The round robin continues this weekend with St Galls and Rossa playing host to Loughgiel and Dunloy. The north Antrim giants recorded wins in their first matches against St John’s and Cushendall and we take a look at what lays ahead on Friday and Saturday as we preview the weekend’s games….
Senior Hurling Championship
St Galls vs Loughgiel
Friday August 16
St Galls faced with mammoth task against the Shamrocks
By Brendan McTaggart
Venue: De La Salle Park, Belfast
Throw In: 7:15pm
Referee: Mark O’Neill (Armoy)
St Gall’s make a return to the senior championship on Friday evening when they play host to the Shamrocks at De La Salle Park. The 2018 Intermediate Champions will be making their debut in the round robin stages with the short trip up the Falls Road to Corrigan Park laying ahead in two weeks time.
They will be hoping for better fortunes than their last outing against Loughgiel. In the 2016 quarter-final, Loughgiel had 26 points to spare over the Milltown Row side on their way to their 20th and most recent senior hurling championship.
It’s fair to say 2019 has been a chastening year for St Galls with the small ball. Playing in Division One, they managed just one league win all year and a couple of draws. The two points coming from a big home win against Ballygalget at the start of July but there have been notable performances throughout the campaign. A hugely creditable draw against Cushendall in the Glen’s after two late goals from Sean McAreavey giving the west Belfast side their first point of the season while a draw at home against Ballycran wasn’t enough to stave off relegation
When the two sides met in June, the match ended 0-13 to 4-18 at the end of the hour in De La Salle Park. Loughgiel were ahead by just one point at the break but second half goals from Dan McCloskey and three in the space of ten minutes from Shan McGrath ensured the Shamrocks were in cruise control in the second half.
The Shamrocks display against St John’s wasn’t one for hurling purists. It was played in horrendous conditions however and despite a brilliant start from St John’s, Loughgiel got over the line with six points to spare – a late Odhran McMullan goal adding gloss to the score line. A gritty, tenacious and dogged display but ultimately a winning start and when it comes to the championship, that’s all that matters.
The rumours circulating out of the St Galls camp surrounding player availability doesn’t make for good reading for the Milltown Row men. Tomás O Ciarán, Conor Burke, Sean McAreavey, Mark Napier and Marcus Donnelly all rated as either doubtful or not available. They will look to Conor and Kieran McGourty for leadership with Jackson McGreevey and Karl Stewart pulling the strings in the middle of the park while Kurtis McGreevy is one of the best ‘keepers in the county.
Loughgiel will be missing the services of Seamus Dobbin after his red card in the Shamrocks victory in match day one against St John’s while they may consider whether to risk starting Liam Watson. The Loughgiel forward taking a blow to the head and was hospitalised, having to come off at half time but other than that, they have a full hand to pick from.
The bookies are so confident of a Loughgiel victory, you would have to place £100 on to get a nugget back. It’s hard to argue against odds like that. It will take something biblical to stop the Shamrocks from booking their place in the semi-finals.
Senior Hurling Championship
Rossa vs Dunloy
Saturday August 17
Cuchullains favourites but Rossa can cause an upset
By Brendan McTaggart
Venue: Rossa Park, Belfast
Throw In: 2pm
Referee: Colm McDonald (St Galls)
Rossa open their round robin campaign with a home match against Dunloy on Saturday afternoon. The Jeremiah’s are right in middle of a gruelling schedule with their big ball commitments taking precedence during the week when they confirmed their return to Division One at the first time of asking.
They come into Saturday’s match on the back of an aggregate win over Ballycastle in the preliminary round stage. A resounding home win set Colly Murphy’s side up for a 12 point aggregate victory over the Town, despite a much better performance from the McQuillan’s, Rossa always kept them at arms length. Deaglan Murphy starring in the first ‘leg’ with Mickey Armstrong while Thomas Morgan has been the one constant for Rossa in the championship. His performances have illuminated the two matches and will be a handful for the Dunloy defence.
Stephen Shannon’s display at centre half for Rossa in Páirc MacUílín was pivotal. Ballycastle went in search for goals with a barrage of high ball into the forward line and Shannon led by example. I’d expect a different line of attack from the Cuchullains but Shannon will once again need to put in a captain’s performance. They will have the talented James Connolly closer to full fitness after a brief cameo late against Ballycastle, whether he start’s is another story but Connolly’s got the ability to change games, sway momentum and create something from nothing. He could have a roll to play over the hour, without a doubt.
The Cuchullains come off the back of winning their opening match in the championship last weekend. A one point win over reigning champions Cushendall in front of a big crowd in Pearse Park but it wasn’t the convincing victory some had expected. The Ruairi’s looked like they were going to push on for victory having reeled in a three point half time deficit and were making all the early running. Gregory O’Kane’s men dug deep in the final quarter with Paul Shiels dropping deep a pivotal move along with the performances of Nigel Elliott and Keelan Molloy.
Gabriel McTaggart will miss out after his red card late in the game against Cushendall but Dunloy will welcome back Nicky McKeague into the squad after his one match suspension was carried over from last year’s campaign and it gives the Dunloy management a decision to make. McKeague is a ‘worker’ and lives in rucks in the middle of the park, you could make a case for him starting without any shadow of a doubt but who makes way? I’ll leave that one to the Dunloy management, a decision I wouldn’t like to be making.
Dunloy will travel to the city as favourites to make it two wins from two but Rossa have shown in recent times that if the Cuchullains aren’t firing, they have the team to punish. The Jeremiah’s will relish the opportunity of hosting the Cuchullains at Rossa Park as they look to exorcise the ghost of last year’s disappointing performances and they’ve been building momentum at the tail end of the league with last weekend’s loss to Ballycastle was off the back of five straight wins. They will come into the tie full of confidence but I see Dunloy winning this one. The Cuchullains have a settled defence with Ryan Elliott’s poc outs a major asset and despite the huge loss of Deaglan Smith from injury and Eoin O’Neill to America, they still have an abundance of firepower in attack. Dunloy to progress but don’t be expecting any landslide victories.