Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship
Loughgiel 2-13 Cushendall 2-10
By John Curly McIlwaine
Loughgiel made the perfect start to their Senior Hurling Championship campaign at Fr Healy Park on Sunday when they beat Cushendall in the first of their round robin games. There is never much to between these two great rivals and so it proved once again in an obsorbing contest that had the crowd on the edge of their seats until the final whistle.
It may not have been the highest quality of hurling, but it was always exciting and nobody could argue that they didn’t get their money’s worth. Four minutes into injury time Cushendall, who had cut a nine point deficit back to just three, were awarded a penalty and though they had trailed for the whole of the game they were presented with a golden chance to earn a share of the spoils. Goalkeeper Conor McAlister, who minutes earlier had crashed a 20 metre free to the net, made the journey up the field again to face his opposite number Chrissy O’Connell in the Shamrocks nets. The crowd on both sides held their breath as the Ruairi Og custodian stepped up to take the penalty but thought he struck the ball really well the sliothar rebounded off the base of the upright and the opportunity of a late equaliser was gone.
With both teams short a big hitter each (Neill McManus was out with an ankle injury for the ‘Dall and Liam Watson was missing for the Shamrocks due to a hamstring injury picked up in training during the week) the home team made a great start and Shan McGrath had them ahead inside 30 seconds. They were up and running and they built on that good start as Eddie McCloskey, Shan McGrath, James McNaughton and Declan McCloskey fired over points to stretch their lead to 0-5 to 0-0. The ‘Dall were struggling to find their touch but slowly they began to find a bit of possession and after missing a couple of straight forward frees Christy McNaughton got them up and running when he sent one over in the eighth minute. McNaughton added a second one from a free on ten minutes and when their forwards intercepted a short puc-out Alex Delargy race in to cut the gap back to just two.
Their approach work may have improved but the finishing touch was still missing and after Christy McNaughton and Eoghan Campbell both failed from frees Loughgiel’s James McNaughton showed them how it should be done and a fine strike on 16 minutes had his team 0-6 to 0-3 in front at the half-time water break.
On the restart Cushendall squandered another simple point chance and they were made to play as McGrath set up Shay Casey for a neat point and James McNaugton added another two minutes later with a neat finish. The visitors were in danger of being cast adrift but Christy McNaughton found his range with a pointed free from distance and when he added one from a 65 four minutes from the break there was just three between the sides. However McNaughton pulled up injured after his strike from the 65 and had to be replaced and in the final minute of the opening half James McNaughton added another point to the home team’s total to see them 0-9 to 0-5 ahead at the break.
With the freshening breeze at their backs in the second half it was felt that they would soon set about pulling back the deficit, but it was Loughgiel who were first to trouble the scoreboard operator when the split the posts yet again to put side ahead by double scores. (0-10 to 0-5). Paddy McGill started a Cushendall revival when he pointed from play on 33 minutes and after taking over the free taking duties he added two more to cut the gap back to three point by the 40th minute.
Loughgiel were starting to come under pressure, but they reacted brilliantly and after James McNaughton grabbed another point a great move which started in the half back line was finished brilliantly to the net by Eddie McCloskey to put his side six clear at the second half water-break. Quite often these stoppages can cause momentum swings but it didn’t do Loughgiel any harm and just after play got going their centre forward Calum McKendry left the Ruairis defence in his wake as he raced through to score a great goal.
Cushendall needed a lift to keep their fading chances alive and it came on 49 minutes when goalkeeper Conor McAlister came up to blast a twenty metre free to the net. Loughgiel responded with points from Donal McKinley and a real beauty on the run from James McNaughton, but Cushendall were not done yet and when Conor Carson made a great catch and hand-passed to incoming Sean McAfee the ball was partially cleared to Alex Delargy who fired it through a packed goalmouth to the Loughgiel net. The gap was down to five and when substitute Shane McNaughton hit two sublime points there was just three between the sides.
Four minutes into added time and the chance of salvaging the game arrived when referee Conal Cunning awarded Cushendall a penalty. McAlister came up again to save they day for the Dall but it was not to be as the visitors missed the target for the 16th time and Loughgiel held on for a deserved win.
Loughgiel – Chrissy O’Connell, Tiernan Coyle, Neilly McGarry, Tony McCloskey, Declan Gillan, Damon McMullan, Declan McCloskey (0-1), Dan McCloskey (0-1), Donal McKinley, James McNaughton (0-8 – 6 frees), Callum McKenry (1-0), Eddie McCloskey (1-1), Shan McGrath (0-2), Benny McCarry (1-0), Shay Casey.
Subs – Odhran McFadden for Declan Gillan, Mark McFadden for Callum McKendry, Seamy Dobbin for Damon McMullan
Cushendall – Conor McAlister (1-0 f), Joe McCurry, Martin Burke, Arron Graffin, Fergus McCambridge, Paddy Burke, Ryan McCambrdge, Aidan McNaughton, Eoghan Campbell, Paddy McGill (0-3 – 2f), Dominic Delargy, Niall McCormick, Alex Delargy 91-10, Sean McAfee, Christy McNaughton (0-4 – 3f)
Subs – Conor Carson for Christy McNaughton; Scott Walsh for Aidan McNaughton; Shane McNaughton (0-2) for Sean McAfee
Referee – Colm Cunning (Dunloy)
Subs – Conor Carson, Scott Walsh, Shane McNaughton,