All square after pulsating hour in Pearse Park

O’Neills ACHL – Division 1

Dunloy 1-12 Cushendall 1-12

Brendan McTaggart reports from Pearse Park, Dunloy

There’s a storm brewing in north Antrim and on Wednesday night we got a taste of what we could be in for in September.  Dunloy and Cushendall are developing a rivalry, borne from the championship decider last year and the two league encounters have each added to the storm.  These two put everything on the line once again in a high intensity, gruelling yet captivating encounter but couldn’t be separated.

When they played each other in the league earlier this year, the Cuchullains took the spoils with a late surge to pull away.  The Ruairi’s were having none of that in Pearse Park.  Both had chances, Dunloy with as many goal chances to win the game in the first half while the Ruairi’s lost their way in injury time with two scoreable frees going astray.  Having already scored 1-5 with 1-4 coming from dead ball, you would have put your house on Neil McManus scoring what was by his own lofty standards, two very scoreable frees despite the distance, in injury time.  I’d be a homeless saffron gael right now.

After an opening half where both sides were sizing up the challenge ahead, the Cuchullains took a two point lead into the interval.  A Keelan Molloy goal in the second minute of injury time giving the home side the advantage.  After playing into a stiff wind in the first half, the Cuchullains would have been content with their opening 30 minutes despite their missed opportunities.  A bright start saw them settle quickly into the match but two missed chances and four wides in the opening eight minutes could have made their hours work significantly easier.  Nigel Elliott and Keelan Molloy both going close and while Eoin O’Neill gave the home side a two point lead after ten minutes to make the score 0-3 to 0-1, the score line didn’t reflect the Cuchullains early efforts.

The Ruairi’s had their homework done in preparation for Wednesday nights match though.  With Arron Graffin missing out, Paddy Burke moved into his familiar surroundings on the edge of the square and their defence had a more solid feel once they got over the initial Dunloy onslaught.

With the wind at their backs playing into the chapel goals, Cushendall began to settle.  McManus, McGill and Eoghan Campbell all raising white flags to score three unanswered points in as many minutes to give the Ruairi’s the lead just after the quarter hour mark.

With Neil McManus roaming in attack and Paddy McGill causing the Dunloy full back line problems with his guile, the Ruairi’s looked to push on.  Keelan Molloy pointed for Dunloy to bring the sides level once again but a brace of frees from McManus to take his tally for the match to four points by the 20th minute opened a two point lead for the visitors to Pearse Park for the first time and but for some wayward shooting, that lead could have been more.  A brace of frees from Nicky McKeague either side of a point for Ryan McCambridge reduced the deficit to the minimum with time running out on the first half.

The momentum swung late in the half though in only a way a game of hurling can produce.  At one end of the pitch blood substitute saw the whites of Ryan Elliott’s eyes but the Dunloy ‘keepers bravery was rewarded with an outstanding save against the odds.  20 seconds later the Cuchullains had bagged a major of their own.  Keelan Molloy reading the break of the sliotar before finally beating Eoin Gillan at the third time of asking in the first half to leave the score at the short whistle 1-6 to 0-7 in the home sides favour.877A4677

The second half came and the Dunloy lead lasted barely 60 seconds.  The Cuchullains had a brace of chances to increase their lead in the opening scurries but they were pegged back when Neil McManus hammed a 21 yard free high to the back of the net despite four Dunloy men on the line.

The Ruairi’s dropped Paddy McGill deeper from his position on the edge of the square into the midfield exchanges and the move paid dividend for his side.  McGill was heavily involved in rucks and mauls as the game started to develop more spice.

Nicky McKeague pointed Dunloy’s first score of the second half in the 38th minute as the sides went tit for tat.  Fergus McCambridge finding the range twice with McManus landing a free while Dunloy retaliated to each Cushendall point with scores from Keelan Molloy (two) and Nicky McKeague (free).

A couple of missed frees from McKeague resulted in the Cuchullains changing their free taker – Conal Cunning splitting the posts with seven minutes remaining to bring the sides level on 1-11 apiece.  It felt like it was a matter of who blinked first as these two sides wrestled and searched for that decisive score.  Both looked to their benches, the youthful legs of Deáglán Smyth and Seaan Elliott coming on for the Cuchullains in attack while Sean McAfee stepped up his rehab to come on in the closing stages.  Paddy McGill landed a score after the Cushendall forwards forced an error in the Dunloy defence to edge Cushendall ahead once again but Paul Shiels converted a 45 yard free in the last minute of normal time to restore parity.

The drama didn’t end there.  Cushendall had two glorious chances to edge ahead once again but McManus’ efforts sailed to the right hand side of the posts, the second of which ultimately the last poc of the game.

Pulsating, riveting and compelling but no winner after 60 plus minutes.  Both sides will have hurled better this year in terms of skill and fluency but for sheer intensity, work rate and passion this game had it in spades.  A storm is coming and I for one can’t wait.

Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Karl O’Kane, Oran Quinn; Eamon Smyth, Kevin Molloy, Paul Shiels; Ciaran Elliott, Paudie Shivers; Nigel Elliott, Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning; Nicky McKeague, Chrissy Brogan, Eoin O’Neill

Cushendall: Eoin Gillan; Niall McCormick, Paddy Burke, Joe McCurry; Francis McCurry, Eoghan Campbell, Sean Delargy; Stephen Walsh, Neil McManus; Conor Carson, Fergus McCambridge, Ryan McCambridge; Cormac McClafferty, Paddy McGill, Ed McQuillan

Scorers for Dunloy: Nicky McKeague 0-6 (5 f’s); Keelan Molloy 1-3; Eoin O’Neill 0-1; Conal Cunning 0-1 (1 f); Paul Shiels 0-1 (1 f)

Scorers for Cushendall: Neil McManus 1-5 (1-4 f’s); Paddy McGill 0-3; Fergus McCambridge 0-2; Eoghan Campbell 0-1; Ryan McCambridge 0-1

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Pics by Sean Paul McKillop

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