Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship – Semi-Final
Ruairi Ogs, Cushendall 0-13 Loughgiel Shamrocks 0-12
By Brendan McTaggart
It may not have been the classic, high scoring encounter that these two great rivals have produced at different times in the last 12 months but it was every bit as epic. A high intensity 60 minutes of hurling that had the travelling faithful to Ballycastle biting their finger nails right to the very end. They had to endure six minutes of injury time but in the end the Ruairi’s avenged their defeat in last year’s decider to dethrone the Shamrocks. One point separated the sides by the time Colum Cunning called time and Cushendall’s championship ambitions continue to burn brightly.
With major doubts over the pitch at Ballycastle, there was a late inspection before it was given the go ahead. With the tie already having moved from Dunloy due to unforeseen circumstances, the weather was playing havoc with the biggest game of the season between these two adversaries. Another major rain shower threatened the game even further but the match went ahead and these two great rivals slogged it out in a game of cat and mouse. High winds meant neither side really got comfortable or hit their strides in the first half but it was the Ruairi’s who started the game brightly. With Eoghan Campbell dropping into a sweeper role, Neil McManus moved into midfield with Conor Carson and Cormac McClafferty forming the inside forward line for Cushendall. David Kearney and Natty McNaughton splitting the posts inside the first four minutes to give the Ruairi’s the early advantage.
Both sides were guilty of missing frees in the opening exchanges but it was the Ruairi’s who looked more at ease in the first half, employing a shorter passing game to counter the elements. Loughgiel were keeping Paul Gillan free at the back and it was the Loughgiel full back line who were hugely impressive in the first half. Gillan and Ronan McCloskey were first to every ball played into the corners while Neill McGarry was catching everything that came his way.
Goal chances were at a premium throughout the match but the Ruairi’s had an opening after just three minutes. Paddy McGill with the effort but the Loughgiel defence defended heroically to block his effort.
Shan McGrath opened Loughgiel’s account in the eighth minute and when Barney McAuley found the target with two long range frees, the Shamrocks were in the lead for the first time by the 13th minute. It was a war of attrition everywhere on the pitch with neither side giving an inch. Conditions meant neither side could showcase their skills but it added to the nerves and excitement among the gathering hoards in attendance at Páirc Mac Uílin.
McAuley continued his metronomic accuracy from frees with Dan McCloskey lively for the Shamrocks to give Loughgiel an edge while McManus and Cormac McClafferty split the posts for the Ruairi’s. There is no doubting who the happier side was at the short whistle though. The Ruairi’s went into the interval trailing by just two points with a score line of 0-7 to 0-5 in favour of Loughgiel.
The teams traded scores at the beginning of the new half, but when midfielder Mark McFadden dissected the uprights in the 36th minute, Loughgiel looked like they would push on having opened a three point lead for the first time in the match. McFadden’s point would be the Shamrock’s last score for 17 minutes though as Cushendall, and Paddy McGill in particular, found another gear. McGill had a busy first half without gaining much reward but his second half performance would prove to be the difference between the sides. Four points in the second 30 minutes while in the thick of everything for his side, McGill was the catalyst to spur the Ruairi’s over the line in the end.
There was chances for goals at either end, substitute Benny McCarry with a chance for Loughgiel but his effort was blocked before it reached the length of Eoin Gillan in the Cushendall goals while Loughgiel had Neill McGarry to thank for a last minute hook on Sean McAfee when the Cushendall man looked a nailed on certainty to score a major.
Both sides looked to gain advantages in any way possible, Ronan Gillan and Maol Connolly coming off the bench, Gillan with a tidy score to keep the Shamrocks in touch but the accuracy of McManus from placed ball (something which had been missing in the first half) helped the Ruairi’s into a two point lead going into injury time.
Loughgiel laid siege on the Ruairi’s goal mouth in search of the goal that would swing the tie in their favour but all they could muster was a Shan McGrath point to leave the Ruairi’s one point winners.
The scenes at the full-time whistle perfectly reflected 60 minutes of high intensity championship hurling between these two great rivals. On one side, Cushendall manager Philip Campbell turned to salute the Ruairi’s support while raising his fists to the air. The devastation from the Loughgiel side at the Ballycastle pitch was palpable. The realisation that they had surrendered their crown to their biggest rivals and their aspirations gone.
Cushendall now face the kids on the block Cuchullains in a repeat of the 2009 final. The Ruairi’s will be hoping for a different result but for now, they can breathe a huge sigh of relief after reaching their ninth county final in ten years.
Cushendall: Eoin Gillan; Ryan McCambridge; Martin Burke; Sean Delargy; Arron Graffin; Paddy Burke; David Kearney; Eoghan Campbell; Aidan McNaughton; Conor Carson; Neil McManus; Donal McNaughton; Cormac McClafferty; Sean McAfee; Paddy McGill
Scorers: Neil McManus 0-5 (3 frees); Paddy McGill 0-4; Cormac McClafferty 0-1; Donal McNaughton 0-1; Eoghan Campbell 0-1; David Kearney 0-1
Loughgiel: DD Quinn; Paul Gillan; Neil McGarry; Ronan McCloskey; Tony McCloskey; Damon McMullan; Odhran McFadden; Mark McFadden; Seamus Dobbin; Donal McKinley; Eddie McCloskey; Barney McAuley; Dan McCloskey; Shay Casey; Shan McGrath
Scorers: Barney McAuley 0-6 (5 frees); Dan McCloskey 0-2; Shan McGrath 0-2; Mark McFadden 0-1; Ronan Gillan 0-1
Referee: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)
Pics by John and Dylan McIlwaine