Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship
Sunday 3 September
Loughgiel 0-19 Cushendall 4-22
Brendan McTaggart reports from Healy Park, Loughgiel
Main picture – The ball flies past Loughgiel goalkeeper Chrissy O’Connell high into the top left corner of the net for Neil McManus’s goal from the penalty spot
There are times in hurling when you leave the ground saying, ‘I’m glad I was here to witness that.’ Sunday evening in Healy Park, Loughgiel was another of those occasions. Neil McManus may have hung his county hurl up but my God he showed his appetite for the game remains as fervent as ever. 4-9 over the hour in a performance that underlines his reputation as the Roy of the Rovers of hurling – that line unashamedly stolen from Cushendall scribe, Colum Thompson.
McManus roamed through the pristine surface of Healy Park using all the experience he has garnered to find where he can cause the most problems. His aerial ability on the edge of the square to create a chance from a dropping ball that ended up in the back of the Loughgiel net. He completed a first half hat-trick with a penalty and a 21 yard free that found either top corner of the Lough Road goals to underline Cushendall’s supremacy against a Loughgiel side who had no answer to the Ruairi’s power players in the middle of the pitch.
15 points at the end of an hours hurling and a score line that certainly didn’t flatter the Ruairi’s. Loughgiel couldn’t make any inroads into a Cushendall defence that had all the answers to the questions posed by the Shamrocks.
You know what you’re going to get from the likes of Paddy and Martin Burke, two top defenders while Scott Walsh’s performance on any other day would have been worthy of a man of the match award.
Conor McAllister’s ability to fire the sliotar 100 plus yards down the pitch from restarts was a massive threat in the Ruairi’s arsenal. Time and again the sliotar was dropping under McManus or Christy McNaughton with Niall McCormack and Joseph McLaughlin never far away for the breaking ball. It’s a ploy that they used with super effect. Ball winners are a huge part in any teams game plan and Cushendall had the upperhand against the Shamrocks full back line.
The Shamrocks for all their youthful talent looked a side shellshocked at the end of the hour. Matches between these two sides in recent memory normally go down to the final whistle and never more than a goal between the sides. This one was over by the time McManus showed his predatory instincts to score his fourth goal in the 39th minute. What followed was the stuff of exhibitions from the Ruairi’s with points coming from all corners.
Loughgiel were reliant on the free taking of James McNaughton and Shan McGrath to keep in touch and despite trailing by eight at the interval, the Shamrocks had it reduced to just three after just eight second half minutes.
It was as close as they got, however. Cushendall had the measure of their attack while with the experience of Andrew McNaughton coming off the bench and the talents of Sean McAfee and Eoghan Campbell also, the Ruairi’s never showed a weakness nor dipped their intensity that would’ve given the Shamrocks a glimmer of hope.
Such was the dominance of the Ruairi’s defence, they held Loughgiel scoreless from play from the 34th minute of the game and only another two men in red had their names on the list of scorers – Dan McCloskey and Paul Boyle raising white flags on an evening where they flattered to deceive. James McNaughton top scored with 0-11 beside his name while McGrath had six white flags, 11 of those scores from both men coming from placed ball.
Cushendall added gloss to their performance in the final quarter with Joseph McLaughlin further adding to his growing reputation. He finished with three points beside his name but an afternoon that saw him take on one of the best teams in the county in the championship environment and flourish. Ronan McAteer was another who grew in confidence as the half progressed and in a period of play that saw the Ruairi’s outscore Loughgiel 1-10 to 0-2. 15 minutes of play that was brutally devastating and left the Shamrocks bewildered, pinned in their own half and bereft of ideas on how to stop the barrage of maroon and white coming their way.
It’s fair to say the Ruairi’s threw down a marker and statement of intent for the rest of the county to step up and take notice on Sunday evening. They pushed Dunloy to the pin of their collar in a brilliant county final in 2022 and have aspirations of going one further this year and have a four week break before their semi-final. Loughgiel will lick their wounds from this encounter before casting their eyes towards an improving St John’s side for their quarter-final in two weeks time.
Loughgiel: C O’Connell; T Coyle, Declan McCloskey, R McCloskey; E Og McGarry, D McMullan, C Blair; R McKee, P Boyle (0-1); R McCormick, J McNaughton (0-11 7fs), Daniel McCloskey (0-1); S McGrath (0-6 4fs), C McGarry, C Hargan
Subs: R McCloskey for E Og McGarry (HT); D Patterson for R McKee (59); O McFadden for C Blair (59)
Cushendall: C McAllister; P Burke, L Gillan, M Burke; S Walsh (0-1), R McCollum, R McCambridge (0-1); F McCurry, C McClafferty; R McAteer (0-2), N McManus (4-9 1-00pen, 1-2fs, 3 65’s), F McCambridge (0-1); C McNaughton (0-2), N McCormack (0-1), J McLaughlin (0-3)
Subs: A McNaughton for F McCurry (HT); S McAfee for R McCollam (HT); E Campbell (0-1) for C McClafferty (39); E McQuillan (0-1) for F McCambridge (48); P McGill for C McNaughton (53)
Referee: Mark O’Neill (Armoy)