Johnnies in pole position after first-leg win

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Preliminary Round, First Leg

Ballycastle McQuillans 1-15   St John’s 5-17

St John’s all but booked their place in the round robin stage of the Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship when they beat Ballycastle by fourteen points in the first leg of Sunday evening’s preliminary round at Pairc MacUilin, Ballycastle. The Johnnies will host the Town at Corrigan Park in two weeks’ time but even the most optimistic Ballycastle fan would concede that the game will be a mere formality.

Five goals by the Corrigan Park outfit, and no less than eight different scorers would suggest that they have a team who will not only win the second leg but one that compete with confidence in the round robin of the championship proper which follows. The West Belfast men by 3-8 to 1-8 in a dominant first half and after the break they took full control, adding three more goals in a dominant performance.

St John’s were on top from the throw-in and points from Michael Bradley and Colm McFall were followed by a goal from Shea Shannon after good approach work by Donal Carson. Ciaran Butler opened the Ballycastle account with a point but the men in black and amber were finding scores hard to come by from open play and relied mainly on the free taking skills of corner forward Diarmuid McShane. The second Johnnies goal came soon afterwards when a Johnnies sideline cut was sent in around the Ballycastle ‘square’ and as the Castle defence struggled to clear Jimmy Peoples fired a ground stroke high into the net to further strengthen his team’s position. When Conor Johnston added a Johnnies point soon afterwards Ballycastle were in a spot of bother but they got themselves back into contention with two pointed frees from Diarmuid McShane and one from play by Ciaran Butler.

Michael Bradley added a St John’s point on 24 minutes and Conor Johnston tagged on one from a free, but with half time fast approaching Diarmuid McShane pulled one back for the Town when he fired over a point from a free. Just before the short whistle Ciaran Butler earned his team a penalty when a great high catch on the edge of the Johnnies square saw him being hauled down and match referee Colum Cunning had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Diarmuid McShane stepped up to the mark and drilled the resultant penalty low to the corner of Simon Doherty’s net to lift the home team’s spirits but the sooner had the home team’s fans cheers died down until the ball was in the back of their own net and Donal Carson got in behind their defence to pick up a sideline cut and drill the ball to the net to give his team 3-8 to 1-8 half-time lead.10Michael Bradley clears the ball as Ballycastle’s Shane McCarry comes in to block. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

Points from Carson and Conor Johnston after the resumption were answered by one from a McShane free and that gap was now out at seven, and things got a lot worse for the home side on 40 minutes when Conor Johnston broke through to place full forward Michael Dudley for his team’s fourth goal to stretch the gap to ten. Two more McShane points from frees and one from play by TT Butler kept Ballycastle hopes alive but the Johnnies fifth goal killed off those hopes soon afterwards, Dudley again doing the damage with a fine strike high into the corner of the Ballycastle net.

From here on it was just how much a lead for the second half and the lead was out to fourteen before Ballycastle hopes received another setback as goalkeeper Ryan McGarry received his marching orders from match referee Colum Cunning.

Ballycastle have two weeks to prepare for their biggest game of the year but they know the task of overturning a fourteen point deficit is probably beyond them. St John’s will feel the second leg is a mere formality, but they will have no intention of taking their foot off the pedal and they will rubbing their hands at the prospect of a good championship run this season.

BALLYCASTLE: R McGarry; O Kearney, M Donnelly, J McLister; S McCarry, N McAuley, O McAuley; R McCarry, C Boyd; B McQuillan, KB McShane, E Elliott; D McShane (1-11, 0-9 frees, 1-0 penalty), C Butler (0-2), TT Butler (0-2). Subs: S Staunton for TT Butler (48), C Connor (0-1) for E Elliott (52), B Connor for C Butler (60).

ST JOHN’S: S Doherty; S Wilson, C Morgan, A McMahon; S McCrory, B McFall, R McNulty; Ciaran Johnston, J Peoples (1-0); Conor Johnston (0-7, 3 frees), M Bradley (0-3), C McFall (0-1); S Shannon (1-0), M Dudley (2-1), D Carson (1-2). Subs: D Moran (0-1) for C McFall (48), O Donnelly for S McCrory (57).

REFEREE: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)

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Pics by Dylan McIlwaine

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