Antrim U21 Hurling Championship Final
Dunloy Cuchullains 2-21 Loughgiel Shamrocks 1-10
Glenrovers Armoy played host this evening to the hotly anticipated Antrim U21 hurling Final between age old rivals Dunloy and Loughgiel. With both sides showing glimpses of what they have been capable of on route to the decider, many had envisaged a tasty affair. What we were left with was a simply scintillating performance from the Cuchullains as they ran out 14 point victors.
Dunloy produced a devastating display of clinical, attacking hurling in the opening 30 minutes of the Final that left their beleaguered neighbours chasing shadows. From the first whistle, the Cuchullains looked a much sharper team and were first to every ball in all areas of the pitch. The silky skills of Keelan Molloy and Conal Cunning Doherty were just too much for the Shamrocks in the opening 20 minutes with the duo pulling the Loughgiel defence asunder.
With the Dunloy half back line imperial, dominating their counterparts, the Loughgiel defence were under immense pressure and Dunloy kept taking scores at will and but for a piece of heroic goal keeping, Keelan Molloy would have had the first goal of the game. Loughgiel man Caolan McGivern denying the Dunloy half forward from point blank range. The Shamrocks managed to score their first point from open play in the 15th minute of the match, Shan McGrath adding to earlier frees from James McNaughton but by that stage the Cuchullains were already into double figures. Ronan and Keelan Molloy doing the damage for the Cuchullains along with Doherty Cunning.
The Shamrocks weren’t helped by some uncharacteristic wide’s from placed ball by centre forward McNaughton but by the time Darren McKeown called time on the first half, Dunloy had more than just one hand on the Niall Patterson Cup. Five of their starting forwards and both midifelders had registered scores, Chrissy McMahon the anomaly from the Cuchullains forward line but he played the majority of the first half in a deeper role. 11 points separated the sides at the interval after a breath-taking half of hurling from the Cuchullains. Half time score Dunloy 0-16 Loughgiel 0-5.
The Shamrocks started the second half brightly and were more aggressive, playing with more vigour and fight but despite their early dominance, they struggled to make any inroads into the Dunloy lead. Busy midfielder Ryan ‘Betty’ McKee opened the scoring after the interval but again the Shamrocks were contributing to their own downfall with a lack of accuracy infront of the posts. Dunloy penalised them fully with their first dangerous attack of the second half and scored the opening goal of the Final. Corner forward Anton McGrath cutting inside the Loughgiel defence before unselfishly passing to Doherty Cunning with the Dunloy full forward making no mistake from close range. Loughgiel scored back to back points for the first time in the match in response and although the match was much more competitive, the damage was done in the opening half as far as Loughgiel were concerned.
The Cuchullains second goal came in the 48th minute and again it was Cunningh Doherty who was on hand to apply the finish. McGivern had pulled off another outstanding save denying Anton McGrath but the sliotar fell loose to ‘Coby’ and the Cuchullain lead was extended to 15 points as the game entered the final quarter.
The Shamrocks major came with ten minutes of the match remaining, the impressive Damon McMullan sending a ’65 to the edge of the square but no one could manage to get a touch and the sliotar fell harmlessly to the back of Ryan Elliott’s net but it was too little too late for Loughgiel. They peppered the Dunloy goal in the closing stages but with Conor Kinsella and Adam Mullan in particular in superb form, the Cuchullains held out to run out 14 point winners.
Loughgiel will be disappointed with their display with many not showing what they are capable off. Conor Dallas and Shan McGrath tried hard in attack with Caolan Blair and Damon McMullan the pick of the defence.
For the Cuchullains, Doherty Cunning and Keelan Molloy between them hit 2-12 and were simply a class apart. They had aces all over the pitch on the night and were well worthy of the comprehensive score line.
Ryan Elliott ( c ); Aaron Crawford; Conor Kinsella; Adam Mullan; Ryan McGarry; Eamon Smyth; Cahir McGuigan; Ciaran Elliott (0-1); Deaglan Smyth (0-1); Seann Elliott (0-1); Keelan Molloy (0-6); Ronan Molloy (0-1); Anton McGrath (0-3); Conal Cunning Doherty (2-6, 3 frees); Chrissy McMahon
SUBS: Calum Scullion (0-1) for R Molloy (38 mins); Liam McCann (0-1) for A McGrath (53 mins); Oran Shivers for S Elliott (58 mins)
Caolan McGivern; Odhran Laverty; Caolan Blair; Odhran McMullan; Damon McMullan (1-1, 1-1 ‘65’s); Cathal McMullan; Conall Kerr; Ryan McKee (0-1); Callum McKendry; Conor Christie; James McNuaghton (0-5, 3 frees); Aidan McFadden; Cathair McMullan; Conor Dallas (0-2); Shan McGrath (0-1)
SUBS: Eoin Boyle for O Laverty (45 mins); Patrick Laverty for S McGrath (59 mins)
Martin feels belief was the key
Dunloy manger Paddy Martin gives his view on last night’s final
The Cuchullains claimed U21 glory when not many outside of the club seen it coming. With all of the starting 15 under the age of 19, it’s fair to say that this particular group of players have exceeded expectations. Dunloy manager Paddy Martin gave us an insight into what they had hoped for at the start of the campaign and how the victory over Cushendall gave them the belief to go forward: “We have struggled over the previous four years to make any inward at U21 level and were on the wrong end of some bad beatings.
“Our first aim was to win a game at U21 level. Once we got over Cushendall we started to think that it could be possible.”
Having recorded 16 points in the opening 30 minutes and just three from placed ball, Dunloy blitzed their local rivals and Martin told us that they had spoken about getting off to a fast start before the game and play to their strengths: “We wanted to hit the ground running and use the spaces of the big pitch. We knew that we had the speed up front and the stick men up front so we just wanted to get as much quality ball into the danger area and let them boys do their stuff.”
The expected Loughgiel backlash materialised after the restart but the first of two second half goals from Coby Cunning Doherty helped to quell any major turnaround from the Shamrocks. Martin told us that they did expect a much tougher second 30 minutes but they felt they had the hard work done: “We expected it and the game kind of pattered out a bit but once we got over that initial backlash in the opening five or ten minutes of the second half there only looked like being one winner.
“In fairness to Loughgiel they kept going to the end as you would expect but on the day I think we just had too much speed and class about us.”
Martin paid tribute to his squad when he continued: “It’s a fantastic group of talented lads that have worked tremendously hard to get to where they are today. It was difficult to get everyone together when you’re working with minors and seniors but we got as many group sessions as we could and everyone bought into what we were doing.”
The Dunloy clubman told us that the Cuchullains are bearing the fruits of extensive work put into the underage structures within the club adding: “It’s a mixture of the quality of the players and the work that has been put in from the coaching perspective within the club. There are some very naturally talented hurlers among the group but it’s also a lot to do with the coaching structures within the club. All those fella’s have come up through working with the likes of Gary O’Kane, Shane Elliott, Malachy Molloy and Gregory O’Kane. When you have quality, top coaches like that who are coaching the same ethos then you get what you get.
“The young boy’s attitude is fantastic and it bodes well for the future. The Potential is there and hopefully now as a club we can keep them progressing and improving. It’s up to us as a club to look after these young boys as best we can and help to develop them so that a wee bit further down the line they can deliver senior championships in this group of boys.”