The Bathshack Senior hurling championship round robin stage comes to its conclusion this weekend with two matches in the City. Cushendall travel to the Bear Pit to face 2017 Intermediate Champions Sarsfiels on Saturday evening before two worlds collide on the Whiterock Road with Rossa and St John’s vying for a semi-final berth.
Both ties are effectively quarter-finals with the winners facing Loughgiel and defending champions Dunloy in the last four. Both the Shamrocks and the Cuchullains came through their two round robin matches with 100% records and will have a keen eye on the weekend’s matches. Brendan McTaggart previews the two ties as the senior hurling championship reaches knockout…..
Cushendall travel to the Paddies with all to play for
Sarsfields vs Cushendall
Saturday September 14
Venue: Bear Pit
Throw in: 5:15pm
Referee: Darren McKeown (St Galls)
The final game of group one see’s Sarsfields welcome the Ruairi’s to the Bear Pit on Saturday afternoon with both sides searching for their first win of the campaign. Both endured defeat to defending champions, Dunloy in match day one and two but the manner of the defeats couldn’t have been more different. The Ruairi’s were edged out in the latter stages of their contest, just one point separating the sides while the Cuchullains showed the full force of their attacking prowess against Sarsfields in Pearse Park two weeks ago with 25 points separating the sides.
It was a chastening return to the senior championship for the Paddies who were outclassed on the day. They are faced with another gargantuan task against Cushendall but the Paddies will be hoping to take advantage of home comforts. The Bear Pit is no easy place for any team to travel to and while Cushendall will start this one as raging hot favourites, Sarsfields will be hoping for a much improved performance than their first outing. They will relish the challenge of facing a team the calibre of the Ruairi’s in the heat and battle of the championship on home turf. It’s a huge day for the club and another step for a club who are looking to make progress.
Cushendall have had their injury worries for the majority of the season and the news coming out of the Ruairi’s camp is that it isn’t getting any easier. It is expected Ciaran Kearney and Eamon Gillan will be without the services of ‘keeper Eoin Gillan with defenders Martin Burke and Arron Graffin also side lined. Saturday’s match is looking like coming too soon for Sean McAfee as well but the Ruairi Og’s will welcome back Eunan McKillop and the considerable talents of one Neil McManus to bolster their chances. Both men missed the first match against Dunloy with a suspension carried over from last year’s championship final but are in line to make the starting 15 in the Bear Pit.
Sarsfields came unstuck against Dunloy, concedeing 2-32 with 2-21 of that total coming from open play. They played Darragh McGuinness as a sweeper in Pearse Park, whether they opt for the same tactic against Cushendall remains to be seen. Kevin and Daniel McKernan shone for the Paddies on their return to the senior championship, combining to score nine points of the Stewartstown Road sides 1-10. They have the speed, agility and trickery to cause any team in the county problems, even a defence as good as the Ruairi’s.
It’s hard to build a case for anything other than a Cushendall win on Saturday. The Paddies battled for the 60 plus minutes against Dunloy and there is no doubt they will have learned from that experience. The one thing that outing did show us though is the size of the gap between Intermediate and Senior isn’t getting any smaller, if anything it’s increasing. Cushendall to reach the last four.
Old rivalries renewed in Corrigan Park
St John’s vs Rossa
Sunday September 15
Venue: Corrigan Park
Throw in: 3.30pm
Referee: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)
The hurling equivalent of the Old Firm. Who’s who in that analogy I’ll leave up to your own discretion. When St John’s and Rossa meet at any level more often than not it catches the eye and the interest of many neutrals throughout the county. Sunday will be no different.
It’s the first time the Big Two from the City will have faced each other in the championship since a late Paul Close goal saw Rossa over the line in Hannahstown in 2016. Coming off the back of their 2015 All-Ireland success at the intermediate level, the Jeremiah’s edged their rivals who had Jimmy Peoples and Ger Cunningham sent off during the hour. If anything though, the sides have swapped roles in the build-up to what effectively is a quarter-final. In 2016 Rossa were on the upward curve, momentum and progress while St John’s were enduring more difficult times. Fast forward two years and the Johnnies have cemented their place as the number one team in the City and have proven to be a match for any teams in Antrim while Rossa have had an ‘annus horriblus’ with injuries and the lure of foreign shores for their players.
Jim Close’s men were second best first day out against Loughgiel, shipping six goals in a 33 point defeat to the Shamrocks and the sight of losing the talents of Eoghan O’Neill to a torn calf muscle wouldn’t have helped the mood around the Shaws Road. A defeat to Portglenone in the football championship wont have helped the Jeremiah’s cause either but they will have been lifted by the return of Chris McGuinness and Mickey Armstrong in that same fixture. Cricky had been side lined with a finger injury while Armstrong came on a second half substitute in the defeat. Two huge additions with a gulf of experience to a depleted Rossa side will do them no harm at all.
The Johnnies came up short against Loughgiel themselves although just three points separated the sides at the end of the hour. Sunday will be the Corrigan Park sides fourth outing in this year’s championship after their two legged win against Ballycastle in the preliminary round and the round robin format of the 2018 championship has served the Johnnies well. They have a group of young talented players who didn’t have much championship experience under their belt. Now they have wins and momentum, despite coming up short in Healy Park a fortnight ago.
When these two take to the pitch anything can happen and more often than not it does. Discipline will be crucial, with a derby match and the knockout championship nature there won’t be any landslide victories. I fancy St John’s to progress but this will tie will certainly be worth a dander to Corrigan Park on Sunday.
Verdict: St John’s