Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship
Cushendall 1-16 St Johns 1-16
Saturday September 29
Brendan McTaggart reports from Pearse Park, Dunloy
There’s nothing quite like championship hurling. It may not have been one for the purists but Cushendall and St Johns produced an epic yet titanic tussle. In a match that was littered with mistakes, uncharacteristic errors, wides, goals, a late comeback and a late royal rumble just for good measure. By the time referee Colum Cunning called time, there was nothing between the sides. A draw in a game that was tied on 10 occasions as both teams live to fight another day.
Who got out of jail? Both sides will feel like they let this one get away. St Johns were four points up with two minutes of normal time remaining yet the Ruairi’s staged a comeback to rival that of three years ago on the same pitch. A late major from substitute Alex Delargy brought them back into the game while fellow substitute Natty McNaughton and Neil McManus both pointed in injury time to edge Cushendall ahead. The Johnnies dug deep though and through man of the match Ciaran Johnston they replied on each occasion from frees to snatch a draw.
Both the Johnnies and Cushendall reached double figures with their wide count, they know they’ll need to improve on that the next day out. On a blustery afternoon at Pearse Park, the Johnnies went through three different free takers while McManus was guilty of missing a couple as well. Uncharacteristic for the normally imperious Ruairi Og man from placed ball. After a nip and tuck first half, St Johns seemed to find another gear in the second half with Donal Carson’s major giving them the edge for long periods of the second half.
With the game in the melting pot after St Johns were rewarded a free some 70 yards from goal after McManus had edged his side ahead once again. After a lengthy delay, Ciaran Johnston stood alone in the middle of the pitch and nailed the sliotar over the bar. A hectic end to an astonishing and absorbing encounter. When the replay will be at this stage is anyone’s guess. St Johns are involved in the senior football championship next weekend and won’t want to play Cushendall the day before. Floodlights for hurling matches is never ideal but it may be the only option but both sides are relieved to still be in with a shout of claiming the Volunteer Cup for 2018.
Ciaran Johnston goes high to win possession during a hectic period of play. Pic by John McIlwaine
It was a fast flowing start to the semi-final with both sides looking sharp from the first whistle. The sides were tied on three occasions in the opening five minutes with Cormac McClafferty (two) and Eoghan Campbell finding the target for the Ruairi’s while Shea Shannon, Barry McFall and Conor Johnston (free) replied for the Johnnies.
Campbell’s second point of the match edged Cushendall ahead once again in the 6th minute only for Conor Johnston’s second free of the match to peg the Ruairi’s back once again with the very next attack. Cushendall were keeping Fergus McCambridge and McClafferty on the inside forward line and giving McManus the licence to roam. Barry McFall picked up McManus leaving Conal Morgan and Aidan McMahon to marshal McCambridge and McClafferty. St Johns were playing more flowing hurling than Cushendall as the Ruairi’s struggled to impose their game plan. They were reliant on some last gasp defending on a number of occasions to thwart St Johns while Conor Johnston will wonder how he didn’t find the back of Eoin Gillan’s net in the 12th minute.
Conor Johnston’s third free of the match gave the Johnnies the lead once again in the 17th minute, the first score of the game after eight minutes without. Cushendall responded through Paddy McGill and McManus (free) before Conor Johnston pointed his first from play with 10 minutes remaining of the first half.
McManus and Conor Johnston swapped frees in the 22nd minute before the Cushendall man (free) and Shea Shannon’s second of the match left the side’s tied on 0-8 apiece with two minutes of the first half remaining. McManus landed his fourth free of the opening 30 minutes in first half injury time to leave the Ruairi’s one point ahead at the short whistle.
The half time score line wasn’t a true reflection of the first half. St Johns were struggling from placed ball with Conor Johnston missing twice while electing to go short on a couple of occasions. The Corrigan Park men had looked the more cohesive team in the opening 30 minutes while Cushendall only hurled in patches, relying on pieces of individual brilliance from McManus and Campbell while Arron Graffin was showing little signs of the knee injury that had kept him on the side lines since the Feis Cup win over Loughgiel. Graffin and Stephen Walsh were imperious if not overworked in the first half. There’s no doubting Cushendall would have been the happier team to get into the changing rooms at Pearse Park with the score board reading in their favour.
Donal Carson celebrates after scoring a brilliant goal early in the second half
St Johns introduced Simon McCrory at the half time break for Colm McFall and after two minutes they had struck the first telling blow of the semi-final. Donal Carson it was who smashed the sliotar beyond Gillan in the Cushendall goals but the build up play was breath taking. It was Michael Dudley who provided the final pass for Carson but the movement and speed to create the chance was outstanding.
Cushendall’s response came through another McManus free in the 37th minute but that, incredibly, was to be the Ruairi’s last score for 16 minutes. St Johns didn’t fare much better in the same space of time however with points from Conor Johnston and Donal Carson all they had to show for their efforts in the same space of time. Missed frees, wides and errors blighted both sides as they wrestled for supremacy. Cushendall looked to their bench with Alex Delargy and Natty McNaughton introduced in an attempt to spark life into their attacking unit.
The Ruairi’s almost scored the second major of the contest in the 50th minute, McManus collecting a high side line from Conor Carson before seeing his attempt heroically blocked by St Johns full back Conal Morgan. The Cushendall man did score the resulting ’65 to take his tally to 0-6 for the match but St Johns responded with a trio of unanswered points from Peter McCallin and two Ciaran Johnston frees to give the Johnnies a five point lead with as many minutes remaining.
Cushendall dug deep to stage another comeback. Points from McManus (free) and Natty McNaughton came either side of a major goal chance where McNaughton and Paddy Burke were denied by some last gasp St Johns defending and superb goal keeping by Simon Doherty.
Donal Carson took his tally to 1-2 for the match with two minutes of normal time remaining and it looked like the Johnnies were on the verge of taking the scalp they have threatened in recent times. Cushendall had other ideas. Paddy McGill’s second point of the match took the Ruairi’s to within three points before the north Antrim men scored their goal in the last minute of normal time. Delargy getting a hold of a long delivery from McManus before crashing the sliotar to the back of the net.
Cushendall’s Eoghan Campblee breaks clear of St John’s Ciaran Johnston and Micheal Dudley
The Johnnies would have been forgiven for casting their minds back to 2015 and when Natty McNaughton landed his second point of the match, it looked like the comeback was complete. St John’s showed how much they’ve progressed though in the last three years. Ciaran Johnston scored his third free of the match in the fourth minute of injury time only for McManus to split the posts with the next attack. With tensions heightened and the game in the melting pot, players got involved in handbags that escalated. Unsavoury scenes spreading into the crowd all while the Johnnies were awarded a chance to equalise from another placed ball. Once calm was restored, Johnty stood over the sliotar and proved to be the calmest man on Pearse Park to split the posts with the last poc of the game. An epic end to a tantalising contest that made up for it’s lack of quality with an abundance of passion, tension and drama. Let’s do it all over again for another 60 minutes.
Cushendall: Eoin Gillan; Arron Graffin, Paddy Burke, Stephen Walsh; Sean Delargy, David Kearney, Francis McCurry; Eoghan Campbell, Niall McCormick; Conor Carson, Paddy McGill, Ryan McCambridge, Fergus McCambridge, Neil McManus, Cormac McClafferty
Subs: Alex Delargy for F McCurry (36); Donal McNaughton for N McCormick (42); Martin Burke for S Walsh (46)
Scorers: Neil McManus 0-8 (5 f’s, 1 ’65); Alex Delargy 1-00; Eoghan Campbell 0-2; Paddy McGill 0-2; Cormac McClafferty 0-2; Donal McNaughton 0-2
St Johns: Simon Doherty; Stephen Tierney, Conal Morgan, Aidan McMahon; Ryan McNulty, Barry McFall, Colm McFall; Shea Shannon, Jimmy Peoples; Peter McCallin, Ciaran Johnston, Micheál Bradley; Donal Carson, Michail Dudley, Conor Johnston.
Subs: Simon McCrory for C McFall (HT); Sean Wilson for A McMahon (56); Oisin Donnelly for M Dudley (58)
Scorers: Conor Johnston 0-5 (4 f’s); Ciaran Johnston 0-5 (4 f’s); Donal Carson 1-2; Shea Shannon 0-2; Peter McCallin 0-1; Barry McFall 0-1
Referee: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)Dylan McIlwaine presents the Man of the Match award, a Martin Hurl sponsored by Emmet Martin, to St John’s Ciaran Johnston.
Pics by John McIlwaine