Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship – Semi-Final
Dunloy 2-21 Ballycastle 0-11
Saturday September 9
By Brendan McTaggart
As referee Fionntan McCotter called for time at the end of the hour, there was muted applause around the Cushendall grounds. A far cry from the celebrations at the full-time whistle in both the respective quarter-finals. Cuchullains simply blew away the challenge of The Town, winning at a canter and any memories of their previous brace of defeats to the McQuillan’s were drowned out by a flurry of green and gold brilliance. It was an emphatic performance from Dunloy, a 16 point victory that was every bit as convincing as it sounds. The McQuillan’s were obliterated, picked apart and dismantled throughout the hour and left Páirc Mhuire bowed and broken. A team that came into the last four tie with hopes, dreams and aspirations of breaking a 31 year drought for Ballycastle had their ambitions left in tatters and ruins.
The Cuchullains played with the aid of a substantial wind in the first half and set about building a significant lead. With the inside forward duo of Conal ‘Coby’ Cunning and Eoin O’Neill pulling the Ballycastle full back line apart and the work-rate of Chrissy Brogan not giving the McQuillans full back line a spare minute. The Cuchullains kept Conor McKinley as their sweeper in the first half and with a reshuffle of their pack, they were dominant from the first whistle. They scored the first goal of the semi-final in the eighth minute and it was as majestic as it was simple. Good work from Kevin McKeague saw the Dunloy man bring the sliotar free before playing the ball cross field in the direction of Nigel Elliott. The Dunloy forward used his speed to fend off the challenge of the Ballycastle defenders before unleashing a drive high into Ryan McGarry’s net.
Elliott’s major opened the floodgates for the Cuchullains as the the Ballycastle challenge faltered. A run of nine unanswered points, with five of the starting six Dunloy forwards getting their names on the scoresheet, kept the momentum firmly with the Cuchullains. The variety in their attack with scores from different ranges and angles meaning the Ballycastle defence couldn’t settle and any attempt to play as a sweeper was futile.
The dominance of the Dunloy midfield ensured they kept their vice like grip on the half, Shorty and Ciaran ‘Cat’ Elliott going through a mountain of ‘dirty’ work. McGarry was varying his poc outs to try and give the McQuillans a foothold in the game but Cuchullains were on top everywhere in the pitch. Winning individual battles and gathering momentum that Ballycastle had little or no answer to.
Conial Brown and Caolan McCaughan added to the earlier scores of Ciaran Clarke (free) and Tiernan Butler but Shorty’s fifth score of the half on the stroke of the short whistle gave the Cuchullains a 13 point lead at the interval. Half time score, Dunloy 1-14 Ballycastle 0-4.
The introduction of Ben McQuillan and Ciaran Butler gave the McQuillans a brief injection of impetus and they outscored the Cuchullains by three points to one in the opening exchanges but their challenge was clinging on by its fingertips.
An inspirational point from Kevin Molloy, having burst clear of a couple of Ballycastle challenges, lifted the Cuchullains from their half time slumber but it was the sight of Saul McCaughan having to leave the field with what appeared to be a hamstring injury that really hurt the McQuillans. The enigmatic Ballycastle man had come into the match as the McQuillans ‘ace’ in their pack. In the last two seasons he was the one who broke the hearts of the Cuchullains with his devastating displays but on Saturday it just didn’t happen for him. Leaving the field hobbling, refusing the need for a stretcher and it boosted the Cuchullains even further.
Ally Dooey, on the field for five minutes but with the game stopped for McCaughan’s injury, he managed to score the Cuchullains second goal with his first touch of the game. Again, a diagonal ball played into the corner and while Dooey collected, he had plenty of work to do before creating the goal chance. Dooey’s play underlined the Cuchullains devastating play. Speed, ingenuity, accuracy, brilliant. He sped past the challenge of the Ballycastle defence, cutting along the end line before cleverly finishing ensuring he wouldn’t get hooked. Game over. 17 points separated the sides at the mid-point of the second half and the Cuchullains began to empty their bench and shut up shop.
Points from Conor Boyd and TT Butler gave the Ballycastle men some form of respectability in the score line but as the full time whistle rang, there was no chorus of cheers or scenes of celebration. It was ‘job done’ as far as the Cuchullains were concerned while the McQuillans were left beleaguered.
The Cuchullains progress to their first county final since 2012 with 16 points to spare. Can they go on to lift ‘Big Ears’ for the first time since 2009? That remains to be seen. Ballycastle didn’t ask enough questions of them to really give a definitive answer. The Cuchullains won’t have gained too much from the tie other than adding to a confidence that is already brimming. Youthful exuberance, strength in depth and a hunger to do whatever it takes. A deadly combination that is bringing belief back to the Dunloy support, management and players. For now, they can rest easy knowing that they have booked their place in the championship decider and await the winners of tomorrow’s second semi-final between Loughgiel and Cushendall.
Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin; James McKeague; Oran Quinn; Kevin McKeague; Conor McKinley; Kevin Molloy; Ciaran Elliott; Paul Shiels; Keelan Molloy; Gabriel McTaggart; Nigel Elliott; Conal Cunning; Christopher Brogan; Eoin O’Neill
Scorers: Paul Shiels 0-9 (6 frees); Conal Cunning 0-5 (2 frees); Eoin O’Neill 0-4; Nigel Elliott 1-1; Ally Dooey 1-00; Gabriel McTaggart 0-1; Keelan Molloy 0-1; Kevin Molloy 0-1
Ballycastle: Ryan McGarry; Paul McLernon; Matthew Donnelly; Dermott Donnelly; James McShane; Neal McAuley; Conor Boyd; Conaire Butler; Caolan McCaughan; Conial Brown; Tiernan Butler; James McLister; Saul McCaughan; Kevin-Barry McShane; Ciaran Clarke
Scorers: Ciaran Clarke 0-3 (3 frees); Tiernan Butler 0-2; Conor Boyd 0-2; Conial Brown 0-1; Caolan McCaughan 0-1; Ciaran Butler 0-1
Referee: Fionntan McCotter (Sarsfields)