Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship
Cushendall vs Rossa 12:30pm Referee: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)
Dunloy vs St John’s 4.30pm Referee: Kevin Parke (Naomh Eanna)
Brendan McTaggart previews the doubleheader at Dunsilly
And then there were four.
The race for the Volunteer Cup reaches the semi-finals and like last year, a double header in Dunsilly. Lovely stuff.
Rossa and Cushendall, Dunloy and St John’s and two ties that could really go either way, no matter what the bookies might tell you. For the record, they have Cushendall at -2 and Dunloy at -6. Extremely generous and there may be a few who might have a look at the betting in the second semi-final.
So a look at the quarter-finals first of all. Cushendall safely negotiated as expected, the challenge of Naomh Eanna. Although maybe just not as handsomely as initially thought. It was a solid if not spectacular performance from the Ruairi’s who were relieved for a broken Joe Maskey hurl and a favourable square-ball call. Naomh Eanna gave a good account of themselves and but for some horrendous luck, they could have been closer to Cushendall but you got the feeling the Ruairi’s could go through the gears if required.
After an initial burst from the Hightown Road men, Cushendall settled with Christy McNaughton and Neil McManus dovetailing well in attack and Niall McCormick’s early goal and menace giving the ‘Dall an edge.
They go into Sunday’s first semi-final as slight favourite’s as thoughts turn to the encounter with Rossa a little over 12 months ago. At the Hightown Road, a brace of goals from Stephen Beatty caused an upset with Colly Murphy’s men defeating Cushendall by a score line of 2-11 to 0-16. A match that could be looked upon as a watershed moment for the Jeremiah’s and a belief in what they’re building towards underlined with a big win over Loughgiel in the group stage.
That win in Fr Healy Park had more significance for Rossa given the fact they have had that more than a few of their squad have dual responsibilities also. The extra week break for their hurlers will be exactly what the doctor ordered and has allowed for a clean bill of health with Michael Armstrong recovering from a hamstring injury. Cushendall’s injury concerns are a little less clear cut with Alex Delargy missing the Naomh Eanna game after picking up a knock in the group game win over St John’s while Paddy McGill was introduced as a sub but taken off against Naomh Eanna with a niggle.
It’s a fascinating game with sub-plots every way you turn. Cushendall will feel like they have a point to prove following last years defeat to the same opposition and perhaps a point to prove to themselves, they are better than the performance they gave in the last round. For Rossa, they want to keep their momentum going. An unbeaten league campaign and another scalp against one of the north Antrim big guns under their belt, momentum, a clean bill of health and a chance to reach a first county final since 2004.
The bookies have Cushendall as narrow favourites and with league victories (two) and a win against Rossa in the reserve championship, you can see why that is. They are a side who are never easily beaten and have a knowhow when it comes to the championship. I have a sneaky suspicion that the Jeremiah’s will upset the odds, however…
The second semi is a repeat of the classic between these sides three weeks ago in Corrigan Park. Dunloy came out on top 2-30 to 1-26 in a scorefest between the best two attacking sides in the county. Dunloy purred through the gears early on and controlled that contest but St John’s more than played their part. Shea Shannon, Conor Johnston and Donal Carson excellent in attack and Michael Bradley was excellent from midfield.
The Johnnies made some positional changes for their quarter-final with Oisin Donnelly moving to midfield and partnering Michael Bradley while Peter McCallin and Ciaran Johnston took a starting 15 jersey. Donnelly is carrying a niggle and is a doubt for Sunday’s quarter-final but I’d expect a similar 15 again. The Johnnies will know where they got it wrong against Dunloy in the group stages and coming off the back of a big win against Loughgiel, they will have a huge amount of confidence. So often in recent years they have come up short in tight matches but against Loughgiel, they rode out the storm and edged home in a titanic tussle.
If the Johnnies go man for man against Dunloy, it will be an incredible spectacle but you have to think they will come out second best. Dunloy have the best attacking unit in the county and if you’re going to beat the reigning champions, you have to limit their attacking threats. That being said, it’s easier said that done. Cushendall did it in the first match of the championship and St John’s tried it in Corrigan Park but the Cuchullains were in top form by that stage with cobwebs blown and ring rust gone. They should have Paul Shiels back in the starting line up, Shorty has been carrying a niggle since the Cushendall game but played the last five in Corrigan.
Who wins? Dunloy are favourites and it will take something special from St John’s to stop them but if any team is capable of it, Brian McFall’s men certainly are. They will need to go beyond and reach a higher performance level than they’ve shown to date in 2021 but momentum is a wonderful attribute in this beautiful game. The expected weather conditions could even the playing field and make this anyone’s game but I see the Cuchullains making the final.