Ulster Club Senior Hurling final preview
Its 25 years since Cushendall and Ballycran last met in an Ulster final and on that day the Down champions come out on top with a 2-10 to 0-12 win at Casement Park. Here we reproduce Jim Smyth’s match report from the Ballymena Guardian from October 1993.
Ballycran 2-10 Cushendall 0-12
By Jim Smyth – Ballymena Guardian
Ulster Club Hurling Champions Cushendall found the dual challenge of Ballycran and a niggling injury list just too much to cope with on Sunday as they relinquished their Ulster title to a hungrier and more committed Down team who had waited 17 years to take their third provincial title at Casement Park on Sunday.
The Ards men were tight in defence, mostly in control at midfield and their forwards found easy paths through what up until now had been a very tight knit ‘Dall defence. This was probably the biggest factor in the Glensmen’s defeat. Most of their defenders seemed to have an off day at the same time and only centre-half-back Leonard McKeegan came anywhere near his own standards.
At half-time only two points separated the teams and the game was evenly balanced, but wind advantage favoured Ballycran in the second half and in the end they held on for was a deserved four point victory.
Young Barry McNaughton got the holders off to a fine start with a good point which was immediately equalised by Conor Arthurs, who gave his marker a torrid first half, and but for some poor handling the Ards men would have had a bag of scores. Cushendall’s best forward Conor McCambridge pointed a free from 55 yards, but Dermot O’Prey equalised with a similar effort which went over off the inside of the post.
That man McCambridge gave the Dall the lead for the last time on seven minutes when he robbed a Ballycran defender to grab a great score, but super combination by O’Prey, Michael Braniff and Danny Hughes saw Arthurs grab his second point, and the equaliser after ten minutes. Shortly afterwards the roof fell in on the Glensmen when Ballycran hit two goals in as many minutes to leave the champions chasing the game. The first came when Danny Hughes sideline broke to Michael Braniff and he fired the ball to the roof of Ciaran McNaughton’s net to open a three point gap. The gap was doubled two minutes later when a long Gary Savage free fell behind the ‘Dall defence for Kevin Blaney to gain possession behind Brendan McAlister and kick the ball diagonally to the corner of the ‘Dall net for a goal that was to turn out to be the vital score.
In spite of the creaking defence Cushendall were still creating chances but weak finishing lead to five wides in seven minutes when scores would have been paramount. Points from Paddy Walsh, Brian McNaughton, Jackie Carson and a from a Conor McCambridge free closed the gap to just two, but in spite of all they tried the champions just could not get that vital goal as the Down defence tackled, harried and blocked heroically.
With three minutes to the break Sean Mallon and McCambridge swapped points and goalkeeper extraordinaire Noel Keith came to Ballycran’s rescue with a good stop from a Danny McNaughton shot to send his team in at the break with a 2-4 to 0-8 lead.
On the restart Sean McKeegan replaced an off form Alastair McGuile for Cushendall. Kevin Blaney gave Ballycran a dream start with a brace of points in the first two minutes and though McCambridge pulled a point back from a free it was clear the champions were struggling to find any rhythm. Their supporters were justifiably aggrieved with Offaly referee Padraig Horan when a great Conor McCambridge run came to nothing, in spite of the fact that he should have had a free as a chasing defender could nothing but throw his stick at him as he strode away.
Mark McCambridge hit a grand point from 70 yards to reduce the leeway to two, but the impressive Danny Hughes replied immediately as play swung from end to end as it became obvious that the next couple of scores would be crucial. These fell to the Ards men and O’Prey found the target from a 65 and Hughes pointed following a great run with twenty minutes to go.
Amazingly this was to be Ballycran’s last score in normal time as the ‘Dall threw everything into saving their title. But the Ards defence held firm with goalkeeper Keith bringing off save after save, while some very weak finishing also contributed to the very low scoring rate. Two fine points by the impressive McCambidge left just a goal in it with ten minutes remaining, but the scores simply wouldn’t come. Danny McNaughton was particularly unlucky to see his angled shot flashing wide after being set up by a great run by Leonard McKeegan
A goal here would have levelled proceedings but it was not to be and the Down men finished stronger with two wides in the final minute. The final point came from Peter Braniff two minutes into injury time to leave the ecstatic black and ambers deserved Ulster champions for the third time.
Overall it was a reasonable game of hurling with captain Dermot Woods running Noel Keith close as Ballycran’s best defender, with Danny Hughes and Kevin Blaney causing most danger up front. As for the ‘Dall it was one of those days when right. Too many injuries. Too many players having an off day. Ciaran McNaughton had a sound game in goals with Leonard McKeegan the pick of a very ragged defence. Paddy Walsh and Mark McCambridge were forced to play second fiddle to O’Prey and McCarthy at midfield while Barry McNaughton offered Conor McCambridge most support in the forward department.
Ballycran – K Blaney 1-2); M Braniff (1-0); D O’Prey (0-2 frees); D Hughes (0-2), C Arthurs (0-2); S Mallon 0-1; P Braniff 0-1.
Cushendall – C McCambridge (0-7, 4 frees); B McNaughton 0-2; M McCambridge 0-1; P Walsh 0-1; J Carson 0-1)
BALLYCRAN – N Keith, S McAree, P Dorian, H Torney, G Savage, B Hughes, D Woods, D O’Prey, J McCarthy, C Arthurs, M Braniff, S Mallon, M Blaney, K Blaney.
Subs – P Braniff for K Blaney; H Gilmore for C Arthurs
CUSHENDALL – Ciran McNaughton, Brendan McAlister, Aidan McAteer, Ciaran McCambridge, Declan McKillop, Leonard McKeegan, James McNaughton, Mark McCambridge, Paddy Walsh, Conor McCambrdge, John Carson, Danny McNaughton, Alastair McNaughton, Alastair McGuile.
Subs – Sean McKeegan for McGuile
Referee – Padraig Horan (Offaly).The Cushendall 3-in-a-row team who won Antrim titles in 1991, 92 and 93, but their bid for three Ulster titles in a row was halted by Ballycran in 1993.