Bathshack.com Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final
Sunday September 15
Dunloy 0-20 Loughgiel 0-17
Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Mac Uílin, Ballycastle
60 minutes of pure intensity, high octane hurling and drama aplenty. Dunloy and Loughgiel rarely disappoint on the biggest stage and they delivered yet again on Sunday afternoon. The standard may not have been as high as in previous encounters but it was always obsorbing. In the end, the Cuchullains avenged last years defeat to their old rivals at the same stage with three points to spare but they were left thanking the heroics of Ryan Elliott between the sticks and a last gasp piece of outstanding bravery from Paul Shiels to ensure they were celebrating at the final whistle.
Having built a four point lead at the end of the first half and again in injury time after a second half fightback from the Shamrocks, Dunloy had their backs to the wall in the closing stages as Loughgiel laid siege on their goal. James McNaughton first denied then the brilliant Liam Watson, twice before ‘Shorty’ threw himself in front of the sliotar to deny Eddie McCloskey in what turned out to be the last action of a pulsating hour of championship hurling.
On the balance of play over the hour, Dunloy did edge Loughgiel with their superior attack giving them the edge. Conal ‘Coby’ Cunning collecting the man of the match award with his tally of 12 points over the hour while Keelan Molloy and Chrissy Brogan were also prominent. This game was won in the middle of the pitch however and a sure sign that the Cuchullains had learned from this contest from 12 months ago. On that day, Loughgiel played with a ferocity and desire that had never been seen before in a Loughgiel shirt and their tactics threw Dunloy on the day. The Cuchullains stepped up to the challenge on Sunday and met it full on. Shorty and Ronan Molloy forming a brilliant midfield partnership while Kevin Molloy was always in the right place at the right time. A handy knack to have when playing in centre half and ‘Bunga’ was there when his side needed him most.
Loughgiel looked dangerous in attack with Watson and Shan McGrath starting brightly. When the sliotar was delivered into the Dunloy full back line the Loughgiel duo were causing the Cuchullains huge problems. Watson in particular with an outstanding display and was the Shamrocks best player over the hour but they didn’t see enough of the ball. Some may question the delivery into the Loughgiel pair such was the work rate, intensity and ferocity in the rucks from the Cuchullains, Dunloy went about choking the Loughgiel challenge and had enough moments of brilliance to edge this tie.
The Shamrocks started the semi-final superbly and played with high intensity from the first whistle. A brace of frees from Watson by the fifth minute had them in the lead and while Coby opened Dunloy’s account in the seventh minute, Watson (free) and Shan McGrath opened a four point lead for the Shamrocks by the 9th minute with Loughgiel providing all the questions and Dunloy failing to find an answer in those opening exchanges.
Loughgiel would only add a further two points in the time that remained in the first half however as Dunloy warmed to the challenge. Coby with a trio of white flags, one from play, a free and a ’65 to while a fine score from the marauding Declan Gillan gave the Shamrocks a one point lead midway through the first half.
The Dunloy response was systematic but effective. Work for lose ball, use the speed of Molloy and Cunning in attack, get the scores or be fouled. There were moments of brilliance in the time that remained as well, blood sub Chrissy McMahon firing over while Keelan Molloy gave the Cuchullains the lead for the first time in the match in injury time. The Cuchullains didn’t want the half to end though as they were turning the screw with each passing moment. Ronan Molloy splitting the posts after a quick and smart side line by Shorty before Keelan Molloy and Cunning combined for Coby to fire over his fifth of the half. Chrissy Brogan had the final say of the half however as he pointed from distance in the fourth minute of additional time to give Dunloy a four point half time lead at the short whistle (0-10 to 0-6).
Loughgiel needed half time to regroup. They were being overrun in those closing stages with the Cuchullains rampant and the Shamrocks came out firing. James McNaughton fired over for his first of the match straight from the throw in and while Loughgiel looked sharper after the restart, they had the brilliance of Chrissy O’Connell to thank at the other end of the field. Coby collecting the sliotar deep in the Loughgiel half and although he was fouled, referee Mark O’Neill waved advantage. The Dunloy man sent a rasping drive goal bound but O’Connell was equal to the task. Mark O’Neill brought the game back for the original foul with Coby converting but the Shamrocks were about to hit a purple patch. The Dunloy four point lead was gone inside three minutes with a brace from Watson (one free), McNaughton and McGrath all pointing to breath fresh life into the Loughgiel challenge.
Coby and Watson swapped frees to leave the sides tied before a long distance free from Shorty re-established the Dunloy lead and one they wouldn’t relinquish in the final quarter. Further scored from Coby and Nicky McKeague were answered by a further two points from Watson (one free). The first of Watson’s brace an instinctive score on the turn with Eddie McCloskey providing the assist.
Just one point separated the sides going into the final ten minutes as the Cuchullains hit another purple patch. Coby (free) and Chrissy Brogan’s second of the match came before Watson’s seventh white flag. The Dunloy defence and midfield were answering everything Loughgiel threw at them however with Coby’s 11th point of the match and Keelan Molloy’s third opening a four point lead once again with four minutes remaining.
Loughgiel continued to press, Watson’s seventh free of the afternoon bringing the Shamrocks to within a major of their rivals but Coby’s 12th white flag in the first minute of injury time looked to have sealed the Cuchullains progression and while it was Dunloy’s last score of the match and ultimately, the four point deficit proved to be enough, just.
Loughgiel threw everything and the kitchen sink at the Dunloy goals in the last few minutes of injury time and while McNaughton and Watson (twice) were denied by Dunloy ‘keeper Ryan Elliott, all they had to show for their efforts was another free from the brilliant Watson. Deflected over the bar by Ryan Elliott in the fourth minute of injury time.
Watson had one more chance from placed ball but 30 yards out and faced with a packed defence in front of him, his effort was first blocked by Shorty and with Eddie McCloskey about to pull the trigger with the sliotar bundling clear, the Dunloy man threw himself in the way to deny Loughgiel a major goal scoring opportunity.
An exhilarating end to what was a breath-taking hour of hurling. The Cuchullains remain seal their place in the decider with three to spare.
Loughgiel: Chrissy O’Connell; Seamus Dobbin, Tony McCloskey, Ronan McCloskey; Declan Gillan, Tiernan Coyle, Odhran McFadden; Mark McFadden, Eddie McCloskey; Barney McAuley, Declan Laverty, James McNaughton, Shay Casey, Liam Watson, Shan McGrath
Subs: Ryan McKee for B McAuley (19); Dan McCloskey for M McFadden (35); Donal McKinley for D Laverty (41);
Scorers: Liam Watson 0-10 (8 f’s), Shan McGrath 0-3, James McNaughton 0-3, Declan Gillan 0-1
Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Aaron Crawford, Conor McKinley, Phelim Duffin; Eamon Smyth, Kevin Molloy, Ryan McGarry; Paul Shiels, Ronan Molloy; Nigel Elliott, Chrissy Brogan, Keelan Molloy; Nicky McKeague, Conal Cunning, Seaan Elliott.
Subs: Eoin O’Neill for S Elliott (50); Chrissy McMahon for N McKeague (55); Shane Dooey for N Elliott (inj)
Scorers: Conal Cunning 0-12 (8f’s, 1 ’65), Keelan Molloy 0-3, Paul Shiels 0-1 (1f), Ronan Molloy 0-1, Chrissy Brogan 0-1, Nicky McKeague 0-1, Chrissy McMahon 0-1
Referee: Mark O’Neill (Armoy)