Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship
Quarter Final Preview by Colum Thompson
Ruairi Og v Rossa – Sat @ 4pm at St Enda’s Hightown
Cushendall fan and Saffron Gael contributor Colum Thompson takes a look at his team’s quarter final with Rossa at Glengromley on Saturday.
Isn’t it just typical that the best series of matches that we’ve had in The Antrim Senior Hurling Championship in recent memory have been closed to neutrals? We’ve been sitting watching score updates on twitter, listening to the results and reading the match reports from “The Group Of Death” involving Dunloy, St. John’s, Rossa and Ballycastle engrossed in what sounds like top quality championship action. In game one a well seasoned St. John’s, who’ve been knocking on the senior championship door for the past five years, used all their experience to escape Rossa Park with a one point win.
Very few pundits were giving The Shaw’s Road men much chance but it was a game they could and possibly should have won and although it yielded no points in the group it did show that Rossa could compete. A week later and lady luck deserted Rossa once more when reigning Champions Dunloy needed an injury time point to force a draw. In the final group game against Ballycastle, who had been making waves themselves, Rossa finally got the rub of the green and the victory their hurling had deserved during the campaign. It’s been a brilliant series of matches from The Jeremiah’s and they have duly qualified for a quarter final meeting with Ruairi Og Cushendall. They go into the game as underdogs, in bonus territory and with nothing to lose which is a wonderful way to approach a knock out championship match. Without doubt their star man during this campaign has been James Connolly who is now delivering on his undoubted potential. They have proven ball winners up front in Stephen Beattie and Michael Armstrong and they will cause any back line problems. And with Gerard Walsh and Stephen Shannon in defence they are solid at the back.
So what of Cushendall? This might sound strange given we lost against Loughgiel and laboured at times against St. Enda’s but I’m happy enough at this stage. Let me elaborate. On a number of occasions over the years I’ve watched Cushendall flying in the league, winning Feis Cups and then falling at the championship hurdle. When Cushendall win a championship it has to be done the hard way, never straight forward. We need bumps on the road, last gap wins and moments that would have you covering your eyes but in the bubbling hot cauldron of championship chaos sometimes we thrive. Had we have won three games, got maximum points and looked impressive I’d have almost been worried. We’ve never topped a group in the championship round robbin and that suits me just fine.
Ruairi Og only get the bit between their teeth in knock out or when their backs are against the wall. Have no doubt about it our backs are against the wall given Rossa’s current form and if we are to win the championship this year it’ll be a hard road. Nobody said it was going to be easy. There have been positives for Cushendall in the group stages. Joe McCurry has been in excellent form in defence and has nailed down a starting spot. Neil McManus returned from a niggling injury against St. Gall’s and perhaps most interestingly Shane McNaughton has returned to make three excellent cameo appearances all of which saw him on the scoresheet. Paddy Burke is also in excellent form as we’ve come to expect. He sets a high standard and expects others to follow his lead.
Unlike many pundits I’m not going to trot out the usual patronising clichés. Let’s get this straight Cushendall are favourites. Can Rossa win this game? Yes, undoubtedly. They have some superb hurlers who are full of confidence and they are a coming force again. Unless Cushendall bring their A game they will be in trouble. But I expect Cushendall to finally come to life in this year’s championship. They should have enough craft, guile and experience on this occasion. The Dall by 4.