Expect the unexpected…..

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Semi Final Preview

Saffron Gael contributor Colum Thompson shares his thoughts on Sunday’s final

The more things change the more they stay the same. It’s been seventeen years since an Antrim Senior Hurling Final has featured neither Cushendall Ruairi Og or Shamrocks Loughgiel. On that occasion way back in 2001 Dunloy edged out Ballycastle 3-15 to 1-17. Since then these two clubs have come to dominate the Antrim hurling landscape. Consider this, Cushendall have appeared in twelve finals winning five and Loughgiel have played in eleven finals winning five as well during that period.

At the start of the season most pundits weren’t tipping either team with the smart money going on Dunloy’s young guns fresh from their Volunteer Cup win over Cushendall in 2017. Perhaps the pundits should have known better…

 The teams can’t be separated in competition this season. In the league their first meeting was a draw, Loughgiel claimed victory in the return game. Arguably Cushendall’s Feis Cup Final win over Loughgiel by 3-15 to 1-12 was their best performance of the year so far.

No doubt the interviews from various camps that we’ll read over the next few days will give very little away. They’ll trot out the politically correct lines “Two good teams…” “Never more than a poc of a ball between us…” blah blah blah. There isn’t much about Ger Loughnane I like but one thing that sticks in my mind was a quick interview during the 1995 All Ireland Final half time break. Offaly, the reigning All Ireland Champions with the likes of the great Brian Whelehan, Kevin Kinahan, Johnny Pilkington and the three Dooley brother on the team were leading Clare by 2 points at half time. Loughnane had given his half time team talk and as Clare went back onto the field Marty Morrisey grabbed Ger for a quick word. “Ye are two points down against the All Ireland Champions, do you think you can do it Ger?” The boul Loughnane with the intensity etched all over his face, eyes bulging stared through Morrisey and in his booming Clare brogue bellowed “WE ARE GOING TO DO IT.” I loved it!! Attitude, confidence and will to win. None of this “Hopefully the boys will hang in there and we’ll see!” rubbish.

  Anyway where does this all leave us? Are we guaranteed the sort of game that all the logic points too? Actually no. Of course these are two good teams and there has been any number of tight matches between them down through the years but it’s every bit as likely that one team could completely blow the other out of the water. You don’t think so? Well let me show you why it might well happen. 2013 County Final Loughgiel 3-14 Cushendall 2-6. 2008 County Final Ruairi Og 0-15 Loughgiel 0-6. 2006 County Final Ruairi Og 2-14 Loughgiel 2-7 and that included a 15 point second half swing with The Shamrocks 8 up at half time only for Ruairi Og to reel them in and go on to win by 7. Both teams have too much fire power and quality up front to rule out one of them racking up a big score. A good start is critical, County Finals go past in the blink of an eye and if you don’t get going as quickly as possible the game can pass you by.

   I’ll make no predictions other than to expect the unexpected, not that it tells you much but in Cushendall v Loughgiel games the form book goes out of the window. What will happen is anyone’s guess and I suppose that is what marks Hurling apart from almost every other sport. You can forget Champions League, Heineken Cup, NFL and everything else. All roads lead to Ballycastle on an autumnal Sunday afternoon. You wouldn’t want it any other way…

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