‘Biddies’ host Castleblaney at Ahoghill in Ulster Opener

Ulster Junior Hurling Club Championship

St. Brigid’s Cloughmills v Castleblaney Hurling Club

Ahoghill-Saturday 2-00pm

Antrim Junior Hurling champions, St. Brigid’s Cloughmills open their Ulster campaign this Saturday when they face Castleblaney Hurling Club in Clooney.

The Antrim champions will go into this one as favourites following an impressive championship campaign in Antrim which culminated with victory over neighbours, Glen Rovers, Armoy in the final in Glenariffe.

St. Brigid’s began their championship campaign with a 1-19 to 0-13 win over Gort na Mona at Enright Park in the opening round of their Group 2 qualifying section and followed that up with another victory over All Saints in Cloughmills.

Six points was the margin of victory in that one and up to that point their performances had been solid rather than spectacular and it was their namesakes, St. Brigid’s Belfast who felt the lash as the ‘Biddies’ found their scoring touch in the final group game.

The Musgrave Park ‘Biddies’ would feel the full lash of the Cloughmills’ scoring machine and the South West side recorded 6-24 against the minnows of Group 2 as they hit form just at the right time as they entered the knock-out stages.

By virtue of topping their group St. Brigid’s earned a semi-final place and they were drawn against a Lamh Dhearg side who appeared to be hitting form at the right time themselves when they defeated All Saints by 6-16 to 0-14 in the quarter-finals.

St. Brigid’s had home advantage for their meeting with the Hannastown side and after Mickey Devlin had given the home side the lead with an excellent long range point it was the Hannastown side who sprung to life to hit the next four points with Odhran Waldron, Adam Murray, Michael Herron and Murray again from a 7th minute free putting them three in front and looking good.

The visitors would only add one further first half point however as Cloughmills suddenly realised they had a game on their hands and a couple of superb side-line cuts from Michael Devlin, which sandwiched an Eoin Dobbin point from play had them back on level terms by the 13th minute.

The hosts went on to lead 0-11 to 0-5 at the break with Eoin Dobbin, Reece Watt, James Doherty and Mickey Devlin from a ‘65’all on target and would go on to win comfortably in the end with Dobbin in superb scoring form and substitute Odhran McCurdy put the contest to bed with a goal in the 25th minute.

On the other side of the draw it was Glen Rovers, who emerged as St. Brigid’s opponents for the final and the Armoy side had impressed themselves as they went through group 1 unbeaten before beating Gort na Mona in Armoy in the semi-final.

The final between these neighbours and keen rivals in Waterfoot didn’t disappoint and there was little between the sides throughout but the sending off of an Armoy player in the 31st minute of the first half, following an off the ball incident and a goal from Liam Kearns, 9 minutes into the second had a major influence on the eventual outcome.

Glen Rovers came back strongly with Rocky Dillon driving them forward with Eamonn McCaughan hitting three on the bounce and Eoin O’Boyle adding another to close the gap to one by the 16th minute.

They continued to press and Owen Kinney looked in for a goal but his effort was charged down before the ‘Biddies’ broke forward and Conor Laverty struck a fine point to relieve the siege.

Back came Armoy and Turlach McBride continued with his master class in long range free taking as he split the posts from 60 meters to leave just one in it again with two minutes of normal time remaining.

That was as close as they got however with the excellent Eoin Dobbin setting up substitute Reece Watt for the game’s final score to leave Cloughmills victorious by two points in the end.

St. Brigid’s, who stepped down from Intermediate at the start of the season, are a strong and experienced side. Chris McKiernan is a reliable keeper while Kevin O’Boyle, Geoffery Og Laverty and Johnny Duffin backbone a solid defence.

Joseph Smyth and Odhran McCurdy get through a power of work at mid-field while Eoin Dobbin has been a consistent scorer, both from frees and open play and is part of a sharp attack that includes Michael Devlin, Ruairi Laverty and Liam Kearns, all potential match winners on their day.

What of Castleblaney?

Monaghan teams are never easily beaten in Ulster competitions and Cloughmills would do well to treat Saturday’s opponents with the upmost respect. Castleblaney were beaten by Inniskeen in this years Monaghan final but by virtute enter the Ulster Junior Championship while their conquerors, Inniskeen take part in the Intermediate Championship

Inniskeen 1-11 Castleblayney 0-13

Inniskeen are Monaghan Senior Hurling Championship winners for 2023 after they thwarted Castleblayney’s seven-in-a-row bid in a dramatic finish in Clones.

Niall Arthur’s haul of 1-06 proved decisive as Inniskeen won their first county title since 2016, even though the Clare native spent the last quarter on the sidelines after being sent off immediately after netting the game’s only goal.

Eight points from Niall Garland kept Blayney in touch, but they were left to rue a tally of 15 wides as they saw their hopes of a seventh successive title ended by Inniskeen, with history repeating itself after the same had happened in the 2010 final.

Castleblayney had made much the brighter start, with a brace from Garland helping them take a four-point lead, but a Pauric Dowdall penalty save [denying his opposite number, Hugh Byrne] kept Inniskeen in touch and a string of fine scores from Arthur saw them grow into the contest.

Garland and Arthur both finished the first half with six points to their name as Blayney changed ends leading by the narrowest of margins at 0-08 to 0-07.

Inniskeen again took more than ten minutes to open their account in the second half, but after a Patrick Boyle point had brought them back within two, Arthur connected with Conor McHugh’s dangerous cross to edge them ahead.

Arthur was subsequently dismissed, but with Pádraig McGahon taking over free-taking duties, he hit three crucial scores late on.

Even though Blayney managed a point from substitute Fergal Rafter and a brace by Thomas Hughes, they missed a couple of chances to force extra-time and there were jubilant scenes for Inniskeen as they celebrated a famous win.

Castleblayney: Hugh Byrne; Paudie Heavin, Colin Merrick, Eoin Leonard; Pauric Malone (0-01), Declan Hughes (0-01), Cormac McNally; Aaron Kenny, Brian Flanagan; Thomas Hughes (0-03), Niall Garland (0-07, 4f, 1’65), Patrick Finnegan; Conall McHugh, Mark Treanor, Brian McGuigan.

Subs: Fergal Rafter (0-01) for McHugh (39); Peter Treanor for McNally (57).

Castleblaney have a good recordin Ulster competitions against Antrim teams, beating Glenravel in 2016 in the semi-final and two years latewr defeating Cushendun in the final at Owenbeg.

Ulster Junior Hurling Championships were annexed by Castleblaney in 2014 and 2018, with the seniors becoming the first team from Castleblayney to play in Croke Park when they closely contested the All-Ireland Junior Hurling Club Championship Final against Dunamaggin from Kilkenny.

St. Brigid’s need to be wary of Saturday’s opponents but at their best should have enough to see them negotiate a tough opening round and indeed the ‘Biddies’ have the personnel to give the Ulster competition a real lash but they would do well to treat the Monaghan champions with the greatest respect.  

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