St Louis bid to halt CPC’s 3-in-a-row

Corn Uan Uladh final

Saturday 11am in All Saints, Ballymena

Cross & Passion Ballycastle v St Louis Ballymena

AFTER running Cross and Passion so close in last season’s Corn Uan Uladh final, St Louis Ballymena will believe that they have every chance of stopping their north Antrim neighbours making it three in a row for the first time in the province’s top schools’ camogie competition.

However everyone else is banking on an extension to Ballycastle’s reign and they certainly have the statistics to support them.

CPC can still call on Maeve Kelly (left) and Roisin McCormick, two of the stars of last year’s team. pics by Dylan McIlwaine

CPC have over half of last year’s teams still available. That was a team that came within a couple of points of winning a first All-Ireland senior title for the school. The school has just completed four in a row of Junior titles, a strong supply line for the seniors, while the seniors have blitzed everyone in sight in the group and knock-out stages, including a 5-20 to 1-3 win over St Louis Ballymena at the start of November!

Ballycastle also have four players on the Ulster schools’ All-star select, Maeve Kelly, Roisin McCormick, Charlie McCarry and Anna Connolly, and all four have two All-Ireland minor championships under their belts with Antrim. Indeed the first two are still under-age for the minors this year and have already represented their county at senior level.

McCormick scored 2-11 in the 4-26 to 2-3 semi-final mauling of St Mary’s Magherafelt and is a huge headache for St Louis Ballymena management ahead of the decider.

However she was well-curtailed in last year’s final with the challengers able to restrict her to just one score from open play although the Loughgiel ace did score five frees in the 0-8 to 1-3 win for her side. St Louis will aim for a similar score-line for this game, preventing a Ballycastle goal and hoping that they can break for a couple more scores than last January.

Just before Christmas in the semi-final, St Louis came from 2-5 to 0-3 down early in the second half and from 2-7 to 0-6 at the start of the last quarter to beat Maghera in similar circumstances to last year’s semi-final – they were the better team, but struggled to get over the line.

St Louis have three current All-stars, goalie Áine Graham and forwards Maura Downey and Kimberley Burke, but it was another Antrim minor, Caitlin Crawford, who impressed most in the fightback against Maghera.

St Louis staged a great second half comeback in their semi-final win over St Pat’s Maghera

With a number of strong Dunloy players from their under 16 Antrim championship winning squad, Loughgiel’s Mary McKillen as well as a few of the Brídíní Óga Glenravel players who have impressed at inter-county level in recent years, St Louis Ballymena have a strong enough panel of players.

However it is difficult to ignore the fact that they have not won at the top level through their school careers and have struggled in the two games against Maghera. And they were totally outclassed in Ballycastle in the league encounter.

If the game can be kept to the low-scoring tussle of last year, and Ballycastle fail to find the net, then St Louis have a chance. But everything points to Cross and Passion continuing their domination of camogie at the top level.

Cross and Passion : S McKillop, A McClafferty, M McGarry, E McShane, A O’Mullan, M O’Neill, C Laverty, M Kelly, K Laverty, A Magill, R McCormick capt, A Connolly, A Toner, C McCarry, R McBride

Subs : C Mathers, A Lynn, C McGarry, S Richmond, C McKeague, C Hegarty, E Kyle, B Ellis

St Louis : A Graham capt, L McAleese, E Kearns, B Delargy, B Laverty, E McMullan, K Mullan, C Molloy, M Downey, E McAreevey, K Burke, S Darragh, M McKillen, E Traynor, C Crawford

Subs : C Martin, N Martin, M Henry, A Johnson, C McGaughey, M McMullan, D Graffin, S McIlhatton, A McGilligan, A Traynor, A McCloskey, E Hardy, C McCormick, N Neeson, E McNeill, N McNeill, C McStravick


Central Restaurant U10 Indoor Hurling tomorrow

Find attached the venues for Saturdays Central Restaurant Ballycastle u10 Indoor Competition.

Used is the large first touch ball. As there’s a large number of fixtures at each venue, all games are 5mins straight with at most a two minute turn around, try to make it less. Make sure to start on time.

The top two teams in each division go through to the finals the following Sunday, so if teams are level at the top make sure they play off to get two teams.

As we cannot be at every venue, can we ask that the clubs look after the venues and return scores on the day to me, mark results on the fixtures list and email photo to me.

Venue – Club Looking After

Cross and Passion 1 – Ballycastle

Cross and Passion 2 – Ballycastle

St Josephs – Eoghan Rua

St Pats 1 – All Saints

St Pats 2 – Eoghan Ruadh

St Louis – Naomh Padraig

Swatragh – Swatragh

Peden welcomes Westmeath test

Kehoe Cup final – Antrim v Westmeath at Abbotstown

Getting another game under their belts in the lead up to the start of the league was Neal Peden’s main reaction after winning last week’s Kehoe Cup semi-final with Kildare at Abbotstown. “Look were are going to get another really competitive game, that’s what we come here for so were are really pleased” was the Antrim manager’s reaction after last week’s win over the Lillywhites. “Our first half effort today was phenomenal, against that breeze we worked so hard and our energy level was high and we can see things were working for us that we did in training. OK we lost our way a bit in the middle of the second half but after James McNaughton’s goal we really kicked on again”

Antrim players in high spirits at the end of last week’s win over Kildare

It is fair to say that Peden and his fellow managers didn’t set out at the start of the season with winning the Kehoe Cup in mind, and if they lose out to Westmeath tomorrow (Saturday) there will be no tears shed. The whole thing about pre-season competitions is geared towards the start of the league, and with Kerry visiting Cushendall on Saturday week, a competitive clash against a side like Westmeath could not have come at a better time.

Westmeath have showed well under new manager Tommy Quaid and in last week’s semi-final had too much in the tank for neighbours Meath, winning by twelve points in the end on a 1-15 to 1-13 scoreline, the goal coming from corner forward Killian Doyle.

The Leinster men have always proved tough opponents for Antrim over the years and have held the upper hand in the vast majority of our meetings. The have a tough physical team, full of good hurlers who will be anxious to get their hands on some silverware under their new manager. Antrim play them again in the league in Cushendall in a few weeks’ time and it is safe to say that the outcome of that game will be more on the minds of both management teams. However when the teams take it the field at Abbotstown tomorrow the competitive instincts will naturally kick in and is should be a game worth seeing. Antrim should line-out much the same as they did against Kildare and with the league opener just a week away the management team will be keen to get as near their full strength team as possible. They are of course still short of the Cushendall contingent, but they have progressed well so far and tomorrow’s game will be another good chance to chart their progression.

The Antrim team who beat Kildare in last week’s semi-final

ANTRIM’S SEMI-FINAL SQUAD V KILDARE

Ryan Elliot; Stephen Rooney, John Dillon, Phelim Duffin; Ronan Molly, Simon McCrory, Matthew Donnelly; Conor McCann, James O’Connell; Nigel Elliot, James McNaughton, Nicky McKeague; Conor McHugh, Keelan Molloy, Ciaran Clarke. Subs: Kevin Rice, Donal McKinley, Conor Boyd, Conor Patterson, John McGoldrick, Conor Laverty.

WESTMEATH’S SEMI-FINAL SQUAD

Paddy Carroll, Darragh Eggerton, Tommy Doyle, Naoise McKenna, John Bermingham, Aaron Craig, Gary Greville Raharney, Robbie Greville, Shane Power, Joey Boyle, Conor Shaw, Allan Devine, Killian Doyle Raharney, Niall Mitchell, Darragh Clinton 

16 Conor Lynch, Jack Galvin, Robbie Gillen, John Gilligan, Shane McGovern, Kevin Regan, Darragh, Philip Reilly, Barry O’Mara,  Emmett Corrigan, Shane Clavin

The Saffron Gael Speaks to St. Gall’s hurler Niall O’Neill

St. Gall’s defender, Niall O’Neill is looking forward to Sunday’s All Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling semi-final against Oranmore /Maree of Galway at Parnell Park. O’Neill is one of a number of duel players on the Milltown side. He was a 17 year old on the St. Gall’s panel when they won Antrim and Ulster in 2009 before losing in the All Ireland semi-final to St. Lachtain’s, Kilkenny and he is determined to go one better this time.

O’Neill looks certain to be one of the first names on Sunday’s team-sheet and has been a regular on the side all season and his strong, energetic performances have helped his side on their journey through Antrim and Ulster this year.

I spoke to the affable St. Gall’s man in the week leading up to Sunday’s eagerly awaited encounter and posed the following questions to him.

Saffron Gael: Niall as Sunday approaches how are you feeling?

Niall O’Neill: I’ve been feeling good and just enjoying the buzz around the team and the club as the Semi-Final draws ever closer. It has been a long wait since the Ulster final back in November, so I am looking forward to the game on Sunday and getting back in action in the blue jersey.

Saffron Gael: Although you’ve been a regular on the St. Gall’s team for a number of years you would probably still be regarded as one of the younger players on the side. When did you start playing for the St. Gall’s hurlers and what honours have you won with them?

Niall O’Neill: I take a bit of abuse from the lads for being the oldest amongst the younger lads in the team, so it’s nice to still be called young now again that’s for sure. I started playing for the hurler’s right from the beginning when I was introduced to St. Galls from around age of 4. We won a couple of juvenile titles but there was unfortunately a few years where success was limited.

I was lucky enough at age 17 to be a member of the panel in my first year of playing Senior Hurling when the club won both the Antrim and Ulster Intermediate Hurling titles and reached the All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Final (2009). Ten years on and I’ve been fortunate to play a bigger part in the same campaigns and to win those titles for the second time.

Here is hoping that the club can reach another All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Final and get one more, big day out in Croker.

Saffron Gael: St. Gall’s have come through a number of tight battles on their way to Ulster success this year. What are your most vivid memories of those games?

Niall O’Neill: The whole campaign of getting where we are now has not been an easy one. You could say we trickled our way through the Antrim Championship but we credited our efforts throughout, having come up against some tricky opposition. We arguably stole the game against Creggan in the Antrim final, but it was our experience that helped get us over the line. The Ulster championship was as expected, tough right from the off. We began with a physically demanding game against Lisbellaw before an extra-time victory against Swatragh in the semi-final. We even had our backs against the wall in the Ulster final playing with 14 men for the majority of the second half against a very strong Keady side. Thankfully the mix of youth and more experienced players swung the game in our favour and we were able to bring Ulster success to the club. The guys have really dug in deep and fought for each other when needed and as a team we have gotten the rewards.

Saffron Gael: How has the training been going since your Ulster success? Have you been doing anything different in training and have you played any challenge games in the build up to Sunday’s final?

Niall O’Neill: Training has been going well and we have been training regularly throughout the winter period (on some extremely cold nights and mornings may I add). The majority of our lads have been training non-stop from the beginning of last year including when we were training with the footballers so hurling training up until now has really been focused on keeping the eye in and working on our stick work and speed on the ball as always. We played a few University teams before the Christmas Break including Jordanstown and Queens, which proved a good workout for both camps. Any game in winter conditions will always prove beneficial for any team. We have quite a big panel so it was a good opportunity for other lads to stake their claim on to the team.

Saffron Gael: Gearoid McInerney and Niall Burke are the two Galway men who are best known of the Oranmore/Maree side. What do you know about the Galway and Connaught champions?

Niall O’Neill: In truth I don’t know much about Oranmore other than they are from Galway and there will be no doubt that they will be a very good hurling side. Oranmore are believed to be under achievers in Galway for the past few years so that tells in its own right that this year has been no fluke. They have some standout and exceptional players like Gearoid McInerney and Niall Burke who of course will help lead their charge but that is not to say there aren’t others throughout their team who can help make the difference. Oranmore have had a very successful year and I am sure they will be looking at ourselves as one final hurdle to pass in order to reach the All-Ireland Final but that is exactly how we will be seeing them ourselves. All we can do is prepare as a team and be ready for the challenge ahead.

Saffron Gael: How do you see Sunday’s game going and who are the players who can get you over the line in Parnell Park on Sunday?

Niall O’Neill: I see Sundays game being a battle right from the first whistle. For me the game will be decided by who wants it more and who is willing to dig that little bit deeper. It will be one of the biggest games in the majority of our lads’ careers but a game that they will be ready for and extremely look forward too.  To be honest the entire team will play its part in helping us get where we want to be on Sunday. Everyone has put their shoulder to the wheel this year and drove us on game by game. We have plenty of players with dual experience such as Karl Stewart, Kirean and CJ McGourty, Aodhan Gallagher and Sean Burke to name a few that can help drive us on. Tomas O’Ciarain will prove valuable for scores and help give us the extra edge we need.

Saffron Gael: Who have been the biggest influences on your hurling and football career with St. Galls?

Niall O’Neill: I would have to say my brother Terry and my father. They have always encouraged me from an early age to take part and strive to be better. I still play alongside my brother with the Senior Footballers and have been lucky enough to share some great memories of winning silverware together. My dad always jokes that I am footballer / hurler or on a different day a hurler / footballer.

Saffron Gael: You are of course a member of the St. Gall’s football side as well and a couple of years ago you were a member of the Antrim panel. What are your thoughts on your time with the Antrim footballers and have you any ambitions to return to the saffron jersey?

Niall O’Neill: I enjoyed my time playing for the Antrim Footballers and have every ambition to play again in the near future. I was asked on to both football and hurling panels respectively this year but unfortunately I was not able to fully commit to either one. In my work as a Sport for Development Facilitator we are required to work flexible and unsocial hours limiting my time and I also travel back and forth to London, every other weekend to visit my girlfriend. It is unfortunate and disappointing but for now my focus is on the club.

Saffron Gael: Anything else you would like to add.

Niall O’Neill: I just want to thank my own club for their support throughout our championship campaign and I hope the supporters are back out in force again this Sunday for one final push. I also want to wish St. Enda’s good luck in their semi-final and hope both teams return with memorable wins.