Johnnies and Ruairis do it all again

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Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship – Semi-Final Replay

at Paírc MacUílín, Ballycastle

St Johns vs Cushendall

Sunday 14th October 2018

Throw In: 3pm

Referee: Mark O’Neill (Armoy)

285Ciaran Johnston earned Naomh Eoin a replay the last day out with a late point during his man of the match performance. People1stA

It doesn’t quite feel like it’s been two weeks since these two championship contenders left their supporters as nervous wrecks in Dunloy. 60 minutes and then some of pure and unadulterated championship hurling. Passion in its rawest, but best form.

Cushendall and St Johns couldn’t find a winner by the full time whistle on the day and on Sunday they go again. Both these sides have dusted themselves down, nursed knocks and niggles and are now finalising their preparations ahead of Sunday’s semi-final but they still managed to take the time to have a yarn with us and give their thoughts on what has been and what lays ahead.

St Johns Manager – Tony McNulty….

Despite leading by five points with as many minutes of normal time remaining, the Johnnies were reliant on Ciaran Johnston showing he had nerves of steel in the middle of Pearse Park. After a slight delay, Johnston split the posts from close to 70 yards with the last poc of the game. A dramatic ending but the Johnnies manager feels that his side were far from at their best: “Look we did a lot of things good on the day but off course there’s things we weren’t happy about. The obvious one is the free taking. It was a difficult day with the conditions but we need to be better than that if we want to progress. Some of that was because of the conditions but nerves were a factor as well.

“I don’t think either team were at their best if I’m honest. We gave the ball away a lot and our use of the ball can be a lot better than we showed but we’re still there and still fighting.”

The Corrigan Park side were on Big Ball duties last weekend. A semi-final defeat to Creggan dented their chances of repeating their 2017 campaign and reaching the senior football decider and while there is obvious disappointment, McNulty told us they are turning it to their advantage: “They are still upbeat. They’re a great bunch of lads and yes they were deflated at the full time whistle in Dunloy but they’re itching to put things right again.

“We had seven lads with the footballers last weekend. They’ve came through unscathed but they’re obviously disappointed with the defeat. They haven’t done much training this week – after a championship match like they had it takes two or three days to recover from that but it’s another incentive for them to get over the line on Sunday.”

11Donal Carson. ‘Donal of the dancing feet’ will be a bad loss for St John’s on Sunday, and a bad loss to hurling in general as the little corner forward has lit up the championship this year with a series of great goals.

With Simon McCrory expected to take his place in the starting 15 on Sunday, the Johnnies will be forced into changes, not through McCrory’s introduction but rather the loss of one of their star performers the last day out. Donal Carson finished the match with 1-1 and was a constant threat to the Cushendall defence. McNulty told us: “Donal Carson is away to Australia but it’s something we knew was coming. He’s going to be a huge loss, there’s no doubting that. Donal had a great knack all year of scoring goals for us, I think he scored one in every game.”

McNulty told us they had hopes of the replay being held in Belfast but he is more than happy to head to Paírc MacUílín for a second championship encounter of the year: “The match was initially penned for Dunloy again and to be honest we were more than happy with that. They asked us if we minded if they changed the venue to get the minor final played before it and to be honest it didn’t matter to us. When you’re the length of Dunloy, for us Ballycastle is just a bit further up the road. We’ve had success on that pitch this year so hopefully it’s a good omen.”

With Loughgiel laying in wait, the bookies have the Ruairi’s as favourites to meet the Shamrocks in the decider. There’s an air of feeling around the county the Johnnies might have missed the boat after the first match. That feeling doesn’t sit too well with McNulty: “The bookies have us down as third favourites. Loughgiel are evens and we’re something like six or 7/1. We don’t feel like that. We don’t have an underdog mentality. We showed the last day that we are a match for Cushendall and the likes. We feel like if we make a few less mistakes and reach the same intensity as we did the last day we won’t be far away.”

All Dalled Up bannerADYLN5001Eoghan Campbell will miss the replay through injury, bad blow for the Ruairis and for hurling fans in general.

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Cushendall Coach – Ciaran Kearney…..

Cushendall almost grasped victory from the jaws of defeat the last time out. It took a late Alex Delargy goal to bring the Ruairi’s back from the brink while late Natty McNaughton and Neil McManus points edged them in front before being pegged back. Drama to the end and Cushendall coach Ciaran Kearney was thankful for the Ruairi’s strength in depth: “We finished strongly in the last 10 minutes and at that point it could have went either way. I think both teams walked away thinking they could have won the game.”

Despite not firing on all cylinders in the first half last time out, Kearney told us they were relatively satisfied with their work in the opening 30 minutes but they have a serious selection headache on their hands: “We were happy enough at half time but our start to the second half wasn’t good enough. We made changes and they made the difference. We knew we had a strong bench. To be able to call upon the likes of Alex Delargy, Natty (McNaughton), Marty Burke and Sean (McAfee) was huge for us.

“It’s definitely given us a headache. Those guys are game changers and proved that when they came on the last day. They’ve pushed their cases forward for a starting position but it was the same for the first match. It wasn’t an easy call to make, the competition for places is huge.

“The feeling among the camp is great though. The lads have belief in whoever starts and while some will be disappointed they don’t start, they’ll be eager to impress if they come on and push for a starting place the next day.”

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Alex Delargy made a welcome return to championship hurling when he was introduced during the drawn game.

Delargy’s major was a real turning point in the game. A remarkable turnaround for the Ruairi Og man who suffered a horrific hand injury earlier in the year. Kearney praised his super-sub from the first match when adding: “We were shocked when we saw how well Alex had progressed. It was a horror injury but he’s shown a greater maturity to comeback and force his way back into the reckoning. He brings a great vibe to the squad and he’s a great lad. He went the right way about ensuring his season wasn’t over.”

Cushendall will be without the services of the hugely influential Eoghan Campbell for the replay. Campbell sustained a fractured wrist late in the game but it’s not all doom and gloom on the injury front for the Ruairi’s: “He’s (Campbell) a massive loss. He’s always capable of hitting a couple of points a game but he uses the ball so well from defence and has a vast amount of experience. It’s a definite blow for us but other than that, we have a full panel to pick from again.”

Kearney is hoping for a less stressful hours hurling on Sunday but backs his squad no matter what: “Off course we would love to be in a position where we’re four or five points close to the end but as this team have shown in recent times, they never know when they’re beaten. They keep going to the final whistle.

“We’re hoping to play like the last 10 or so minutes for the full 60 on Sunday.”

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CRLL0909Neil McManus will again be the go-to man in the Ruairis attack, but Cushendall may need a few of the other forwards on song as well to get them over the line

Verdict…..

There’s a trail of thought among the neutrals in the county that the Johnnies missed the boat first time out and Cushendall will play better the next day out. I tend to look at it that the Ruairi’s could only play as well as they were allowed. St Johns got their tactics perfect on the day but couldn’t capitalise and see the job out. We can look at different scenarios from the first match but that has been and gone and will have little or no bearing on finding a winner on Sunday.

Having Simon McCrory in the starting 15 will be a massive lift for the Johnnies while Campbell’s and Donal Carson’s losses are hugely significant. McNulty and co will rejig their line up to bring McCrory into the starting 15 in Carson’s absence but I wouldn’t be surprised if Campbell’s omission is the only change in the Ruairi’s starting 15. They may want to go with the tried and tested, championship and seasoned campaigners who performed so well when introduced in the first match ahead of the younger players. It’s a big call for the Ruairi’s management to make. There’s only one way for youth to get big game experience.

If I’m pushed, I think Cushendall will edge it. I still don’t necessarily think St Johns missed the boat the last day out, I just think the Ruairi’s never say die spirit is unfathomable as they proved last day out. Cushendall to progress with no more than a poc of the ball between the sides, but don’t be surprised if our stay in Ballyastle is prolonged for 20 minutes.

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