Cushendall and Dunloy drew in one of the games of the 90s

When Dunloy made their hurling breakthrough in 1990 there were many pundits who felt that would go on and win the next five or six titles, so impressive was their young side. However Cushendall had other ideas and it was them, not Dunloy, who showed their class to take the next three in a row. During that time there were many great games between the two but one game really stands out. In 1993 they met in the quarter-final of the championship in Loughgiel and while both teams had the chance of booking that final spot, but in the end the honours were shared and they had to meet again the following week.

Justin McCarthy

Former Cork star Justin McCarthy, who was part of the Dunloy backroom team that day, said afterwards that it was the best game of club hurling had seen in over twenty years, high praise indeed.

This is the match report and photos from the Ballymena Chronicle two days later.

Cushendall (Holders) – 3-11

Dunloy                       – 1-17

County hurling champions Cushendall, and the team whom most pundits tip to take over their mantle, Dunloy, played out a thrilling draw on Sunday evening at Fr Healey Park, Loughgiel in the quarter-final of the Senior Hurling Championship.

In one of the best games of hurling seen in Antrim for long and many a d day, the champions and the challengers produced a second half of sheer brilliance which kept the large crowd enthralled right up to the final whistle. The game started slowly but as the first half progressed the tempo picked up, while the second half was sheer class from start to finish.

Cushendall could have had the game won at half time but poor finishing (they shot nine first half wides) let them down. Dunloy appeared to be well on their way when they went three points up with just six minutes left for play, but they were hit by two superb points from Alastair McGuile and had to produce a storming finish to earn a replay.

Despite the fact there had be rain for most of the day before the game and that a Senior Reserve game had been played beforehand, the Loughgiel pitch was in excellent condition. The surface was a little slippery and not surprisingly both teams took a little while to settle. Cushendall adjusted quicker and after Paddy Walsh had put them ahead from a 65, Danny McNaughton added one from play to put them two ahead. Dunloy drew level with two pointed frees from Gregory O’Kane, but the Cushendall forwards were stretching the Dunloy defence and from one of the openings they created Shane Elliott had to make a great save to deny Terence McNaughton a goal.

‘Feet’ McAlister is the meat in the sandwich between Dunloy’s Alastair Elliott and Jarlath McGrath.

Still the champions kept up the pressure and three quick points from Paddy Walsh, John Carson and Conor McCambridge game them a  0-5 to 0-2 lead. They should have gone further ahead but wayward shooting let them down and Dunloy took advantage to pull back two points through Alastair Elliott and Seamus McMullan.

Nearing half-time Cushendall went three clear again when Jackie Carson sent over a free and Mark McCambridge scored from play, but before the short whistle Seamus McMullan cut Dunloy’s deficit to two (0-7 to 0-5) when he sent over from a ‘65’.   

A pointed free from close range and a massive effort from almost 80 yards by Seamus McMullan had Dunloy level two minutes after the restart and the scene was set for an absorbing second half. A point by Cushendall’s right half forward Conor McCambridge restored the ‘Dall lead and less that a minute later they went four ahead when a long ball from out on the wing by Terence McNaughton was misjudged by Shane Elliott in the Dunloy goal and ended up in the back of the net.

Dunloy were shaken but they fought back with two pointed frees from Gregory O’Kane and one from play by Jarlath Elliott to cut the gap back to one. Terence McNaughton pointed for Cushendall to open the gap to two, but just at the end of the third quarter Jarlath Elliott scrambled in a goal after a long ball by Eamon McKee caused confusion in the ‘Dall defence.  

The lead was short lived as Monty McCambridge broke away on the right wing and sent over the equaliser, but Dunloy, who now had Alastair Elliott in the half forward line, were starting to gain the advantage. Elliott hit two points in as many minutes and his brother Jarlath added another to put the 1990 champions three clear with just nine minutes left on the clock.

Conor ‘Monty’ McCambridge in action against Dunloy’s Sean ‘Patch’ Mullan

Those last minutes must have doubled the heart rates of both sets of supporters as the excitement rose to fever-pitch. The goal which saw Cushendall draw level in the 52nd minute was a superb effort from corner forward Alastair McGuile. Conor McCambridge had again worked the opening, but the long ball he sent in around the Dunloy goalmouth appeared to be going wide. However McGuile ran across from the left corner and somehow flicked it back over his head at full stretch and into the Dunloy net.

Big John Carson gave Cushendall back the lead, but Dunloy’s best forward Gregory O’Kane split the uprights once again to restore parity for the fifth time. Just when the Cuchullains thought they had weathered the storm McGuile struck once again. Jackie Carson cut in along the endline and as he struggled to keep possession he sent the ball in across the goals where McGuile met it perfectly and drilled it low to the Dunloy net to put his side three clear with seven minutes to go.

Dunloy had it all to do again, but they met the challenge well and two more points from ‘Dick’ O’Kane frees left them just one behind with just four minutes left to play. A minute later an Alastair Elliott shot came back off the upright and ‘Nipper’ McKee raced in to fire it over the bar… could easily have been a goal. Dunloy had two chances to win the game but Alastair Elliott and Gary O’Kane shot wide from good positions while at the other end Alastair McNaughton had and even easier chance of sealing the win for the ‘Dall with practically the last puc of the game, but he too was off target and so they must do it all again.

Dunloy’s Tony McGrath sends the ball towards the Cushendall square

Overall a great game, played in a fine sporting spirit. For county team manager Jim Nelson, who wanted the game off because of the risk of injury to players involved in next week’s All Ireland Quarter final against Meath. Thankfully all his players came through relatively unscathed.

For the champions ‘Feet’ McAlister, ‘Gaza’ McCambridge, James McNaughton and the little Maestro Leonard McKeegan were superb in defence. The midfield pairing of Mark McCambridge and Paddy Walsh more than held their own while in the forwards Cushendall have found a new star in nineteen year old Conor McCambridge just edges Leonard McKeegan for man of the match. Terence McNaughton and John Carson were in great form up front, while Alaister McGulie’s two goals were superb.

The Dunloy defence struggled for long periods, though Dominic and Seamus McMullan played very well in the second half. Both midfielders had their good spells with Tony McGrath showing best just before half time and Nigel Elliott most prominent in the second period. Gregory O’Kane was Dunloy’s best forward, though Alastair Elliott played much better when moved out to the half forward line, where he had a great last quarter.

Cushendall scorers – Alastair McGuile 2-0; Terence McNaughton 1-1; Conor McCambridge 0-3; John Carson 0-3; Paddy Walsh 0-2; Mark McCambridge 0-1; Danny McNaughton 0-1.

Dunloy scorers – Gregory O’Kane 0-8; Jarlath Elliott 1-2; Alastair Elliott 0-3; Seamus McMullan 0-3 (1 free and two 65s); Eamon McKee 0-1.

CUSHENDALL – Kieran McNaughton, Brendan McAlister, Aidan McAteer, Kieran McCambridge, James McNaughton, Leonard McKeegan, Fergal McNaughton, Paddy Walsh, Mark McCambridge, Conor McCambridge, John Carson, Alastair McNaughton, Alastair McGuile, Terence McNaughton, Danny McNaughton.


DUNLOY – Shane Elliott, Brian Og Cunning, Dominic McMullan. Sean McIhatton, Frankie McMullan, Seamus McMullan, Sean Mullan, Tony McGrath, Nigel Elliott, Gregory O’Kane, Gary O’Kane, Eamon McKee, Jarlath McGrath, Jarlath Elliott, Alastair Elliott

Referee – Tommy McIntyre. (Loughgiel)

Two of the great stars of 90s Gary O’Kane and Leonard McKeegan wrap their hurls around each other as the battle under a dropping ball in the 1993 quarter final in Loughgiel

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