‘Experts’ opt for Cushendall

Brendan McTaggart ask a few ‘experts’ for their opinion on Sunday’s final and low and behold most came down on the side of Cushendall. Ryan McNulty of St John’s goes for the Shamrocks and Dominic McKinley opted for the draw. If Johnny Campbell and Clinton Hennessy are wanting a newspaper cutting to pin on the dressing room wall on Sunday then this is the one, but just to temper those sentiments a bit Toals Bookmakers, who are coming on board as a sponsor for the Saffron Gael, have Loughgiel favourites at 10/11 while Cushendall are 11/10 and they say the bookies seldom get it wrong

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There will be little between the teams.  It could come down to whoever stops the major threats from the other side.  Loughgiel’s James McNaughton has been class this year while Neil McManus remains the man to stop and that’s easier said than done but I think Cushendall will edge it.  They will have benefitted hugely from the two games against us and carry that momentum forward.  It’ll be four weeks since Loughgiel last played and you can play friendlies but nothing compares to that championship intensity.  Cushendall have that rhythm of playing games every other week and that’s hard to replicate.  Both defences look like they’ve got goals in them and I think the Cushendall forwards are more capable of creating that piece of magic when it matters most.

Verdict: Cushendall

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There won’t be much in it.  Cushendall were impressive in patches against St Johns in the replay.  They made a blistering start and finished strong, if they can produce that type of performance for the 60 minutes they won’t be far away.

If it comes to a shoot out though Loughgiel will have the edge.  James McNaughton’s performance in the semi-final against us was the difference between the sides but my worry for Loughgiel is their full forward line.  They will need to produce more than they showed against us if they’re going to trouble the Cushendall back line.  I think they scored six points from open play against us and I don’t see that type of performance winning today.

Loughgiel took our semi-final into the trenches and it was against the grain for them.  I think they’ll have to flip it again.  They won’t want that type of match against Cushendall as they’re the masters at it.  If Loughgiel can stop Cushendall scoring goals they could win but I’m edging towards a Cushendall win.

Verdict: Cushendall

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I think the final this Sunday is going to be extremely close and there won’t be anymore than a puck of a ball when the final whistle is blown. I wouldn’t rule out that there is going to be another day needed to separate both teams.  It’ll be the team that utilises their bench the best and has that trump card up their sleeve in a sense to come on and change the game in the last 10-15 minutes.

I’m going to go for a Loughgiel win this Sunday as I believe that they are a bit more ruthless in front of goal and that extra weeks rest might go in their favour. But Cushendall on the other side never know when they are beat as they have shown many, many times in the past number of seasons. So Sunday’s final will make for good viewing.

Verdict: Loughgiel

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Both teams know each other inside and out and any game between the two sides, whether its in the league or championship there has only ever been a few scores separating them.

In what I can see being a low scoring affair, with conditions being a factor and how the two teams will set up, it may well come down to who nails their frees better or who can break the line for a goal.  Whoever gets their matchup correct is key and the biggest matchup could be between the two sets of management teams, deciding on how they set up on the day.

A one point win either way for me, I’ll go for a draw.

Verdict: Draw

 

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THE long and winding road to decide the 2018 Antrim hurling champions returns to where it all began on August 12 at Pairc Mac Uílín and it’s not just the venue that is familiar.

After one of the most enjoyable Championships for some time given the new format, it all boils down to another episode in the tug-of-war between Cushendall and Loughgiel (or is that Loughgiel and Cushendall?) who have been the dominant forces in the county for over a decade.

It’s the sixth final meeting between the pair since 2008 with the score reading 4-1 in favour of the Shamrocks including their most recent final victory in 2016.

It’s true, Ruairi Og have been waiting since that 2008 decider to put one over on their fierce rivals on Antrim hurling’s biggest day, but they have enjoyed wins at earlier stages in the competition in that time including last year’s semi-final.

All will attest to the fact there has been little to choose between the clubs in the vast majority of these games and it’s difficult to see it being any other way when the sun sets on this year’s competition (maybe quite literally given the clocks go back this weekend) at 5pm on Sunday.

The later than usual date for this final is of course down to the replayed semi-final between Cushendall and St John’s, with Loughgiel waiting in the wings for four weeks since their victory over Dunloy to get here.

It would be fair to say that game was far from a classic, with the blustery conditions not helping, but it was still more a war of attrition with Johnny Campbell’s side producing a disciplined display to snuff out the effervescence of Cuchullians’ attack. They made the most of their chances going forward with James McNaughton dead-eyed from placed balls, but their victory was based on a sound defensive plan with the Damon McMullan imperious at centre-back, flanked by Tony McCloskey and Odhran McFadden who adopted a ‘thou shall not pass’ approach, while the vastly experienced full-back trio of Paul Gillan, Neil McGarry and Ronan McCloskey were as solid as ever.

It is unlikely the Loughgiel boss will diverge from this approach too much with the typical pattern in meetings between the teams seeing them close down space for the opposition and this has usually led to low-scoring, tight affairs.

They both have the hurlers to make it a thriller for the fans and Cushendall had to emerge from one two weeks ago to get the better of the Johnnies, but it would be a major shock if the teams adopt a gung-ho approach here.

Manager, Eamon Gillan got his team selection right last time out, while Donal ‘Natty’ McNaughton’s introduction in the drawn game yielded two points and he was just as influential from the start in the replay. He could be a key figure on Sunday.

It has always been the finest margins that decide games between this pair, so the onus will be on the free-takers, McNaughton (Loughgiel) and Neil McManus (Cushendall) to hold their nerve.

The fans will travel to Ballycastle hoping for a classic, but the reality is that we are likely to get a tense, tough and low-scoring game.

In a game of fine margins, it will come down to whoever gets the breaks on the day, but perhaps Cushendall’s replay two weeks ago and the fact Loughgiel have been left waiting four weeks may just tip the pendulum ever so slightly in the favour of Ruairi Og.

Verdict: Cushendall

 

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11 weeks later and we’re back to where it all began, Páirc MacUílín.  11 matches later and a combined total of 38 goals and 365 points and we have a Cushendall and Loughgiel final.  The more things change it does appear the more they will stay the same.

The round robin phase of this years championship has had its detractors but if anything it’s brought forward another pretender for the Antrim crown.  St Johns could have been preparing for first final appearance since 1994 with a bit more luck.  As it is, Cushendall proved yet again they are a side who will keep going and going.  A side you only feel like you have beaten when the final whistle goes.

Loughgiel come into Sunday’s final on the back of a performance against Dunloy that no-one seen coming.  The planning and work that had to go into preparing his side for that performance and to execute that game plan should be enough to give Johnny Campbell the freeman of Loughgiel!

Who’s going to win?  There are so many permutations when considering this I may as well just toss a coin.  Will Loughgiel go with plan A or plan B?  Will the elements return to cause havoc?  Are Cushendall at full strength?  Will Eoghan Campbell be fit to play?  I’ll break it down a little more and try to simplify the conundrum.   If Loughgiel go with the same game plan as they opted for in the semi-final, they’ll have to go up another gear.  Cushendall are the masters of that warfare while the have the forwards to also do the damage and be clinical when they get the chance.  Playing this way could be playing right into Cushendall’s hands.

Cushendall improved from their first match and the replay against St Johns enough to make Sunday’s final but they will have to improve again no matter what style the Shamrocks adopt.  They showed at the start of the semi-final replay in Ballycastle signs of the team they can be but they let St Johns back into the game before a late brace of goals from Conor Carson saw them over the line.  They won’t get away with the same type of performance again but I think they’re timing their run and hitting top form at the right time.  Cushendall to win another tight contest.

Verdict: Cushendall

 

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