Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship Final
Dunloy Cuchullains 2-15 Ruairi Ogs Cushendall 2-9
@ Páirc MacUilín, Ballycastle
By Brendan McTaggart
Who said you can’t win anything with kids? Dunloy Cuchullains overcame the challenge of Cushendall on Sunday afternoon to claim the Volunteer Cup for the 12th time in their history. The victory meant it was a brace of championship wins for the Cuchullains on the day who also took the minor title to Pearse Park on Sunday afternoon, adding to the U21 crown they won so comprehensively earlier in the year.
After a battle in the first half, the final turned out to be full of drama at Páirc MacUilín as the Ruairi’s were reduced to 13 men on the day with star forward Neil McManus and substitute Eunan McKillop seeing the line in the second half and what a second half it turned out to be.
After a physical and compelling half of hurling where Cushendall deservedly held a three point lead at the short whistle, no-one could see what was about to transpire in the second half. Right from the first whistle, scores, time and space was hard to come by for either side with the Ruairi’s superior physical presence giving them the edge after the first 30 minutes. They were holding the hugely vaunted Dunloy attack at bay and yielded just one point to the Cuchullains from play while in attack Fergus McCambridge and Paddy McGill were looking dangerous. The second half was an entirely different ball game. Whatever was said in the Cuchullains changing room at the interval should be bottled, recorded or inscribed into the walls in the Pearse Park clubrooms. Dunloy took to the field after the restart and left the Ruairi’s shell-shocked. After scoring just four points in the first 30 minutes, the Cuchullains managed 2-8 in the 15 minutes that followed the restart to blow the Ruairi’s away. The forward line of Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning and Eoin O’Neill had worked their socks off in the first half with Nigel Elliott and Gabriel McTaggart going through a mountain of work but the Cushendall defence were rock solid. Martin Burke and Ryan McCambridge were out-performing the Cuchullains with Paddy Burke and Arron Graffin excelling on the ’45 while Aidan McNaughton in midfield was always a threat. In the second half, the Ruairi’s had no answer to the green and gold onslaught.
If anything, the score line flattered the Ruairi’s. Conor Carson who had went through a huge amount of work and was the only Cushendall man to score in the second half, managed to score two late goals but they were effectively consolations as the Cuchullains run out comfortable winners after a breath-taking second half display.
The Ruairi’s made one change to their semi-final victory over Loughgiel, Cormac McClafferty the man who made way for Fergus McCambridge while the Cuchullains came into the decider unchanged for the third match in succession.
Both sides were struggling for fluency in the opening exchanges with wides apiece before Paul Shiels and Eoin O’Neill fired over to give the Cuchullains an early advantage. Cushendall were soon back on terms, Paddy McGill and a McManus free restoring parity with the Cushendall attack looking increasingly menacing but the Cuchullains were reliant on the free-taking ability of Shorty while Fergus McCambridge (two), Eoghan Campbell and McManus (three frees) ensured the Ruairi’s would take a three point lead into the interval.
It was a gripping first half of hurling but never really caught fire at any stage. Both defences didn’t spare an inch to the opposition but Cushendall were worthy of their advantage at the short whistle.
Left: Conal ‘Coby’ Cunning celebrates after scoring his team’s opening goal
Right: Nigel Elliott shows his delight after scoring Dunloy’s second goal
The Cuchullains needed a fast start to the second half, what they got was a whirlwind. They almost made the perfect start when Coby Cunning brought the best out of Eoin Gillan in the Cushendall goals but by as early as the fourth minute from the restart, they were back on terms. Two points from Shorty and one from Nigel Elliott restored parity to the sides and when Shiels (free) and Keelan Molloy raised white flags the Cuchullains had started to go through the gears.
Dunloy were dominating at midfield with Ciaran Elliott and Shiels instrumental while the half back trio of Kevin McKeague, Kevin Molloy and Conor McKinley outstanding after the restart, the Cushendall defence couldn’t get any reprieve from the Cuchuallains blitz.
Conor Carson scored their first point of the second half when he split the posts in the eighth minute but the Cuchullains continued to rack up the scores. Gabriel McTaggart, Cunning and O’Neill opening a four point lead before the Cuchuallins scored the first goal of the match. A Keelan Molloy effort dropped short and the Cushendall defence failed to clear the danger. Coby Cunning showed his predatory instincts when he gathered the lose sliotar and squeezed the ball over the Cushendall line. Advantage Dunloy.
That advantage was doubled just 60 second later. Cunning turned provider this time for Nigel Elliott and the Dunloy man applied the finish to give Eoin Gillan no chance between the posts for the Ruairi’s. 2-8 in 15 minutes and Cushendall’s championship hopes and dreams were fading before a barrage of brilliance from the Cuchullains.
The Cushendall aspirations were left hanging by a thread when McManus received a straight red card for an off the ball incident in the 45th minute and when the Cuchullains landed further scores from Shorty and substitute Nicky McKeague to give the Cuchullains a 12 point lead with six minutes to go.
An excellent score from Carson rekindled Cushendall’s hopes and when the he scored the Ruairi’s first goal with a superb catch and finish in the 58th minute, the Ruairi’s hopes were rejuvenated. They pushed for more goals with substitute Ryan Delargy causing problems but the Cuchullains defence was superb with Kevin Molloy and Captain James McKeague instrumental.
Cushendall’s hopes were all but over when substitute Eunan McKillop was given a straight red card for an incident with referee Mark O’Neill, leaving the Ruairi’s to play out injury time with 13 men.
The Ruairi’s did manage to breach Ryan Elliott’s line one more time deep in injury time, As Paddy Burke drilled a low shot to the Dunloy net after a goalmouth scramble but it was too little too late for Cushendall who have suffered back to back final defeats. The Cuchullains celebrated at the final whistle as they breached an eight year gap from their last Volunteer Cup success after a sensational second half display.
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; Eoin O’Neill; Christopher Brogan; Conal Cunning
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; Fergus McCambridge; Sean McAfee; Paddy McGill
Referee: Mark O’Neill (Armoy)
Dunloy: Paul Shiels 0-7 (6 frees, 1 ’65); Nigel Elliott 1-1; Conal Cunning 1-1; Eoin O’Neill 0-2; Gabriel McTaggart 0-1; Keelan Molloy 0-1; Nicky McKeague 0-1 (1 free); Ally Dooey 0-1
Cushendall: Conor Carson 1-2; Paddy Burke 1-0; Neil McManus 0-3 (3 frees); Fergus McCambridge 0-2; Paddy McGill 0-1; Eoghan Campbell 0-1