A LATE Aidan Carr equaliser gave Down a draw at Casement Park after the All-Ireland runners-up let a six point interval lead slip in Casement Park.
Carr blazed over the bar when put through on goal in the last minute, securing a draw for the Mournemen which would have been a victory had his shot zipped just under Sean O’Neill’s crossbar.
The beaten All-Ireland finalists had much the better of the opening half and led by 0-9 to 0-3 at the short whistle.
The Saffrons opened the scoring through a Paddy Cunningham free but Down soon took over, with Danny Hughes (2), Michael Magee, Conor Laverty and Peter Fitzpatrick all taking crisp scores from play.
Marty Clarke’s first free of the night extended their lead before Clarke and Kevin McKernan from play made it 0-8 to 0-2 to James McCartan’s side.
Fitzpatrick had a chance to put further distance between the sides but Sean O’Neill, starting first year in the team following the omission of the long-serving Sean McGreevy before Christmas, produced a fine save to deny the Down midfielder.
Clarke and Cunningham swapped frees to leave it 0-9 to 0-3 at the break, with all three of Antrim’s scores in a dispiriting opening 35 minutes coming from placed balls.
It was all change on the turnaround, however, and there was drama right from the start with Down’s James Colgan and Tomas McCann of Antrim - only on the field a matter of moments as one of three half-time replacements - sent off by Fermanagh referee Martin Higgins for a tête-à-tête off the ball skirmish.
Antrim were a team transformed and stroked over a string of scores to level matters at 0-10 apiece, with Cunningham helping himself to five points and Kevin Niblock and Mark Sweeney also on target.
Marty Clarke edged Down in front once again but Antrim appeared to be on course for a hugely encouraging victory when Cunningham, with his ninth of the night, and Mark Dougan raised white flags.
That was reckoning without Carr’s late intervention, although the Down forward could well have won it if he had gone for goal.
Antrim: S O’Neill; C Brady, A McLean, K O’Boyle; T Scullion, J Crozier, T O’Neill; B Herron, A Gallagher; D O’Neill, J Laverty, M McAleese; P Cunningham (0-9, seven frees), K Niblock (0-1), E McNeill. Subs: M Dougan (0-1) for Laverty; T McCann for McNeill; M Sweeney for McAleese (all half-time); R Johnston for Niblock (62 mins); A Healy for Scullion (67 mins).
Down: G Joyce; P McPolin, G McArdle, K Duffin; K Anderson, J Colgan, K McKernan (0-1); P Fitzpatrick (0-1), M Magee (0-1); D Hughes (0-2), A Carr (0-1), C Maginn; C Laverty (0-1), R Murtagh (0-1), M Clarke (0-4, two frees). Subs: J Clarke for Murtagh; B Coulter for Laverty (both 54 mins); M Doran for Anderson (58 mins); D McCartan for Duffin (62 mins); D Gordon for Maginn (67 mins).
Referee: M. Higgins (Fermanagh)