AIB Ulster Club Hurling Championship Semi-Final
Dunloy 2-23 Ballycran 0-11
Sunday October 27
Brendan McTaggart reports from the Athletic Grounds, Armagh
Ruthless, efficient, job done. Dunloy made serene if not facile progress to their first Ulster final in 10 years with an 18 point demolition of Ballycran on Sunday afternoon. It was a scintillating performance from the Cuchullains who took apart Ballycran at will from the first whistle, scoring two goals over the hour and on another day that could have been five.
Ballycran’s cause wasn’t helped when Gerard Hughes was given a straight red card for an incident involving Nigel Elliott four minutes into the second half and while it enhanced the pressure on the Down champions, it would have taken a special second half performance for the Down men to get back into the semi-final at that stage.
Nigel Elliott returned onto the pitch after treatment to finish with four points over the hour in a man of the match performance. Already having a good game, he went through the gears after his treatment. Power, pace, skills that left Ballycran chasing shadows but it was another top performance from the Cuchullains. Defensively, they conceded just seven points from play, five to Liam Savage who shared all of Ballycran’s scores with Conor Woods – the centre forward finished the match with two points from play out of his 11. Conor McKinley, Ryan McGarry and the returning Kevin Molloy superb throughout.
The semi-final was barely 25 seconds old when Dunloy opened the scoring, Keelan Molloy with his first of three for the match. Nigel Elliott doubled the advantage soon after, Eoin O’Neill creating the chance and with a sight of goal, Elliott blazed over. Another goal chance fell to the Cuchullains soon after, Keelan Molloy dancing past his marker before finding Chrissy Brogan in oceans of space. Brogan couldn’t get a clean shot away however, he seemed to have too much time though and the chance was gone. Coby Cunning converted the resulting ’65, his first of four points in the opening 30 minutes before a Conor Woods free from halfway opened Ballycran’s account in the ninth minute.
Dunloy maintained their dominance with points from the maverick Eoin O’Neill and Nicky McKeague and while Liam Savage scored the Down men’s first from play in the 11th minute, Dunloy underlined their good start by scoring the first goal of the game in the 12th minute. O’Neill collecting the sliotar down the right before dummying his way past his man. Closing in on goal and on the angle, ‘Sammy’ passed inside to Cunning and his effort squeezed over the line.
Ballycran responded by bringing the best out of Ryan Elliott with the next attack. Woods with a rasping drive from 20 yards but the Dunloy ‘keeper was equal to the shot and the Cuchullain defence cleared the danger. A free and ’65 from Coby came either side of Woods’ second point from placed ball midway through the half. Ballycran looked like they had weathered the early Dunloy storm when they fired over three unanswered points in as many minutes. Liam Savage (two) and Woods with his first from play to leave four between the sides with ten minutes of the first half remaining.
Dunloy responded well, however. Paul Shiels with a huge score from distance preceded Chrissy Brogan’s first of the day after good work from Conor Kinsella in the build-up.
A Conor Woods free kept the score ticking for Ballycran and they had another goal chance before the interval. Stuart Martin showing Phelim Duffin a clean pair of heels but Ryan Elliott once again made the save to deny the Down men. Two points from Shiels and Coby (free) gave Dunloy a deserving seven point lead at the short whistle.
Half time: Dunloy 1-11 Ballycran 0-7
The seven point lead was the least Dunloy deserved. They would have been disappointed in passing up the goal chances that came their way but they had a stranglehold on the semi-final and were able to tighten their grip soon after the restart.
Woods opened the scoring in the second half before corner back Gerard Hughes saw red. Drawing scarlet from Nigel Elliott’s face with his hurl and giving referee James Clarke no option but end his game early.
Coby and Woods swapped frees by the 35th minute but Dunloy began to go through the gears. Dropping ‘Shorty’ into a quarter-back role as their spare man, the Cuchullains began to create more space and chances with four points from McGarry, Nigel Elliott (two) and Keelan Molloy. Elliott splitting the posts with his first touch after his reintroduction following his injury.
Liam Savage’s fourth point of the match briefly halted the Dunloy charge but the Cuchullains cranked up the intensity once more. Hunting in packs, pressing with vigour and not giving Ballycran an inch of space all over the pitch.
The Cuchullains landed a further seven points to just one from Ballycran (Savage), scores from Nigel Elliott, Coby (two, one free), Nicky McKeague (two), Eamon Smyth and Keelan Molloy. The Dunloy management were afforded the chance to empty their bench in the closing quarter and were still able to maintain their superiority and intensity to keep Ballycran on the back foot.
Substitute Anton McGrath completed the scoring with a goal from 25 yards, combing with Seaan Elliott before a strong finish to the bottom corner in injury time to round off an emphatic win for the Cuchullains. A warning to the rest of Ulster and a scintillating sign of intent, a marker laid and now battle lines have been drawn. Bigger tasks lay ahead.
Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Conor McKinley, Conor Kinsella; Eamon Smyth, Ryan McGarry, Kevin McKeague; Paul Shiels, Kevin Molloy; Nigel Elliott, Nicky McKeague, Chrissy Brogan; Eoin O’Neill, Conal Cunning, Keelan Molloy.
Subs: Seaan Elliott for N Elliott (blood sub 32, reversed 39); Gabriel McTaggart for C Brogan (38); Seaan Elliott for E O’Neill (43); Ronan Molloy for K Molloy (52); Anton McGrath for C Cunning (55); James McKeague for P Shiels (57)
Scorers: Conal Cunning 1-7 (4 f’s 2 ‘65’s); Nigel Elliott 0-4; Keelan Molloy 0-3; Nicky McKeague 0-3; Anton McGrath 1-00; Paul Shiels 0-2; Eamon Smyth 0-1; Ryan McGarry 0-1; Chrissy Brogan 0-1; Eoin O’Neill 0-1
Ballycran: Stephen Keith; Michael Hughes, Patrick Hughes, Gerard Hughes; Brett Nicholson, Padraig Flynn, Sean Ennis; Scott Nicholson, Phelim Savage; Michael Ennis, Conor Woods, Liam Savage; Stuart Martin, Colum McManus, Christopher Egan
Subs: James Coyle for C McManus (35); Brendan Ennis for S Martin (44); Cormac McAllister for S Nicholson (46); Niall Breen for C Egan (49)
Scorers: Conor Woods 0-6 (4 f’s); Liam Savage 0-5
Referee: James Clarke (Cavan)