Junior Hurling Championship final preview
Last year’s beaten finalists Glenarm are aiming to go one better this time, while Cushendun, who lost out in the final minute of the 2016 final to Lamh Dherag, are glad to get back to a decider and have the chance to erase the memory of that day when the rug was snatched from under them in the final seconds. On September 17th 2016 the Emmet’s were three points to the good going down the home stretch when a free from distance by Michael Herron went all the way to the net and a minute later Donal Nugent fired one over to give the Hannahstown men victory.
Glenarm were 10 points down with as many minutes left to play in last year’s decider before staging a late rally, but despite grabbing three late goals, two from Barry Hamill and one from Dylan McLaughlin, they came up two points short against a Gort na Móna side who had dominated for most of the game.
Both teams impressed in their semi-final wins this season, Glenarm proving too strong for St Teresa’s for the second year in a row at Quinn Park, Ballymena while the Emmet’s caused a bit of an upset when they saw of the challenge of St Paul’s with a bit to spare. Dylan McLaughlin and Barry Hamill were goal scorers once again in that game while Daniel Black chipped in with one as well as the Feystown men won by 3-15 to 2-10, Black ending up top scorer with an impressive 1-10, 1-3 coming from play.
Cushendun’s display against St Paul’s was one of their best for a number of years, winning by 1-20 to 1-10 against a St Paul’s side who probably started the game as favourites. There were a few top class individual displays that day but the most pleasing thing for the Cushendun followers was the performance of their younger players like Conor McHugh, Harry Kilgore, Jack McKay and Thomas Scally. There was an edge to their play that day that was exciting, with one of the team’s veterans Sean Hamilton performing well at corner back, Donal O’Hara, who missed a good part of the season through injury, rock solid at centre back and Matthew McCartin pairing well with McHugh in midfield. Another of the team’s experienced players Conlaoth McNeill contributed three points, while substitute Pearse Bannon making a real impact when coming on early in the second half, despite the fact preparation in the lead up to the game had been far from ideal. Under the stewardship of Cushendall man Chris Dornan they have had their ups and down, and near misses. Dorny has had former Ruairi Og stars Skinner McAlister by his side for a season and Aidan Delargy for another, as well as former county championship winning manager John Smokey McKillop, but he’s going it alone this year. He has total faith in his team’s ability and the broad smile he displayed after the semi-final win over St Paul’s was an indication that he felt the hard work was finally paying dividends.
When you look at the league positions of the two teams Cushendun have the upper hand. They made the cut and are in section A of Division 3. They are bottom of the A table, but no worries about relegation from a long way out and that has helped in their preparations. Glenarm on the other had are third from bottom in Section B and their survival in Division 3 will depend on their final game of the campaign against Carryduff on October 21. When the two met in the league in July Cushendun won convincingly on a scoreline of 2-22 to 1-13.
All these facts would point towards a win for Cushendun, but as we all know championship hurling and league are two totally different things. The league campaign has been difficult for Shane O’Neill’s this year. After winning promotion out of Division 4 the previous season they found the going a bit tougher in Division 3, where the opposition is understandably higher. They also last a key man in defender Hugh Pat McNeill, who has not been available this season but they have battle against the odds and their semi-final win over St Teresa’s will have given them great heart. For years they have depended on former county player Darren Hamill to provide the scores up front, but Darren, one of the club’s greatest servants, has been poacher, turned gamekeeper this year and has excelled at centre-back, leading the defensive line alongside Jake Hamilton and Rory Mulvenna, in front of a full back line which includes Martin Ward, Sean Moran and Ciaran Flanagan. Patrick McAuley and Liam Mitchell did well at midfield in the semi-final and will probably start there again on Sunday while up front much will depend on the accuracy of Daniel Black from frees, and from play. Dylan McLaughlin at wing forward is another key man and one around a lot of the attacking play revolves. McLaughlin hit 1-2 from play in the semi-final and will cause the Emmet’s defence lots of problems on Sunday, as indeed will Barry Hamill and Mark Petticrew in the corners.
Under managers Ronan Matthews and Kevin Cottrel Glenarm have prepared well for Sunday’s decider and they will feel they are in with a great chance of taking the title back to Feystown. Cushendun’s league position and victory over Sunday’s opponents will land them with the favourite’s tag, but that will mean nothing on the day. With the likelihood of a big crowd being there early for the much anticipated Dunloy v Loughgiel clash there should be a real buzz around the Pairc MacUílin on Sunday.
The Emmet’s have lost Junior finals in 2009 to Rasharkin, 2010 to Cloughmills, 2012 to St Enda’s (after a replay), 2013 to Creggan and 2016 to Lamh Dhearg. They will start on Sunday as favourites but their faithful followers who have endured all those defeats will not exactly be brimming with confidence. However I have a feeling they will be celebrating this time around.