Down thirds produced a battling performance to grab a point from this Junior 7 clash against Larne.

But they should have returned to Malone Park with both points. Only able to field nine men, Down also had to put up with a number of controversial umpiring decisions.

James Cunningham felt his side were never given the rub of the green when it came to crucial decisions and that two of Larne's goals should not have stood.

Having said that, Down's skipper again led by example once again. He scored a hat-trick and was an inspiration to all those around him.

David Ferris and Stephen Cullum may have been two of the youngest players on the park, but they gave performances which belied their young age; asked to play at full-back because of the player shortage, they were outstanding.

Larne took the lead in the ninth minute when they caught the visitors on the break, although Down were furious the umpire did not blow his whistle for a lifted ball into the circle.

Ten minutes later it went from bad to worse for Down when Larne made it 2-0 when they scored from open play. Chris Ferguson then conjured up the visitors' first goal of the afternoon when he crossed for skipper Cunningham to score the first of his three on the afternoon.

Larne then made it 3-1, but the goal was shrouded in controversy as far Down were concerned. An initial short corner strike struck Ferguson on the knee as he tried to jump of of the way.

Instead of a free out, the umpire awarded another short corner which Larne scored from to make it 3-1 at the interval.

Stephen Strain reduced the deficit within minutes of the restart when he popped up unmarked at the back post to prod home Ferguson's cross.

The tide was turning for Down's nine heroes and the home crowd was stunned when Ferguson fired over a cross which Cunningham controlled before drilling the ball past the 'keeper.

With two minutes to go, Down surged forward in search of a winner and Cunningham thought that's exactly what he had done when he completed his hat-trick.

But the game ended in controversy when Larne made it 4-4. Down players were left fuming after a Larne forward raised his stick high in the circle in front of a Down defender and then controlled the ball illegally with the back of his stick to fire past Stephen Moffatt.

While disappointed they did not grab maximum points, nine-man Down were delighted with their performance.