Dunloy and Ruairi’s start semi’s as favourites

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship Semi Finals

Brendan McTaggart looks ahead to Sunday’s semi finals of this years Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship.

Phoney wars and jostling for positions have come to an end.  One of the best days in the hurling calendar is upon us with the race for the Volunteer Cup reaching the semi-final stages.  Old rivalries renewed, hope rekindled and championship fever setting in.  Four clubs within a stones throw of making the decider.  

Lovely stuff, but the timing could be better.  We didn’t get a double header for the senior matches and we don’t have much time between the two games for travel.  If there’s extra-time in Ballycastle I know of at least one journo who will be hoping there’s no speed camera’s from the north coast to Antrim town!

2pm and 5pm throw in, not ideal.  A 11:30am throw in for the minor final is, well, it could have been kinder for the young lads.  It’s not all doom and gloom however.  It’s good to see the minor final being played as part of a doubleheader with the same pairing in both games at Ballycastle.

That first game is probably the most intriguing of the weekend.  Loughgiel buoyant from a quite brilliant display against Rossa in the quarter-final while Cushendall have been playing like a side with a point to prove.  The form team of this year’s championship and they’ll start this semi as favourites to progress.

When they played each other in the group stages, Cushendall weathered an early Shamrock storm to win comfortably at the end of the hour at Dunsilly.  Loughgiel started superbly with Dan McCloskey and Donal McKinley in the thick of the action while Paul Boyle was unplayable in the opening 20 minutes.  The Ruairi’s responded by switching Scott Walsh onto Boyle and the young Loughgiel flyer was grounded for the rest of the game.  Walsh playing at wing half has been superb this championship campaign for Cushendall and I’d expect him to pick up Boyle again on Sunday.

The Shamrocks stuttered through the group stages, sealing their quarter final place by defeating Naomh Eanna.  There was no such stuttering against Rossa.  Hurling with precision, incisiveness, wonderful vision and panache.  Hugh McCann and his backroom team have the Shamrock’s firing.

Cushendall’s progress to the last four has been more serene than previous years.  A flawless league campaign where they defeated Naomh Eanna handsomely and had a bit to spare over Loughgiel and St John’s.  Talisman Neil McManus missed out on the Johnnies match with an ankle injury but you’d imagine it would take more than that sort of injury to stop McManus from lining out on Sunday!

Where Cushendall have been most impressive is their midfield pairing of Aidan McNaughton and Alex Delargy.  A pairing that you just know will never stop working and who can be so dangerous when breaking from rucks.  

Christy McNaughton’s performance against St John’s was mindboggling.  16 points, plenty from play and it may not be enough to see him seal a place in the starting 15 for Sunday!  It looks like Brian McNaughton and his team like to go for either Christy of McManus, rarely both.  

Loughgiel have been bringing plenty of their talented minor winning squads of recent years through this year and the safety net of the group stages has allowed them to bring them through at their own pace.  Rian McMullan, Paul Boyle, Enda Og McGarry, Rory McCloskey and Christy McGarry all prominent this season while Maol Connolly’s return to a senior Loughgiel shirt has been most welcome for those around Fr Healy Park.

A side that has the talents of Declan McCloskey, Tiarnan Coyle and Eddie McCloskey, not to mention James McNaughton will always be in with a chance but for me Cushendall will have enough in them to reach the decider.  They have been mighty impressive so far this year and while Loughgiel are certainly stepping in the right direction, it might be a year too soon for Shamrocks to add to their record tally of Antrim championships.

Dunsilly is the venue for the second semi final and a repeat pairing of 2021.  Dunloy defeated St John’s that day under a monsoon and Ciaran Johnston won’t want reminded of how that game transpired.  An early rush of blood and the Johnnies were down to 14 men and while the held onto the coat tails of the Cuchullains, a brilliant goal from Keelan Molloy midway through the second half put daylight between the sides.

The Johnnies started the championship with a brilliant win over Loughgiel on home turf before seeing off Naomh Eanna to set up a winner takes all match of sorts against Cushendall.  A sunny day on the north coast and St John’s found Christy McNaughton too hot to handle.  An exhibition from ‘Sambo’s youngest’ and St John’s had to settle for a quarter final spot and a tie against Ballycastle.  The Corrigan Park men were pushed all the way by The Town but their cause wasn’t helped by a 15 wides and passing up on a plethora of goal chances.

During that hour, Aaron Bradley and Oisin Donnelly caught the eye while Michail Dudley was everywhere and probably St John’s best player on the day, followed closely by Shea Shannon.

Playing Peter McCallin at wing back was always a bit of a strange one for me given how good he is on the inside forward line but he forms a half back with Padraig Nugent and Michael Bradley and it’s got the potential to win any game.

Dunloy’s championship campaign has been more of the same serenity the Cuchullains have come accustomed to in recent years.  Their defeat to Loughgiel in the 2018 semi-final remains the last time Gregory O’Kane’s side tasted defeat in the chase for the Volunteer Cup.

The Cuchullains started with a superb display against Ballycastle at Pairc Mac Uilin.  Missing more than a few from the championship 15 from last year, Dunloy were breath taking throughout.  A solid if not spectacular performance followed against a spirited Carey side at Loughgiel before sealing their place in the last four with a win against Rossa on home turf.

Gregory O’Kane’s men have had to manage a run with the big ball within the club this season with Dunloy also in the Intermediate football decider next weekend.  11 dual players in Dunloy’s starting 15 for their football semi final last Sunday against Davitt’s.  A game that saw Seaan Elliott and Chrissy McMahon having to leave the field carrying injuries while Deaglan Smith didn’t look 100% by the full time whistle.  The joys of dual clubs, eh?

Dunloy will start this one as favourites and while I would tend to agree with that favourites tag, St John’s have the ability to cause Dunloy problems.  They too have a host of injury concerns and players unavailable but they showed in biblical like rain that they can stop the Cuchullains and stay with them with 14 men.  If they keep their discipline on Sunday they have every chance.  I expect them to slow the game as much as possible and stopping the Cuchullains from gaining any sort of momentum, just like 12 months ago but Dunloy should have enough to make it a Dunloy and Cushendall decider in two weeks time.

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