Saffron Gael contributor and Cushendall fan Colum Thompson felt the need to put ‘pen to paper’ to share his thoughts on the Ruairi Og win.
It was an absolute war of attrition, a slug fest, two heavyweights standing toe to toe throwing hay makers from start to finish. No quarter asked or given, no compromise. Loughgiel don’t lose championship finals, you have to turn up and beat them and that is what Cushendall did. It was every bit as tight as the pundits predicted, could have gone either way but critically at the crucial times in the game Ruairi Og stood tall.
The two Burke brothers hurled the shirts off their backs and Aaron Graffin gave yet another epic display. Eoghan Campbell, four weeks after breaking his wrist against St. Johns, made a Lazarus type comeback and controlled the game like an NFL quarterback. Alex Delargy’s ability to hurl defies logic and science, small in stature but a giant on the field, how he emerges from rucks with the ball in hand is beyond me. Donal McNaughton, a veteran with eighteen years service under his belt hit three magnificent points and Conor Carson made Paddy Burke’s goal and contributed 1-1 himself. But the vital contribution, that special something that every team needs to get over the line was provided by the imperious Neil McManus.
His contribution from open play over the hour was immense, he was untouchable. Yes he missed a few frees, it would have affected a mere mortal and you would have understood if he had regressed into himself. But Neil McManus is made of stronger stuff than that. With nine minutes to go a ball fell from the heavens, McManus rose into the blue sky and ripped the ball from the clouds, broke a tackle and pointed from way over near the side-line. In the dying embers of the game Loughgiel, three down needed a goal to rescue the game. They threw everything including the kitchen sink at Cushendall but the maroon wall was impregnable. The Shamrocks sent two high balls that dropped under the Dall crossbar, both landed in McManus’s big left hand and were cleared to safety. For me those three moments were the difference between the teams. It was Roy Of The Rovers stuff.
Loughgiel’s James McNaughton
You have to spare a thought for Loughgiel. They are worthy adversaries who always give their best and don’t know when they are beat. Damon McMullan is a magnificent hurler who led by example, county material for sure. In James McNaughton they have unearthed a real gem this year and I have no doubt he will provide the fulcrum of their team for the next ten years. With a marquee forward like him they will always be there or there abouts. Those two stars on the back of their shirts represent something special, something that the rest of us dream about. They have set the standard for Ulster hurling that we all aim to match. It was a tough day for them loosing both finals but their minors made a massive contribution to two epic battles with Dunloy and their seniors were typically unyielding as well. There is no shame in defeat when you stand up and give your all.
But for now The Volunteer Cup is back in Cushendall and we have an Ulster Final against Ballycran to look forward to. These are special moments in our lives, as the great Buff Egan says “Drink it in mannn!!!”