Ulster U20 Hurling Cup Final
Antrim 2-13 Derry 0-11
Saturday 11 March
Brendan McTaggart reports from Owenbeg
Antrim recovered from a poor first half at a wintry Owenbeg to take the U20 honours against Derry. Eight points separated the sides at the end of the hour with Antrim’s majors the difference. Aidan Scullion finding the back of the net in each half that gave the Saffrons the edge against the Oakleaf men.
Derry will look at the first half when despite taking a one point lead into the break, they really should have been further ahead. Before Antrim’s first goal, they had held Paudie Shivers men scoreless for 15 minutes but only managed to score three points in that same period of time while firing six wides. It felt like they had let Antrim off the hook with their lack of accuracy and it proved to be so. Once Scullion fired the first of Antrim’s majors, Derry never dominated another period of time to effectively put the Saffrons under any score board pressure.
The Saffrons played with more intensity in the second half and Scullion’s second goal midway through the half put daylight between the sides. The introduction of Darragh Patterson, Cormac McKeown and Jack McCloskey all proving pivotal in the second half as Antrim held Derry to just three points in that period , controlling the game and dominating the Oakleaf men.
Playing against the wind, Antrim made a bright start. Aodhan Scullion fired over his first of four match points to open the scoring before James Friel restored parity for Derry. Both sides were lacking precision in those opening exchanges with the elements certainly not conducive for flowing hurling. McGarry did split the posts only for Ruairi O’Mianian to bring the sides level once again.
Niall McGarel split the uprights in the 12th minute to edge Antrim ahead once more, a tidy score that underpinned his performance in the opening quarter. He was proving to be a handful for Derry defence and Antrim couldn’t get enough ball his way. It would be the Saffrons last score for a quarter of the game however as Derry turned the screw in the middle of the pitch.
Friel landed a trio of points from placed ball (1 ’65) but a number of wides from open play and frees hurt the Derry challenge. They led by two points and were winning every second ball in the middle third with the Saffrons struggling to get out of their own half.
Antrim did finally break the rut and did so in the best possible way. Joseph McLaughlin finding Scullion who despite being some distance out, went for goal. His effort fizzed low and Derry ‘keeper Cathan McElhinney managed to get his hurl to the sliotar but he could only deflect it to the back of the net.
The major came against the run of play and it was most definitely needed for the Saffrons as they weren’t at the races against a barrage of Derry pressure. They followed up Scullion’s major with another McGarel point to go two clear but Derry hit back. Friel fired over from a ’65 and a free either side of Keelan Doherty’s point to give Derry a 0-8 to 1-4 lead at the short whistle.
Scullion’s major gave the Saffrons a lifeline for the second half. They had the breeze at their back and had already shown in the first half their forwards were capable of causing major problems. They needed to tighten up the middle third and the introduction of Darragh Patterson allowed them to do that. He played at the heart of the defence as a sweeper as Antrim pegged Derry into their own half for long periods of the second half.
Six minutes had past after the restart when they had retaken the lead. Scullion and McGarry splitting the uprights before Joseph McLaughlin followed suit after good work by captain Eoin Trainor in the middle of the field.
Antrim too were guilty of a number passing up on a number of chances with their tally of wides growing in those opening exchanges but the first Derry score of the second half didn’t come until the 44th minute, Keelan Doherty finding the target to bring Derry to within touching distance.
It was as close as they got to the Saffrons however as Shivers’ men scored their second major soon after. Daire McMullan’s long free wasn’t dealt with in the heart of the Derry full back line and Scullion was on hand to pull the sliotar to the back of the net.
Jack McCloskey fired over with the next attack to put five between the sides as Antrim played with more precision and intensity in the middle of the park.
Substitute Segdae Melaugh split the posts for Derry in the 50th minute to leave four between the sides, Melaugh’s introduction certainly giving Derry another option in attack and he was in the thick of the action for the Oakleaf men but the Antrim defence were well on top with Derry living off crumbs.
The scores began to come a bit more freely in the closing stages with Cormac McKeown, Ryan Mort (two), Aodhan McGarry (free) and Christy McGarry all raising a white flag in a five minute spell that saw the Saffrons add gloss to the score line but it was nothing short of what their second half showing deserved.
Ruairi O’Mianian fired over in injury time for Derry but it was too little too late as Antrim ran out comfortable winners in the end.
They now go into the Leinster championship round robin where they will play Meath, Offaly and Westmeath.
Antrim: Eoghan Richmond; Ben McGarry, Ruairi McCormick, Dubhaltach Wilson; Daire McMullan, Eoin Trainor, Conor Boyle; Eoin McFerran, Connor Dickson; Aodhan McGarry, Joseph McLaughlin, Christy McGarry; Ryan Mort, Aidan Scullion, Niall McGarel
Subs: Darragh Patterson for C Boyle (HT); Cormac McKeown for E Trainor (41); Jack McCloskey for J McLaughlin (41); Seamie McIntosh for N McGarel (52); Ronan McCollum for A Scullion (58)
Scorers: A Scullion 2-1; A McGarry 0-4 (1f); N McGarel 0-2; R Mort 0-2; J McLaughlin 0-1; C McGarry 0-1; C McKeown 0-1; J McCloskey 0-1
Derry: Cathan McElhinney; Andy McBride, Aimon Duffin, Mark McEldowney; John McAllister, James Friel, Callum O’Kane; Ronan McNamee, Eunan Boylan; Ruairi O’Mianian, Niall McGonagle, Jack Cassidy; Conor Murtagh, Eamon Cassidy, Keelan Doherty
Subs: Segdae Melaugh for C Murtagh (HT); Ruaidhri McLaughlin for R McNamee (37); Conan Bradley for E Boylan (53)
Scorers: J Friel 0-6 (4fs 2’65s); R O’Mianian 0-2; K Doherty 0-2; S Melaugh 0-1
Referee: James Clarke (Cavan)