squad scratching their heads.

Thanks to Conor Poland’s late, late goal, Antrim pulled defeat from the joys of victory. With their greater composure, Down 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 with Paddy McAleer’s goal coming against the run of the 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.

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.

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.

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. 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. 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. Of the eight goals he scored last season, two came on that night in Páirc Esler when Antrim had Down by the throat. He scored a back post goal to ensure Antrim secured their Division Three status with their win over Wicklow of the final day of the league.

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. Another reason for Antrim’s narrow defeat in Newry last year was losing Dermot McAleese to injury. Now back in the fold this season, 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.

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.

Pivotal players 

Down – Liam Kerr 

Down enjoyed an excellent League campaign, achieving their primary objective of clinching promotion from Division Three with six wins and a draw from seven outings. Defeat to Westmeath however in the League Final at Croke Park however denied them an automatic place in the All-Ireland series.  

The running power and pace from Liam Kerr in the half forward line has been a hallmark of those performances to date. The Burren man has a proven eye for goal, hitting the net in last year’s memorable Ulster Quarter Final win over Donegal in Newry before striking for a hat-trick in the Tailteann Cup semi-final demolition of Laois.  

The 24-year-old scored a goal in both halves against Offaly in this year’s league and has been a reliable provider of points too as Down racked up the second highest team scoring total across all four divisions.  

Antrim – Marc Jordan 

Lamh Dhearg man Jordan has developed into one of the most consistent and reliable performers for the Saffrons in recent years, and with his stamina and attacking instinct he regularly gets forward from half-back line to create offensive opportunities for Antrim. 

Andy McEntee enjoyed a largely satisfactory first season with Antrim in 2023. The Saffrons retained their league status in Division Three and reached the semi-final of the Tailteann Cup, losing narrowly to McEntee’s native Meath at Croke Park. 

Retaining their Division Three status was an impressive feat in 2024 given the calibre of players they’ve been without due to a slew of injuries. In a more inexperienced side than usual, Jordan now ranks as one of the more senior players in the squad, and his experience will be required if Antrim are to get a result in Newry this evening. 

Previous Three Meetings in USFC 


Ulster SFC Quarter Final: Down 1-18 Antrim 0-14 

Páirc Esler 

Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary) 

A goal at the very end of the first half by Kevin McKernan coupled  with the sending off of Antrim defender Ricky Johnston decided this encounter at Newry.  Donal O’Hare brought his shooting boots as he notched 0-7 while Conor Murray top scored for the visitors with 0-4.   

Down were subsequently defeated by eventual winners Donegal in the USFC Semi Final that year.   Six years on and there are very few survivors from the teams that lined out that day: 

Down:  M Reid; C Flanagan, B McArdle (0-1), A Doherty (0-3); D O’Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney (0-1); P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan (1-1), C Maginn, S Millar (0-2); D O’Hare (0-7), C Harrison (0-1), R Millar. Subs:?S Dornan (0-2) for K McKernan (BC), J Flynn for R Millar, D McKibbin for C Mooney, R McAleenan for C Flanagan, C McGrady for C Harrison, N Madine for D O’Hare.
Antrim:  C Kerr; P Healy, P Gallagher, N Delargy; K O’Boyle, R Johnston, J Laverty; P McAleer, N McKeever; M Sweeney, C Murray (0-4), R McCann; R Murray (0-2), M Fitzpatrick (0-1), P McBride (0-4). Subs:?C Duffin (0-1) for P Gallagher, S Beatty for N McKeever, K Healy (0-2) for R McCann, D Lynch for J Laverty, O Eastwood for P McAleer, M McCarry for P Healy. 


Ulster SFC Quarter Final: Antrim 0-13 Down 1-07 

Casement Park 

Referee: Seamus McCormack (Meath) 

It was widely accepted that the great Down team of the 90’s were coming to an end but they had just won an All Ireland Minor title in 199 to suggest there was another crop coming over the horizon.  On the other side, when Antrim played Down in the 2000 Ulster Senior Football Championship at Casement Park they hadn’t won a championship game in nineteen years.  

Therefore, Antrim were still massive underdogs going into the game but under team manager Brian White and team captain Anto Finnegan they created a major upset. Seven points from Sheenie McQuillan and a penalty save from Sean McGreevy gave the Saffron followers a day to remember. 

Antrim – S McGreevy, E McLernon, M Mulholland, A Finnegan, G Adams, A Morris, J Kelly, J Quinn 0-1, S McQuillan 0-7, C Colman 0-1, R Hamill, P McCann 0-1, K Brady, J McManus, K Doyle 0-3. Subs: P Logan for Hamill, E McKee for McManus, T Convery for Colman
Down – M McVeigh, F Caulfield, C Byrne, P Shields, M McMurray, P Higgins, S Poland, G McCartan 1-1, A Molloy, S Mulholland 0-1, M Walsh, L Doyle 0-1, M Linden 0-1, C McCabe 0-1, S Ward 0-1. Subs: J McCartan 0-1 for Ward, B Coulter for Shields, P Matthews for Caulfield, M Magill for Higgins. 


Ulster SFC Quarter Final: Down 1-15 Antrim 0-14 

Páirc Esler 

Referee: Bob Doheny (Louth) 

As so often was the case in the 90’s for Down, Mickey Linden was the main man in this Ulster Quarter Final clash.  He collected 1-2 and was a constant menace for the Saffron defence.  Shane Ward hit 0-5 while Carl McCabe notched 0-4 for the winners.  For Antrim, Jackie McManus and Kevin Madden kicked 0-4 while Saffron stalwart Anto Finnegan also hit three points.   

Interestingly, the game was refereed by current Louth County Secretary, Bob Doheny.  Down went on to reach the Ulster Final where they were well beaten by a coming Armagh side on a mission.   

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