Ruairi Og fan Colum Thompson is delighted that today, September 29th, we finally have a knock-out game in the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship
Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Semi Final Preview by Colum Thompson
Ruairi Og V St. Johns
Since winning their first county title in 1981 Ruairi Og have impressively claimed The Volunteer Cup on no less than 13 occasions. During the same period St. Johns are out for a duck. Cushendall have been in 9 of the previous 10 county finals, St. Johns none. Indeed the last time the West Belfast outfit reached the county showpiece was in 1994 where they were put to the sword by Dunloy. So there we have it, one of Antrim hurling’s juggernauts against an also ran. The bookies have this one down as a banker for Cushendall and who would argue?
We’ll… I would and I suspect anyone who knows anything about Antrim hurling would argue as well. There is something brewing on The Whiterock Road. The Johnnies are a team on the up. Their league form has been strong this year finishing in fourth place. The standout moment of their league campaign was a hard fought 2-22 to 2-20 win against The Dall. There were also moral boosting performances against Dunloy and Loughgiel. In the preliminary round of the championship they put the rest of the county on notice with a thumping aggregate win over Ballycastle. Their team is backboned with players who have won championships at minor and under 21 level and they have a healthy sprinkling of quality county players throughout. Barry McFall leads the defence from centre back, Ciaran Johnson provides impetus from mid-field and up front Conor Johnson and Michael Dudley are well capable of getting scores.
Cushendall have an experienced team who can rightly claim to have been there and bought the t-shirt. Their team has proven championship hurlers from 1 to 15 and they certainly won’t be overawed by the occasion. Paddy Burke has marshalled the defence from full back and in front of him Eoghan Campbell is having an impressive season at centre back. Further forward Paddy McGill, Conor Carson and Niall McCormick provide the cutting edge. But perhaps the key battle that could well have a big bearing on the outcome should be the duel between Ciaran Johnson and the swashbuckling Neil McManus in and around the mid-field area. McManus gave a marquee performance in Cushendall’s big win over Sarsfields in the previous round and when he is on form there are very few who can live with him. If Johnson can curb his influence then The Johnnies can really make hay. I expect a tight battle with no quarter asked or given and the result in doubt right down to the wire. Thankfully the shadow boxing is finally over and the touch paper has bit lit. It is the stage of the season we have all been looking forward too. Nothing beats knockout championship hurling.