Antrim Junior B Hurling Championship
Michael Davitt’s 2-17 All Saints Ballymena 3-8
Davitts GAC, winners of the Junior B trophy for the last three years staged a strong second half comeback to beat a battling All Saints Ballymena in the final of the Junior B Hurling Championship in ever changing conditions at Hightown on Sunday.
The Ballymena side went into this game ill prepared with only a handful of North Antrim Junior League games under their belts this season and having been awarded a bye into Sunday’s final after O’Donnell’s had withdrawn from a semi-final meeting.
The Belfast outfit therefore went into Sunday’s final as firm favourites with a good win over St. Agnes under their belts but at the half way juncture of this entertaining final a hastily assembled Ballymena side looked on their way to pulling off a major upset.
The Saints, with Ciaran McGarry and Ciaran Neeson ruling the roost at mid-field went to the dressing room leading by five points and full value for that lead as their pace and determination troubled the City men.
After the break it was a different story however and Davitt’s, spurred on by an early goal began to get on top and when All Saints lost centre-half, Gary Miskella to a second yellow card the game began to turn in their favour.
.The game begun with both side testing the target but failing to put the first point on the score board. Davitt’s struck first with a great solo effort from Rory McAvoy and Stephen McGivern struck a second to put the Hoops two ahead with six minutes gone.
All Saints were warming to the task however and a great run from Ciaran McGarry saw him hauled down as he bore down on goal and his mid-field partner, Ciaran Neeson stepped up to direct the resulting free between the sticks.
Neeson, who’s long striking from frees was to be a feature of the All Saints play was wide from a ‘65’ before Ciaran Cassley got on the end of a sideline cut from the same player to direct the sliotar over the bar in the 12th minute to tie the contest.
Back came Davitt’s and they edged ahead once more as Alan Rainey sent over in the 13th minute but the impressive Neeson squared matters once more with a fine point as the thunder roared in the distance and the rain came down.
The Slemish Park side were growing in confidence as that man Neeson edged them ahead for the first time and he and McGarry were causing a lot of problems with their pace and strong running.
Back came Davitt’s to square the contest once more as Stephen McGivern punished an indiscretion in defence but All Saints hit back with a vengeance as a long delivery from Neeson was spilled by Davitt’s keeper Sean Smyth and veteran striker, Sean O’Kane was on hand to send to the net from close range in the 21st minute.
It was to get even better for the Ballymena side as a sublime sideline cut from Ciaran Neeson dropped invitingly for Terence Diamond and he sent a first time half volley screaming past Smyth to put the South West side in the driving seat.
Davitts finished the half on the offensive however with a couple of well struck points from midfielder Canice Mooney but Ciaran Neeson had the final score of the half as he converted another long range free that saw his side heading to the dressing room five points to the good and perhaps unfortunate not to be further ahead
Whatever was said at the interval, Davitts took the management team talk on board and came out firing on all cylinders and a teasing delivery in the third minute put the All Saints defence in trouble and Stephen McGivern first timed the sliotar through a ruck of players to the net,
This score seemed to lift the Davitt’s and Canice Rooney punished a bad pull by Gary Miskella which saw the All Saints man receive a yellow card. Rooney added another and with only five minutes of the new half gone the game was level and the Slemish Park men looked in some difficulties.
Ciaran Neeson got them on their way again however as he pointed in the 6th minute as Ronan Ward replaced Terence Diamond in the All Saints attack but they were struck a further blow when Rory McAvoy found Tomas Toland unmarked and the big number 14 kicked the sliotar to the net and put his side two ahead.
Things were heating up a bit as Saints keeper Anthony Mitchell was shown a yellow card for dissent and then Davitt’s Gary Nelson suffered a similar fate for a trip on Ciaran McGarry as the South West side tried to respond.
From the resulting free Ciaran Neeson’s shot sailed over of the stick of Sean Smyth to reduce the gap to the minimum after ten minutes but the country side were struck a bad blow when Gary Miskella received a second yellow card, followed by red and All Saints were down to 14 men with 20 minutes still to play.
Canice Rooney, who was now having an increasing influence on the game struck the resulting free between the uprights and the same player added another in the 16th minute to move the holders three in front.
All Saints were still battling hard and were handed a lifeline when a Ciaran Neeson free dropped in around the square and Sean O’Kane climbed to get the deftest of flicks and send the sliotar to the Davitt’s net.
Suddenly the Ballymena men dare hope again and when Ciaran Neeson pointed to put his side one in front with ten minutes remaining the dream was very much alive. Davitt’s dug deep however as Canice Rooney equalised once more and Stephen McGivern added another as his side began to turn the screw.
Rooney again hit the target as the extra man began to tell with McGivern adding another and when Ciaran McGarry went down injured the writing was firmly on the wall for the Ballymena men.
Davitt’s finished with a flourish as a 70 yard free from Rooney dipped over a packed All Saints goal line and into the net with the same player adding a point from play and another from the placed ball to conclude the scoring.
Fixtures secretary Eamon Grieve presented the Junior B Shield to Davitt’s captain Canice Rooney at the end of the game as the All Saints players graciously applauded the opposition and match referee Colm McDonald.
In the end Davitt’s deserved their victory with Thomas Maguire, Gary Nelson, Stephen McGivern, Tomas Toland and Rory McAvoy all to the fore while Canice Rooney was outstanding as the game progressed.
All Saints can hold their heads up high however. They went into Sunday’s final as rank outsiders but were still in there battling with ten minutes remaining. Chris McAffee, Darren McGinty, Padraig Magill, Ciaran McGarry and Sean O’Kane all impressed on the day while Ciaran Neeson was simply outstanding.
Hopefully this performance will bring about an upturn in interest and commitment to hurling in the Ballymena club.
Davitt’s: Sean Smyth: Gavin Cosgrove, Anthony Rowntree, Eugene Gallagher: Michael Rowntree, Thomas Maguire, Gary Nelson: Canice Rooney, Martin Tully: Colm McKee, Stephen McGivern, Alan Rainey: Christopher Gallagher, Tomas Toland, Rory McAvoy.
All Saints: Anthony Mitchell: Darren McGinty, Chris McAffee, Francis Casey: Padraig Magill, Gary Miskella, Sean O’Rawe: Ciaran McGarry, Ciaran Neeson: Ciaran Cassley, Luke O’Rawe, Jack Magill: Terence Diamond, Sean O’Kane, Martin McNally. Subs: Ronan ward, Brendan McDonnell, Tony Connolly, Enda Casey.
Referee: Colm McDonald