New York Junior Hurling Final
Ulster Hurling 2-18 Westmeath 3-12
A late goal by former Ballycastle and Antrim star Stephen ‘Stoogie’ McAfee gave Ulster victory over Westmeath in Sunday’s New York Junior Hurling final at Gaelic Park, in the Bronx. Things were looking bleak for the Ulster men when Westmeath took a four point lead into the final quarter, but Ulster responded well and after drawing level Stoggie sealed the win when he soloed through from defence and fired in the winning goal from 25 metres to spark of the celebrations.
McAfee (who was man of the match when Antrim beat Wexford in the 2013 All Ireland Under 21 Hurling semi-final) got the opening score of the game, but Westmeath were soon back on terms with a point from Ultan O’Connor. The early exchange set the pattern for the game and it was score for score for the remainder of the opening quarter as man of the match, Armoy’s Conor O’Kane, notched two, Eamon Brennan McAfee getting one apiece, while Ger McPartland got three for the Midlanders and O’Connor the other one to tie it up at five apiece.
The score for score pattern continued after the resumption as both teams kept the scoreboard ticking over. Ulster looked like they would strike a telling blow when corner forward Brian Fitzgerald got in on goal, but his well struck shot was brilliantly saved by Colin White in the Westmeath goal. The northerners were dealt a blow when Carey’s Emmet Hunter received a straight red card, but despite being a man down they still went on to lead by 0-9 to 0-8 at half time.
Westmeath took the lead early in the second half when second-half substitute Stephen Harten made an early impression with a well taken goal. Ulster did not panic and a point from a Connor O’Kane 65 brought them level, but they were rocked back on their heels once again when the men in maroon got in for a second goal through scorer in chief McPartland who shrugged off a couple of tackles before planting the ball in the Ulster net.
Things were not looking too good for the Ulster men as time ticked away, but five minutes from time they were awarded a 20 metre free and Conor O’Kane drilled the ball low to the corner of the Westmeath net to set up a nail-biting finish. O’Kane put Ulster ahead with a point a minute later but it was soon ruled out by Kelly who grabbed the equaliser with a fine strike. Extra time looked to be on the cards but when the Ulster corner-back John Lavin struck a long free out of defence McAfee took off from his centre-back position and with a great pick-up on the run he soloed through to fire in the match winning goal to seal the John Kelly Cup.
Ulster: Brian McNaughton (Cushendall), Emmett Hunter (Carey Faughs), Peter Hatzer, John Lavin, Stephen McAfee (Ballycastle) (1-2), Brian Conroy, Gerard McFeteridge (0-1) (Armoy), Trevor Fallon (0-2), Lorcan Kennedy, Eamon Brennan (0-2), Conor O’Kane (Armoy) (1-10), Fionnbhar McBride (0-1) (Armoy), Brian Fitzgerald. Subs: J. Joyce, C. Starr, C. O’Connor.
Westmeath: Colin White, Brendan Hickey, Liam Butler, Sean Loughlin-Stones, John Comerford, Alan Sherlock, Ultan O’Connor (0-2), Eoghan Carew, Josh Dennehy, Ger McPartland (1-6), Mark Dowds (0-1), Steve O’Neill, Jason Kelly (0-3). Subs: Stephen Harten (2-0), Mike Stones, Neil Francis, John Melia, Dean O’Donnell, Leon Dunican, Michael Caterson, Pat Layde.
Man of the Match: Conor O’Kane.
Referee: Alan Gleason.