Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship – Preliminary Round
Cushendall 4-20 Clooney Gaels 0-12
By Brendan McTaggart
The Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship got underway on Saturday evening at Slemish Park, Ballymena with a comprehensive victory for the Ruairi Ogs. The Cushendall men came into the preliminary round tie as heavy favourites to progress to the last eight and they made light work of Clooney Gaels despite playing with 14 men from the 28th minute of the match. 20 points separated the sides at the end of the hour and the Ruairi’s now have their sights set on a quarter-final meeting with Cloughmills in two weeks’ time.
Any lingering hopes that the Ahoghill side would have carried of causing the biggest upset in recent memory were dashed inside the first ten minutes. Despite the Gaels scoring the first point of the match thanks to a PJ O’Connell free, Cushendall blitzed their south west counterparts in the opening exchanges. Three goals, one for each of the starting full forward line of Natty McNaughton, Sean McAfee and Paddy McGill put Cushendall firmly in control.
Despite recording six wide’s in the opening quarter with some uncharacteristic missed frees from Neil McManus, albeit from distance, Cushendall opened an 11 point lead. A brace of points opened the gap to 13 points before we had our first moment of controversy. Sean McAfee and Neil O’Connell chased a loose ball and with both wrestling for possession, team mates from both sides got involved. With the help of his umpires, referee Michael Hardy called McAfee and O’Connell to the side and sent off the Cushendall full forward for what he deemed as interference with O’Connell’s faceguard while the Clooney Gaels man was given a yellow card for his part in the fray.
Midfielder David Kearney rounded off the scoring for the half when he split the posts in injury time to leave Cushendall ahead 3-8 to 0-3 at the short whistle.
Well done Ruairi Og from Trisha and all the staff at ‘All Dalled Up’
The 14 point difference was the least Cushendall deserved from their efforts in the opening half and but for some heroic defending from the Clooney Gaels full back line they would have added to their goal tally in the opening 30 minutes.
The Ahoghill side made changes at the interval with their football decider in mind on Sunday but still started the second half brightly. Owen Neeson scored his second point of the match before PJ O’Connell added to his tally moments later with his first from play inside the opening two minutes and give Clooney Gaels their first back to back points of the match.
It wasn’t long before Cushendall started to find their range again though and made light work of playing with 14 men. Conor Carson was moved to the edge of the square and gave the Clooney defence plenty to think about while Paddy McGill and Natty McNaughton were impressive.
15 points was the difference when Natty McNaughton scored his second and Cushendall’s fourth major of the match in the 46th minute. Substitute Ryan Delargy did the hard yards to create space for his team mate who found the bottom corner with his effort to seal Cushendall’s passage.
The Ruairi’s made further changes with their progress all but sealed with McManus taking his tally to 11 points for the match, eight in the second half alone before he too made way in the closing stages.
A brace of PJ O’Connell points in the closing stages took his tally to six for the match but acted merely as consolation as Cushendall eased their way to the next round.
The Ruairi’s showed Clooney Gaels plenty of respect by fielding their strongest 15 available but after their opening scoring blitz, mission improbable became mission impossible for Clooney. Cushendall showed their class at different times throughout the hour and although the Ahoghill side battled hard and never once lay down, the Ruairi’s were simply a class apart on the day. There is no doubt that harder challenges lay ahead for the Ruairi’s but they certainly have laid down a marker to the rest of the county with their performance on Saturday evening.
Cushendall: Eoin Gillan; Ryan McCambridge; Martin Burke; Fergus McCambridge; Arron Graffin; Paddy Burke; Cormac McAlister; David Kearney; Emmett Laverty; Conor Carson; Neil McManus; Aidan McNaughton; Paddy McGill; Sean McAfee; Donal McNaughton
Clooney Gaels: Aidan Graham; Stephen O’Connell; Francis Neeson; Daniel O’Neill; Eamon Brady; Bernard Graham; Neill O’Connell; Fionnbar O’Neill; Donal Graham; Patrick Graham; Thomas McGlone; James O’Connell; Owen Neeson; PJ O’Connell; Ronan Graham
Cushendall: Neil McManus 0-11 (7 frees); Donal McNaughton 2-1; Paddy McGill 1-1; Sean McAfee 1-1; Emmett Laverty 0-2; David Kearney 0-2; Aidan McNaughton 0-1; Ryan Delargy 0-1
Clooney Gaels: PJ O’Connell 0-6 (5 frees); James O’Connell 0-3 (1 free); Owen Neeson 0-2; Fionnbar O’Neill 0-1
REFEREE: Michael Hardy (Rasharkin)