Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship
Cushendall 4-15 Ballycastle 1-9
McLaughlin hat trick sets up the Ruairis
Cushendall secured their place in the final of the Senior Hurling Championship when they beat Ballycastle in Saturday’s semi-final at Fr Healy Park, Loughgiel. A hat-trick of goals by their young corner forward Joseph McLaughlin and one from veteran centre forward Neil McManus were the scores that did the trick for the Ruairis. Ballycastle battled hard against the odds and midway through the opening half it appeared there might be a shock on the cards when a goal from Cailin O’Connor gave them a three point lead, despite playing into the driving wind and rain.
However Cushendall came back with a bang and two goals from McLaughlin saw them turn the game back in their favour, the St Killian’s College student making no mistake from close range. Despite trailing by six at half time the Ballycastle side must have felt they were still in the game, but when they came out after half time to find the rain had gone and wind well reduced, they probably knew it was not going to be their day.
However that is not to suggest that Cushendall were not fully deserving of their win, for when they were challenged they were able to up the pace and in Eoin Campbell, Neill McMcManus and Joseph McLaughlin they had players who were a class apart.
Ballycastle were more than holding their own in the opening quarter but in horrendous condition both sides were struggling to find the target. Right half forward Ronan McCollum opened Cushendall’s account with a well taken point but Tiernan Smyth soon had Ballycastle level when he sent over a free at the other end on seven minutes. Neil McManus put Cushendall back in front when he pointed a free from out on the sideline but Smyth had Ballycastle level four minutes later when he sent over at the other end.
When Ballycastle’s Cailan O’Connor connected perfectly on a free that dropped in around the Cushendall goalmouth, and sent it flying to the net through a crowded goalmouth his team were three clear after sixteen minutes, and things were starting to look promising for the ‘Town’. However they got little time to enjoy their advantage and when Neil McManus intercepted a wayward hand-pass in the Ballycastle rearguard a minute later, he sent Joe McLaughlin clear for the first of his three goals and Cushendall were back on top. Still Ballycastle must have felt they were still in a good position with just five minutes of the opening half still to play, but the Ruairis finished strongly and after Eoghan Campbell soloed out of defence, before sending over a lovely point, McLaughlin added a point from play soon aftewards. Things went from bad to worse for Ballycastle as following the poc-out from McLaughlin’s point he took advantage of another wayward hand pass and fired in his second goal to give his team a six point lead at the break.
When the sides re-emerged for the second half the rain and the brollies had gone but Ballycastle made a promising start when centre back Conor Boyd sent one over from distance, but McLaughlin cancelled that out a minute later. James McShane cut it back to five again but Cushendall were starting get on top and following a Ronan McCollum point Joseph McLaughlin completed his hat-trick when he burst through from outside the ‘D’ and batted a ball down past Ryan McGarry in the Ballycastle goal.
Conor Boyd kept Ballycastle in touch with his second point of the half but two pointed frees by McManus and one from play by Campbell stretched that advantage even further. McShane pulled another one back for Ballycastle but McManus came back with two in as many minutes, both from frees. A superb point on the run from James McLister lifted Ballycastle spirits but Cushendall were dominant by this stage and it took and incredible save from close range by Ballycastle’s goalkeeper Ryan McGarry to deny McManus.
Points followed from McManus and Campbell before the former finished the goal scoring with a top class strike after cutting in from the left corner.