Bathshack Senior Hurling final
Cushendall v Loughgiel preview
By John McIlwaine
Much has been written about the fierce rivalry between Loughgiel and Dunloy, neighbouring parishes who epitomise the parish rivalry which has been the backbone of the GAA down the years. There has been little love lost between St John’s and Rossa over the decades and when Ballycastle were dominating in the late seventies and early eighties Loughgiel and them had many a heated battle. The nineties saw a new rivalry develop as Cushendall and Dunloy dominated the decade and it is now as intense as anything you see in any part of the country.
Loughgiel’s Joey Quinn and Cushendall’s Brian Delargy battle it out in the 2005 final at Casement Park. Pic by John McIlwaine
However in the new millennium no rivalry has been any more intense than that between Sunday’s finalists, Cushendall Ruairi Og and Loughgiel Shamrocks. During that time the sides have met in countless semi-finals and finals and both have had their spells of dominance. They did of course meet 33 years ago in Glenravel when Cushendall, with six McNaughton brothers on the team, won their second title, but it is this recent run of meetings that has dominated hurling in the county. During Loughgiel’s run of six final defeats on the trot from 2003 to 2008 Cushendall beat them in the finals of 05, 06 and 08, and they were also victors in the semi-final of 09 which ended the Shamrocks run of final appearances.
There must have been many in Loughgiel who felt the run would never end but they kept on battling and when they made it back to the final in 2010 it was the Ruairi Og colours they lowered in a memorable day in Casement Park, the Shamrocks edging a low scoring decider by 1-9 to 0-11. They did it again the following year at Casement also, and in 2013, when they completed their four-in-a-row, it was Cushendall they beat again in the final, this time at Pairc MacUilin Ballycastle.
Christy McNaughton scored the goal that helped end Loughgiel’s Five-In-A-Row bid in 2014
It was now the Cushendall fans turn to feel this run might never end, but of course a new year brings new hope and in 2014 they turned the tables to beat the Shamrocks in the semi-final in Ballycastle and end Loughgiel’s hopes of five in a row.
In 2015 they did it again in the semi-final in Dunloy. Loughgiel looked well placed when they went in at half time a point up after facing a strong breeze, but just as they had done in every other round of the competition the Ruairis came storming back in the second half to claim victory.
In 2016 they met in the final again in Ballycastle when Loughgiel ended Cushendall’s 3-in-a-row hopes with a 1-15 to 1-12 win. They were back there once more last year in the semi-final when the tables were turned yet again as the Ruairis dethroned the champions in another hectic battle.
Back they go again on Sunday, the New Firm of Antrim hurling, loving and hating each other in equal measure. Who will win is anyone’s guess but you can be sure it will be hard, it will be tough and it will be tense from start to finish. We wouldn’t want it any other way!
The Cushendall fans will assemble on the Town side of the field, the Shamrocks on the Ballintoy side. Hopefully there are no rows over dug-outs. If you ask both teams I’d say they would want to be on the same side as their fans so let’s hope common sense prevails.
Dunloy’s return to the top table last year saw a new young team emerging. Most people would have fancied the young Cuchullains to be back in the final again this year, but I have no doubt they will figure strongly in the years to come. In the mean time we will watch these two great rivals go toe to toe, and may the best team win.
Liam Watson was a central figure when Loughgiel ended Cushendall’s Three-In-A-Row bid in 2016. Pic by John McIlwaine