As we recap on the 30th anniversary of Dunloy’s championship breakthrough we look at the drawn 1990 final when late point by Tony McGrath kept the Cuchullains dream alive
Late McGrath Point Earns Dunloy A Replay
Dunloy 1-14 Rossa 3-08
When Rossa’s veteran midfielder Jim Fagen pointed his team ahead one minute into injury time of this highly exciting senior hurling final at Father Healy Park, Loughgiel, it appeared that Dunloy’s championship dreams were shattered once again. However, all was not lost and with just seconds on the clock, midfielder Tony McGrath soloed through the Rossa defence and sent over the equalising point to earn the young Cuchullian’s team a second bite at the cherry.
In the end a draw was a fair enough result for both sides had chances to win it in the dying minutes. Three minutes from time full forward Jarlath Elliott made a great catch near the Rossa goal but he was bottled up by Rossa defenders and kicked the ball narrowly wide and one minute later Rossa’s Jim Reilly looked certain to goal when he pulled one handed on a loose ball in the Dunloy box only for it to go narrowly wide off the target.
Looking back, this game will not be remembered for its classic hurling for after a very good first half it got bogged down somewhat in the second. It was however a very entertaining and exciting contest with fine individual performances where the physical fitness and character of both teams were put severely to the test.
The first half was free flowing and skilful producing some lovely scores but a heavy shower of rain just on half time resulted in slippery conditions and it was of no surprised then that the standard dropped slightly in the second period.
The tempo and keenness of the exchanges however never slackened and few neutrals among the very large crowd will have any complaints about sitting through it all again.
Playing with the breeze at their backs, Dunloy’s hopes received a severe jolt in the opening minutes when Rossa’s Ciaran Barr blasted the ball to the back of the net. Jus the start the Cuchullian’s didn’t want but they put it quickly behind them and a lovely three man move which ended in a Jarlath Elliott point got them on the scoreboard.
Seamus Boyle picked up a loose ball thirty yards out and sent over a point one minute later and team captain Seamus McMullan brought them level when pointed a fifty-yard free after Nigel Elliott had been fouled.
Less than a minute later, McMullan (who was to hit five points from five attempts in the first half) again found the target to put his team ahead for the first time but Rossa were soon back on level terms when Noel Murray fired over from out on the left wing.
The accurate striking of Seamus McMullan restored Dunloy’s lead in the ninth minute and after Gregory O’Kane’s short wide from a good position Dunloy for the break they were looking for. Rossa keeper Paddy Quinn caught a long ball but as he soloed out from his goals, he gave away possession and corner forward Jarlath McGrath knocked the ball home to put Dunloy four clear.
Tony McGrath picked up a loose ball around midfield and hit a good point in the fourteenth minute. Less than a minute later, his excellent midfield partner Nigel Elliott scored a real beauty to put his team six ahead at the end of the first quarter.
At this stage Dunloy looked to be in a strong position but suddenly the game switched dramatically and for the next ten minutes Rossa rallied and hit back with some vengeance. Ciaran Barr started the revival when he pointed after being well placed by Donal Armstrong and soon afterwards full forward Jim Reilly took advantage of some leniency in the Dunloy defence and fired a great shot to the net.
As the Dunloy defence struggled to hold the Rossa forwards a slack clearance was picked up by Collie Murphy who knocked over a point to restore parity and within a minute that man Fagan popped up near the Dunloy goal to fire over a point and put Rossa back in front.
Within a space of eight minutes Dunloy had gone from being six ahead to being one point behind with a stiff breeze to face in the second half, the signs did not look good.
To their credit they showed admiral character and for the remainder of the half they regained the initiative to improve their position just before the break. Jarlath Elliott started their come back when he pointed from a Gregory O’Kane hand pass and after O’Kane had missed a goal chance Seamus McMullan pointed the ’65 to put his team back in front.
Jarlath Elliott showed great skill when scoring a lovely point one minute from the interval. In injury time McMullan hit his fifth point of the half when he split the uprights with a great effort from beyond midfield giving his team a three-point advantage at half time.
With a half time shower leaving conditions very difficult the quality of hurling understandably dropped in the second half. Dunloy, who’s three-point interval lead looked anything but secure improved their position considerably when Jarlath Elliott and Seamus Boyle knocked over points to stretch the lead to five.
Donal Armstrong got Rossa’s arrears to four with a thirty-minute point which incredibly would be the last score for all of sixteen minutes.
During these scoreless minutes Dunloy defended brilliantly and with Dominic McMullan solid at full back, Sean McIlhatton ruling matters at corner back and midfielder Nigel Elliott going through a mountain of work they repelled Rossa best efforts.
However, such heroics can only be survived for so long when your forwards cannot ease the pressure with scores it was inevitable that they could not hold out indefinitely.
Rossa finally broke the deadlock when Noel Murray pointed a free in the fifty fifth minute and almost immediately the city men were level when Jim Close doubled beautifully on a ground ball and sent it to the back of the net.
The remaining minutes were heart stopping as both teams missed opportunities to clinch the game but when Jim Fagan scored his injury time point Rossa looked set for their fifteenth title. It was not to be however, and Tony McGraths late equaliser was no more than his team deserved.
Shane Elliott had a fine hour between the sticks and one diving save he made just before half time from a Donal Armstrong shot was memorable. After a shaky first half Dominic McMullan settled to play a blinder in the second half while Sean McIlhatton, who also looked unsure early on, went on to give a great display.
McMullan’s scoring from frees and from play took the honours in a solid half back line while at midfield Nigel Elliott worked tirelessly and Tony McGrath had his best game for a long time.
The forwards looked impressive in the first half with Jarlath Elliott and Gregory O’Kane particularly prominent, but they faded dramatically in the second half. Alister Elliott did go through some good work however in this period.
Apart from the one slip Paddy Quinn did well in the Rossa goal while in the full back line Gerard Ryan and Chris Condon played well.
Paddy Rogan, who played a real captains part, was the pick of the half backs and while Fagan and Armstrong had some good spells at midfield they generally came off second best.
As with their Dunloy counter parts the Rossa forwards, particularly Ciaran Barr and Jim Reilly, gave their best displays in the first half.
Shane Elliott, Dominic McMullan, Sean McIlhatton, Seamus McMullan (captain) (0-05), Gary O’Kane, Sean Mullan, Tony McGrath (0-02), Nigel Elliott, Michael Maguire, Seamus Boyle (0-02), Alister Elliott, Gregory O’Kane, Jarlath Elliott (0-04), Jarlath McGrath (1-00)
P Quinn, G Rogan, C Condon, S Murphy, P Murray, A Murray, P Rogan, J Fagan (0-02), D Armstrong (0-02), J Close, C Barr (1-02), C Murphy (0-01), N Murray (0-02), J Reilly (1-00), S Shannon