Bathshack.com Senior Hurling Championship
Preliminary Round (first leg)
O’Donovan Rossa vs McQuillan’s, Ballycastle
Rossa Park, Belfast
Throw in: 7.30pm
Referee: Colm McDonald (St Gall’s)
We stand at the gate, the entrance to and off another journey. The great battle of our time is upon us and it’s time to get the war gear on. No, it’s not the prologue for The Lord of The Rings but the feeling every gael with clubs in the senior hurling championship will be feeling now.
Today marks 271 days since Cushendall overcame Loughgiel at Park Mac Uílín to claim the Volunteer Cup and tonight Rossa and Ballycastle get the race for ‘Big Ears’ underway once more. Rossa Park the venue for the championship opener as the Town and the Jeremiah’s get the senior hurling championship up and running.
Two giant clubs with history steeped in senior hurling within Antrim and two sides as evenly matched as you are likely to see. Their two league matches this year have seen both sides claim an away win each, the most recent of those just seven days ago. Rossa claiming the win but both were missing a who’s who of their sides, neither Chris McAuley nor Colly Murphy will be reading too much into that result. Rossa doing enough without ever really going through the gears while Ballycastle resembled a side who needed to get through the game without much incident.
Both went onto record wins since that have all but secured their Division One status for the 2020 season. Rossa with five points to spare over St Gall’s while Ballycastle had a three point winning margin over Ballycran on the same day.
In June, Ciaran Clarke hit 13 points (10 frees) of Ballycastle’s 1-22 as the McQuillan’s went on to record a five point victory – Thomas Morgan and Owen Kinney with the majors for both sides. Ballycastle pulling away in the second half after the sides were tied at the break.
Looking a bit further back, we don’t have to delve too far into the history books for more recent meaningful games between these sides.
Two years ago 1-7 from Deaglan Murphy and another goal from Thomas Morgan helped Rossa to condemn Ballycastle to relegation. Another edge to an already intriguing championship game if it were needed. Yet and perhaps more significantly, the last time these two teams played in the championship was two years ago also. A late penalty from Clarke the difference with the McQuillan’s edging that contest with two points to spare in Pearse Park. Rossa looked to be heading for a semi-final with James Connolly in particular in irresistible form on that occasion but Ballycastle had other ideas and unfortunately for the Jeremiah’s, it looks like Connolly will be forced to sit out tonight’s first leg with doubts also hanging over Eoghan O’Neill, Ciaran Orchin, Dominic McEnhill and Micéal McGreevy.
From the championship of two years past, Ballycastle have gained promotion from Division Two and look like sustaining their status in the top tier for next season also. They’ve shown progress under Bamba McAuley and his team while breathing fresh legs into their squad from their youth set up. Players like TT Butler and Conor Boyd have become more prominent and central figures in the Ballycastle team while the experience of Mattie Donnelly and Ciaran Clarke is invaluable.
If they have an ace in their pack, it’s the mercurial talents of Saul McCaughan. On his day, he can be devastating. Lightning speed and could turn his opponent in a phone box. A player that championship occasions like this, you just feel that it’s made for him.
Rossa have a strong defence and in Gerard Walsh and Cricky McGuinness they have two lads who could grace any team in the county. They have work rate in midfield while in attack the Murphy brothers, Tiarnan and Deaglan are more than a handful. Their wild card could be Thomas Morgan who has shown in recent meeting that he doesn’t mind coming up against the McQuillan’s and has had a healthy scoring rate.
Who will win, is anyone’s guess and unlike last year, I can’t see this one being decided after the first leg. St John’s held a 14 point cushion after the first contest with Ballycastle last year and I can see nothing more than a poc of the ball between these sides.
Has anyone checked for what happens if the scores are tied over two legs?
We may just need to bend the ear of some county officials before the final whistle blows on 11th August.
A ’65 shootout anyone?
I hope it doesn’t boil down to it but don’t be surprised if it does.
Anyhow, time to submerge ourselves in the buzzing excitement of championship hurling once more. Embrace the madness, go with the flow and let the games commence.