Problematic match for the Mourne men
● USFC Down v Antrim Saturday 26th May 7pm in Pairc Esler
A much more problematic match for the Mourne men than most would probably think. Two underachieving teams meeting, with equally as good personnel available for selection and on a pitch where the home team has struggled for favourable results registering losses to Cork and Clare in the league whereas Antrim won their three away league fixtures.
Down’s league form coming into the championship is not good, relegated to the Third Division and really a win against 14-man Roscommon at Hyde Park was their only standout result. Six points to spare in Drogheda, and we saw Louth’s worth last weekend in Leinster, and a final day victory against half a Tipp side, after promotion places were already decided should not inspire confidence.
Antrim missed out on promotion to Carlow and Laois, losing only one game, by a goal to Carlow, the only goal they conceded during the campaign and both those teams won their Leinster Championship matches last week.
Down take Antrim for granted at their peril, Down are no longer good enough to take any team for granted. Talk of close calls and six points won in the league cannot be allowed explain away relegation, final league placings are a true reflection on a team’s standing. There appeared to be indecision on team selection throughout the league with teams not announced and perhaps preparation suffered, there’s eight weeks between the last league match and the first championship match, surely enough time to know your team well in advance. Perhaps not.
There’s plenty up for grabs starting with the number one jersey where Michael Cunningham’s assured performances will be missed, neither Marc Reid nor Shane Harrison have staked an irrefutable claim for inclusion, though Reid’s big match experience may earn him the nod. Benny McArdle is favoured to patrol the square while Colm Flanagan has won the faith of the selectors in one corner and if available Darren O’Hagan should man the other, though Anthony Doherty’s 1-10 during the league means he will be shoehorned in somewhere, Doherty is actually Down’s second-best scorer and he hasn’t managed a single point from play. Niall McParland is established at centre half, though sat out Glenn’s last match nursing an injury. The wing -backs will be Caolan Mooney, but he too is carrying a knock and has not seen recent club action, while Darragh O’Hanlon is definitely crocked. David McKibben and Kevin McKernan look like ready made stand-ins after failing to nail down a regular starting berth in the league. Niall Donnelly is now the first-choice midfielder but who partners him will rely on availability elsewhere, both McKernan and McKibben could move here if Mooney makes it or the Rostrevor man could slot in seamlessly himself, Mooney would be a huge loss with ten points from play to his name from half back during the league. Up front Donal O’Hare and Connaire Harrison will be kept close to the Antrim goals while Shay Millar, Conor Maginn, Ryan Johnston and Aaron Morgan will be tasked with dropping back to cover as Mooney, McKibben and McKernan raid forward.
This is all about Down, if they have prepared right, go out with the right attitude and put in a shift then last year’s Ulster finalists will progress, if not there could be trouble ahead.