Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship – Semi-Final
Loughgiel 0-14 Dunloy 0-8
Sunday September 30
Brendan McTaggart reports from Paírc MacUílin, Ballycastle
Pics by Dylan McIlwaine
It wasn’t the easiest hour of hurling to watch. Dunloy and Loughgiel went to war on Sunday afternoon in the wind and rain at Páirc MacUílin with the Shamrocks dethroning the reigning county champions with six points to spare. Many had travelled to the north coast in hopes of a classic encounter between these two old rivals, what we were treated to was a low scoring affair littered with intensity, commitment and desire with the men from Loughgiel tactically out performing the Cuchullains on the day.
The Shamrocks defence held Dunloy scoreless for the last 17 minutes of normal time while restricting the 2017 champions to just two points in the second 30 minutes. Johnny Campbell’s side put in a hugely committed performance where from one to 15, the Shamrocks showed a savage intensity and desire for their shirt. Packing their defence and starving the hugely vaunted Dunloy attacking unit of space and time, Loughgiel had their homework done and then some. Ronan and Tony McCloskey superb while Damon McMullan at centre half was imperious. While the Shamrocks defence stood resolute at the other end, the work rate of their forwards was unquestionable. Again, desire and commitment in spades. Like men possessed with the sole focus of overcoming their neighbours. Man of the match James McNaughton top scored for the men from Fr Healy Park with 0-8 to his name for his hours work. Although all eight points came from frees, it was the range of McNaughton’s frees under hugely difficult conditions that gave him the nod for MOTM. Eight from nine on an afternoon where there was a strong swirling yet biting wind, a low autumnal sun and a biblical downpour in injury time, McNaughton was majestic for the Shamrocks when they needed it most.
Loughgiel’s Odhran McFadden in action against Dunloy’s Keelan Molloy.
For the Cuchullains, they didn’t get their game going. Much of that is down to the Loughgiel tactics on the day where they just didn’t let the Dunloy men settle into their game. Paul Shiels top scored for the Cuchullains with five points, two frees, for the hour while just one more forward managed to get their name on the scoresheet, Keelan Molloy’s 43rd minute effort all the Cuchullains attacking unit could squeeze out of a savage Loughgiel defence.
Dunloy would finish the match with 14 men, Nicky McKeague seeing red for dangerous use of the hurl in the sixth minute of injury time but it had no bearing on the final result. Loughgiel dethroned their rivals and neighbours much to the delight of the large Loughgiel support packed into the Ballycastle grounds.
The semi-final had a bizarre start with the throw in delayed for 20 minutes for what can only be described at ‘Dugout-gate’. A ‘Mexican standoff’ with officials looking to find common ground and some unsavoury scenes all added to the tension in a packed Paírc MacUílin. This was a championship match that had been six years in the making and the huge crowd in attendance were growing impatient in anticipation of a championship battle between these great rivals.
The Cuchullains sprung a surprise with Aaron Crawford handed his championship debut in defence making it six starters in the Dunloy team from their U21 success earlier in the year. Any doubts over James McNaughton and Neil McGarry’s fitness were soon to be allayed. Both men ultimately played huge rolls in insuring the Shamrocks victory.
Much like the semi-final 24 hours earlier, it wasn’t a game for the purists of the great game. Chances, space and time were in short supply with both teams tackling hard and throwing their bodies on the line in only a manner that a championship match can bring.
Although the Shamrocks did start the match brighter, once Shiels had cancelled out an early McNaughton free it was warfare. Loughgiel went into a three point lead by the 19th minute of the match, Joey Scullion, Mark McFadden and McNaughton (free) all splitting the posts for the Loughgiel men.
Nigel Elliott stopped the rot for the Cuchullains moments later with a typical score by the Dunloy man. Showing his pace and power to free himself from the Loughgiel clutches before splitting the posts. Incredibly, Elliott’s effort at the Loughgiel goal was just their third effort in the opening 20 minutes. Loughgiel got their match ups right all over the pitch and in the opening quarter they had the Cuchullains number.
Dunloy did hit back and by the 25th minute they were back on terms. A brace of frees from Shiels and one from play by the Dunloy man brought the Cuchullains back but Loughgiel edged the closing stages. McNaughton’s third free of the match and a Donal McKinley point came either side of Shiels’ fifth white flag to leave the Shamrocks ahead by the minimum at the short whistle.
With the wind showing no signs of easing blowing straight across the pitch, it took until the fourth minute after the interval before we had our first score of the second half. Kevin Molloy leaving his half back berth to dissect the uprights and restore parity to the sides once again. A brace of McNaughton frees in the 38th and 40th minutes stretched the Loughgiel lead to two once more and while Keelan Molloy evaded the clutches of the Loughgiel defence to halve the deficit in the 43rd minute, it would be the Cuchullains last score of the contest. A further McNaughton free opened the two point lead once again before a couple of uncharacteristic missed frees from Shiels albeit from distance and one hugely contentious, hurt the Dunloy challenge.
Substitute Shay Casey fired over in the 54th minute before Joey Scullion had the freedom of Paírc MacUílin to repeat the feat for the Shamrocks with two minutes of normal time remaining.
Four points separated the sides with the semi-final, to use a boxing analogy, entering the championship rounds. Challenges were flying and the game had become fractious in the last quarter with a minimum of five minutes allowed at the end of the hour. It wasn’t going to be enough for the Cuchullains though as the Shamrocks had their number on the day. The Dunloy men continued to press in an attempt to penetrate the Loughgiel rear-guard but they were in no mood to let this on slip. McNaughton’s seventh and eighth frees of the match came either side of the red mist descending on Nicky McKeague and as the heavens opened, referee Darren McKeown called for time.
It wasn’t a game of pure hurling many of the neutrals in attendance would have hoped for and it was a game that won’t live long in the memories of most but the Shamrocks won’t care. Style of play is important but when it comes to the championship it’s all about getting the right result at the end of the 60 plus minutes. Loughgiel are 60 minutes away from adding to their tally of 20 Antrim championships and look forward to a meeting with either Cushendall or St Johns in the final.
Dylan McIlwaine presents the Martin Hurls Man of the Match award to James McNaughton
Loughgiel: DD Quinn; Paul Gillan, Neil McGarry, Ronan McCloskey; Tony McCloskey, Damon McMullan, Odhran McFadden; Mark McFadden, Tiernan Coyle; Joey Scullion, James McNaughton, Donal McKinley; Daniel McCloskey, Eddie McCloskey, Shan McGrath.
Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, James McKeague, Aaron Crawford; Ronan Molloy, Conor McKinley, Kevin Molloy; Ciaran Elliott, Nigel Elliott; Nicky McKeague, Keelan Molloy, Paul Shiels; Eoin O’Neill, Chrissy Brogan, Conal Cunning.
Scorers for Loughgiel: James McNaughton 0-8 (4 f’s); Joey Scullion 0-2; Mark McFadden 0-1; Donal McKinley 0-1; Eddie McCloskey 0-1; Shay Casey 0-1
Scorers for Dunloy: Paul Shiels 0-5 (2 f’s); Kevin Molloy 0-1; Nigel Elliott 0-1; Keelan Molloy 0-1
Referee: Darren McKeown (St Galls)