Epic clash see Rasharkin and Ballela share the spoils

AIB Ulster Club Junior Hurling Championship – Quarter Final

Ballela GAC 3-20           St.Mary’s Rasharkin 2-23 (AET)   

Sunday 4th October 2015

This very entertaining end to end fixture had all the thrills and spills of championship hurling, both sides had chances to win this fixture in normal time and indeed additional time but neither did enough to get over the line and alas neither team deserved to lose. The game was nip and tuck until Antrim kingpins Rasharkin pulled away, going eight clear by half time of extra time and the game looked to be over. They then went nine up early in the second period of additional time but Ballela with a never say die attitude, rallied scoring 2-3 on the bounce to rescue draw from certain defeat.

The Down Champions coming out of the hat first were afforded home advantage and due to the unavailability of county ground Páirc Esler in Newry, St.Mary’s Rasharkin, who recently collected their third Antrim Junior crown, travelled to Ballela on Sunday past to fulfil this Ulster Club Junior Hurling quarter final tie against the Katesbridge side.

Derrytrasna club man Anthony Nash was officiating and was flanked with linesmen his brother Eddie and Leon Reynolds, fourth official was Gerard Devlin.

First blood when to the visitors when St.Mary’s corner man Conor McFerran flashed the sliotar through the posts inside the opening minute, Ballela’s wing half back Niall Burns opened his sides account three minutes later, indeed it was the Down men who settled best in the early exchanges the home side when on to point a hat trick of long range frees from their talisman and Down County star Johnny McCusker. Rasharkin responded with points from Thomas Doherty and two sublime strikes from wing half back Daniel Doherty to leave the tie all square midway through the first half. St.Mary’s last line of defence James O’Mullan produced an excellent save on sixteen minutes to deny Ballela’s Daniel Doran, the agile keeper was quick off his line to narrow the space and turn the ball from a one on one situation.

Long range free takers on both sides played a big part of this fixture throughout, and both made valuable use of the elements. Ballela’s Johnny McCusker and Rasharkin Brendan McMullan exchanged frees on the eighteenth minute before the Down Champions finished the half on a high – four points in as many minutes all from the stick of McCusker, three from the set piece and one resulting from a poor clearance out of the Rasharkin defence, saw them establish a firm grip. Shane Hasson and Declan McKay replied for the visitors before McCusker registered his ninth point on half time to leave halftime scoreline Ballela GAC 0-10 St.Mary’s Rasharkin 0-7.

The Katesbridge men started the second period with a substitution, Paddy Mackin had an instant impact on the game and had barely fastened is helmet before he lifted the Rasharkin net with a rasper in the opening seconds. Rasharkin skipper Declan McKay restored calm within ranks and coolly slotted over a minute later, before Shane Hasson pulled on the sliotar from close range to raise the green flag following a goal mouth scramble and reduce arrears to two points. McKay struck again for the blue and amber hoops to close the gap to the minimum before McCusker pointed a free to nudge his side further ahead after ten.

The Dreen men dug deep and took full advantage of the wind in the second period, Decky McKay pointing two frees before his side took the lead for the first time in the game after Brendan McMullan drop the ball over the crossbar from right in front of St.Mary’s dugout much to the cheers of the many travelling supporters. Conor McFerran had Rasharkin on their way and pushed further daylight between the sides when he collected possession rounded his maker and split the points from fifty yards, midway through the half. However, the Down men showed reliance and levelled matters for the third time through none other than McCusker after twenty minutes. The pendulum swung back in favour of St.Mary’s when Declan McKay collected his sixth and seventh points to open up another two point lead. It was a one point game once more when Ballela’s McCusker came to the rescue with five minutes on the clock, before Rasharkin’s Conor McKeever pointed a screamer which looked to have lifted the visitors in the closing minutes. Back again came the home side to close out the game with two back to back points and force additional time. Full time score line Ballela GAC 1-16 St.Mary’s Rasharkin 1-16.

Additional time would be ten minutes each way and was ultimately a game of two halves in more ways than one, The Antrim Champions took on board the inspiring words of wisdom from mentors Paul McFerran and Liam McCart and started at 100mph, Conor McKeever fired over within seconds of the restart and followed up two minutes later smashing the sliotar beyond Gary McMullan on the Ballela goal line raising the green flag, Enda McFerran got in on the act with two points back to back followed by Eamon McNeill with two as Rasharkin released the shackles and opened up a commanding eight point lead. A shell shocked Ballela could only respond with a free from Johnny McCusker before Shane Hasson re-established the eight point margin on the stroke of half time.  

St.Mary’s started the second period of additional time similar to the first after Eamon McNeill blazed over to extend their advantage to a convincing nine points with eight minutes remaining. However, the Down men dusted off and got back at it, Ballela’s midfielder Malachy Magee started the comeback with a major after three before Johnny McCusker added two points from range after six. St.Mary’s frantically held on but couldn’t get a foothold, Magee bagged another goal with two minutes remaining before fittingly man of the match McCusker dropped over on full time to bring his personnel tally to a magnificent eighteen points – a good day at the office!

The Antrim kingpins will wonder how they let a nine point lead evaporate and Ballela must be thankful their ace man was is scintillating form. Both sides will have gained a lot from this game, we’ll find out next Sunday who has learned the most. Replay is confirmed 3.30pm Sunday 11th October at Loughgiel. Armagh Champions Sean Tracy’s await the winners of this pairing following their victory over Cavan champions Cootehill.       

St.Mary’s Rasharkin: James O’Mullan, Donagh Quigg, Aidan McKeever, Conor Hasson, Daniel Doherty, Brendan McMullan, Conor Donaghy, Conor McKeever and Thomas McMullan, Eamon McNeill, Thomas Doherty, Shane Hasson, Conor McFerran, Declan McKay and Enda McFerran

Subs: Joey Quinn, Kevin Agnew, Aidan Darragh, Chrissy McKiernan and Emmett McFerran

Ballela GAC: Gary McMullan, Ryan Burns, Daniel McCusker, Donal McCann, Niall Burns, Gareth Burns, Michael Doyle, Johnny McCusker and Malachy Magee, Calvin Magee, Rory McPolin, Daniel Doran, Kevin Close, Ryan McCusker and Mark Cosgrave

Subs: Deon Kelly, Paddy Mackin, James McParland, Paddy McPolin

Referee: Alan Nash (Doire)

Antrim Junior Hurling Champions St.Mary’s Rasharkin

Lines man Eddie Nash (Doire), Ballela GAC captain Johnny McCusker, referee Alan Nash (Diore), St.Mary’s Rasharkin captain Declan McKay, linesman Leon Reynolds (Ard Mhacha) and Standby Referee Gerard Devlin (Ard Mhacha).

Down Junior Hurling Champions Ballela GAC

There was a feeling after the game that this the one that got away and so it proved to be when Ballela narrowly won the replay in Loughgiel but never the less it is a time that the hurlers of Rasharkin can look back at with some pride after the disappointment abated.

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