Dunloy and Ruairi’s start semi’s as favourites

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship Semi Finals

Brendan McTaggart looks ahead to Sunday’s semi finals of this years Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship.

Phoney wars and jostling for positions have come to an end.  One of the best days in the hurling calendar is upon us with the race for the Volunteer Cup reaching the semi-final stages.  Old rivalries renewed, hope rekindled and championship fever setting in.  Four clubs within a stones throw of making the decider.  

Lovely stuff, but the timing could be better.  We didn’t get a double header for the senior matches and we don’t have much time between the two games for travel.  If there’s extra-time in Ballycastle I know of at least one journo who will be hoping there’s no speed camera’s from the north coast to Antrim town!

2pm and 5pm throw in, not ideal.  A 11:30am throw in for the minor final is, well, it could have been kinder for the young lads.  It’s not all doom and gloom however.  It’s good to see the minor final being played as part of a doubleheader with the same pairing in both games at Ballycastle.

That first game is probably the most intriguing of the weekend.  Loughgiel buoyant from a quite brilliant display against Rossa in the quarter-final while Cushendall have been playing like a side with a point to prove.  The form team of this year’s championship and they’ll start this semi as favourites to progress.

When they played each other in the group stages, Cushendall weathered an early Shamrock storm to win comfortably at the end of the hour at Dunsilly.  Loughgiel started superbly with Dan McCloskey and Donal McKinley in the thick of the action while Paul Boyle was unplayable in the opening 20 minutes.  The Ruairi’s responded by switching Scott Walsh onto Boyle and the young Loughgiel flyer was grounded for the rest of the game.  Walsh playing at wing half has been superb this championship campaign for Cushendall and I’d expect him to pick up Boyle again on Sunday.

The Shamrocks stuttered through the group stages, sealing their quarter final place by defeating Naomh Eanna.  There was no such stuttering against Rossa.  Hurling with precision, incisiveness, wonderful vision and panache.  Hugh McCann and his backroom team have the Shamrock’s firing.

Cushendall’s progress to the last four has been more serene than previous years.  A flawless league campaign where they defeated Naomh Eanna handsomely and had a bit to spare over Loughgiel and St John’s.  Talisman Neil McManus missed out on the Johnnies match with an ankle injury but you’d imagine it would take more than that sort of injury to stop McManus from lining out on Sunday!

Where Cushendall have been most impressive is their midfield pairing of Aidan McNaughton and Alex Delargy.  A pairing that you just know will never stop working and who can be so dangerous when breaking from rucks.  

Christy McNaughton’s performance against St John’s was mindboggling.  16 points, plenty from play and it may not be enough to see him seal a place in the starting 15 for Sunday!  It looks like Brian McNaughton and his team like to go for either Christy of McManus, rarely both.  

Loughgiel have been bringing plenty of their talented minor winning squads of recent years through this year and the safety net of the group stages has allowed them to bring them through at their own pace.  Rian McMullan, Paul Boyle, Enda Og McGarry, Rory McCloskey and Christy McGarry all prominent this season while Maol Connolly’s return to a senior Loughgiel shirt has been most welcome for those around Fr Healy Park.

A side that has the talents of Declan McCloskey, Tiarnan Coyle and Eddie McCloskey, not to mention James McNaughton will always be in with a chance but for me Cushendall will have enough in them to reach the decider.  They have been mighty impressive so far this year and while Loughgiel are certainly stepping in the right direction, it might be a year too soon for Shamrocks to add to their record tally of Antrim championships.

Dunsilly is the venue for the second semi final and a repeat pairing of 2021.  Dunloy defeated St John’s that day under a monsoon and Ciaran Johnston won’t want reminded of how that game transpired.  An early rush of blood and the Johnnies were down to 14 men and while the held onto the coat tails of the Cuchullains, a brilliant goal from Keelan Molloy midway through the second half put daylight between the sides.

The Johnnies started the championship with a brilliant win over Loughgiel on home turf before seeing off Naomh Eanna to set up a winner takes all match of sorts against Cushendall.  A sunny day on the north coast and St John’s found Christy McNaughton too hot to handle.  An exhibition from ‘Sambo’s youngest’ and St John’s had to settle for a quarter final spot and a tie against Ballycastle.  The Corrigan Park men were pushed all the way by The Town but their cause wasn’t helped by a 15 wides and passing up on a plethora of goal chances.

During that hour, Aaron Bradley and Oisin Donnelly caught the eye while Michail Dudley was everywhere and probably St John’s best player on the day, followed closely by Shea Shannon.

Playing Peter McCallin at wing back was always a bit of a strange one for me given how good he is on the inside forward line but he forms a half back with Padraig Nugent and Michael Bradley and it’s got the potential to win any game.

Dunloy’s championship campaign has been more of the same serenity the Cuchullains have come accustomed to in recent years.  Their defeat to Loughgiel in the 2018 semi-final remains the last time Gregory O’Kane’s side tasted defeat in the chase for the Volunteer Cup.

The Cuchullains started with a superb display against Ballycastle at Pairc Mac Uilin.  Missing more than a few from the championship 15 from last year, Dunloy were breath taking throughout.  A solid if not spectacular performance followed against a spirited Carey side at Loughgiel before sealing their place in the last four with a win against Rossa on home turf.

Gregory O’Kane’s men have had to manage a run with the big ball within the club this season with Dunloy also in the Intermediate football decider next weekend.  11 dual players in Dunloy’s starting 15 for their football semi final last Sunday against Davitt’s.  A game that saw Seaan Elliott and Chrissy McMahon having to leave the field carrying injuries while Deaglan Smith didn’t look 100% by the full time whistle.  The joys of dual clubs, eh?

Dunloy will start this one as favourites and while I would tend to agree with that favourites tag, St John’s have the ability to cause Dunloy problems.  They too have a host of injury concerns and players unavailable but they showed in biblical like rain that they can stop the Cuchullains and stay with them with 14 men.  If they keep their discipline on Sunday they have every chance.  I expect them to slow the game as much as possible and stopping the Cuchullains from gaining any sort of momentum, just like 12 months ago but Dunloy should have enough to make it a Dunloy and Cushendall decider in two weeks time.

Top 2 in Group 2 could meet again in the final

Andersonstown IHC Semi-Finals

The first of the Andersonstown SC Intermediate Hurling Championship semi-finals takes place on Friday night in Dunsilly where Group 2 winners, Cloney Gaels take on St. Gall’s while North Antrim rivals, Emmet’s Cushendun and Oisin Glenariffe meet in the second semi-final in Cushendall on Saturday.

On paper group 2 of the qualifiers looked the slightly stronger group and it was the Ahoghill men who set the pace in this group with a win over division 1 side Emmet’s on day one. Cloney Gaels won that one 3-18 to 1-17 in Cloney and went through the group unbeaten with big wins over Tir na nOg, Gort na Mona and St. Paul’s.

Emmet’s recovered from that opening day defeat with wins over St. Paul’s and Gort na Mona but a draw against Tir na nOg at Whitehill meant they had to rely on a big win on the final day at Enright Park to qualify ahead of the Randalstown side on score difference.

Oisins topped group 1 with an away win at St. Gall’s on day 3 and a resounding victory over Creggan on day four seeing them finish ahead of St. Gall’s but the Milltown side qualified in second place with three wins from four starts, the Glenariffe defeat their only loss.

Cloney Gaels v St. Gall’s  (Dunsilly 7.00pm Friday)

Cloney Gaels look the form team of the two going into this eagerly awaited semi-final and a strong league campaign saw them finish second to Cathaoir an Ri with 12 wins from 16 starts to finish just a point behind the Ballyvoy side.

The Ahoghill men have scored freely this season with their twin attacking threat of James and P.J. O’Connell proving a real handful for most defences and the Gaels finished the highest scorers in division 2.

They carried that high scoring into the championship, hitting 3-18 against Cushendun, 4-15 against Tir na nOg, 7-19 against Gort na Mona and 4-22 against St. Paul’s.

Their opponents on Friday night, St. Gall’s had an indifferent league campaign with only six wins from 16 starts but not too much should be read into that league form as they were competitive in most of their defeats and Chris Dornan’s side always reserve their best for the championship.

They started their group 1 campaign with a 0-14 to 0-7 win away to Glenravel and followed it up with a 2-17 to 2-14 win at home to Creggan. St. Gall’s looked favourites to win the group when they defeated Sarsfield’s 0-22 to 0-19 at the Bear Pit but lost out on the final day to eventual group winners, Oisin’s at Milltown.

Cloney Gaels will start Friday night’s game as favourites but this won’t unduly worry Chris Dornan or his side. St. Gall’s have been renowned championship challengers at this level over the years and in Joe McDaniel, Niall O’Neill, Jackson and Gregory McGreevey, Tomas O’Ciarnan and Mark Napier they have excellent performers.

Cloney Gaels are likely to line out along familiar lines and even a hat-trick from Colla McDonnell against St. Paul’s on the final day of the group games does not guarantee the youngster a start on Friday night so stiff is the competition for places.

James ‘Bobby’ Magee and Bernard Graham should anchor a solid defence where Diarmaid Graham and Fionnbar O’Neill are likely to get the nod for a starting place. Niall O’Connell and Eamonn Brady have formed a strong mid-field partnership this year while Thomas McGlone, Donal Graham and Dan O’Neill should accompany the O’Connell’s in a potent attack.

Others will be waiting anxiously for the nod for a starting place in a side finely tuned by Hugh Dobbin and Shea O’Hagan but I don’t expect the Gaels to find scoring as easy as in recent championship outings but they should have enough to get them through with a bit to spare.

Oisin Glenariffe v Emmet’s Cushendun (Cushendall Saturday 3.00pm)

Saturday’s second semi-final brings together two sides who will need no introduction with a number of the Emmet’s panel, including the McSparran twins and John B Morgan having played at U17 level for the Oisin’s.

Emmet’s played their hurling in division 1 this year after moving up from division 2 last year but found the going extremely tuff in the higher grade. They opted to play Intermediate Championship and on reflection it has proved a wise decision though the readjustment hasn’t been easy.

The Cushendun side lost on day one of the group stages at Ahoghill and drew away to Tir na nOg but a superior score difference say them qualify in second place in the group to earn them a semi-final place against the Waterfoot side.

They hit 6-21 against Gort na Mona in their final game however which suggests they have plenty of fire-power with David Kilgore getting a hat-trick and Harry Kilgore 2-0 and Conor O’Hara all rippling the Gort na Mona net.

Gareth Magee in goals brings a wealth of experience to the side and Aidan Corbett, Donal O’Hara, Tom Scally and Conlaoth ‘Loaf’ McNeill are likely to carry the Emmet’s challenge on Saturday.

Oisin’s Glenariffe have been knocking at the Intermediate door for a while now and have always been tipped as potential winners and this could be the year to turn that potential into success but it won’t be easy.

Their win over St. Gall’s at Milltown and a great comeback to earn a draw against Sarsfield’s suggests that they certainly have the bottle for the big occasion and while nothing can be read into that final day mauling of a weakened Creggan, they certainly carry a scoring threat.

Paul McMullan, the Kearney’s, Daniel and Donal, Conor Patterson, Seanie McIntosh, David Kearney, Alex and Michael O’Boyle, Caolan O’Connor and Seamus McDonnell will carry the Oisins’ challenge in a game that could be very close with the possibility of extra time not to be ruled out but Emmet’s might just shade it in the end.

St Galls edge past St Pauls in thrilling Nipper Quinn decider

Nipper Quinn Cup Final 

St Pauls 4-05-1-15 St Galls 

By Kevin Herron 

Photos from Bert Trowlen

St Galls claimed the Nipper Quinn Cup on Sunday afternoon, coming out on the right side of a thrilling final 1-15-4-05 against a much-fancied St Pauls side. 

It was meeting of the top two sides in U-13 South-Antrim hurling this year- St Pauls began as favourites- having gone through the league campaign unbeaten and defeated St Galls along the way. 

The Shaws Road outfit opened the scoring through a Daire Thornbury point but were rocked as St Galls scrambled home the first goal of the game through Ruairi McIlhatton. 

A converted free followed from Odhran Bellew and Conall Dempsey provided a magnificent point from range before an own goal at the other end handed St Pauls a route back into proceedings. 

Finn Smyth and Padraig Kelly notched back-to-back points for the Milltown side before scores were traded between Eamonn Kearney and Kelly. 

St Galls were 1-05-1-02 ahead, but their lead soon diminished, Oisin McLaren converted a free and then a superb individual strike saw him find the net to edge his side 2-03-1-05 ahead for the first time in proceedings. 

Odhran Bellew restored parity with a long-range free and a further placed ball from Padraig Kelly saw St Galls reclaim the lead. 

Kelly added two further scores before the break with McLaren intervening between times as St Galls led 1-09-2-04 at the midway point. 

St Pauls hit the front upon the second half’s resumption through a scrappy- but nonetheless- vital goal from Sean McMullan that gave his side a 1-09-3-04 lead. 

Eamonn Kearney added a point shortly after, though their lead was extinguished through successive scores courtesy of Padraig Kelly and Ruairi McIlhatton (free) to restore parity again. 

A second Oisin McLaren goal nudged his side ahead again and frees were then traded between McLaren and Padraig Kelly. 

Successive frees from Kelly and Odhran Bellew ensured that the bare minimum separated the sides and talisman Kelly would land back-to-back scores to ensure his side were ahead for the final time. 

Thereafter the Milltown outfit saw the game out to clinch the Nipper Quinn Cup at the end of a breath-taking encounter. 

South Antrim Chairman Frank Caldwell presents the Nipper Quinn Cup to St Galls captain Cairbre Mac Adaimh
Cousins Tiernan McDonnell and Finn Smyth (part of the winning Rossa and St Galls teams) pictured with proud grandmother Margret McDonnell

Shane O’Neill’s and Naomh Brid to edge tight semi-finals

Casement SC JHC Semi-Final

Saturday’s Casement SC JHC semi-finals both have the makings of tight and entertaining encounters with three of the top four teams in division 3 of the ACHL doing battle. The odd team out of the four is St. Mary’s Rasharkin but the Dreen side have put indifferent league form behind them to top their championship group and so enjoy home advantage for their meeting with Cloughmills.

Shane O’Neill’s Glenarm v Glen Rovers Armoy Saturday 3-00pm (Feystown)

The first semi-final throws together league winners, Shane O’Neill’s Glenarm and Glen Rovers, Armoy and as group winners the Feystown men enjoy home advantage against an Armoy side that they beat twice in the league.

When the sides met in Armoy on the 13th June Shane O’Neill’s recorded a high scoring 5-19 to 3-12 victory over the home side and the Glenarm men were again successful in Feystown when they ran out 1-20 to 0-7 winners and by virtue of those results will start Saturday’s encounter as firm favourites.

This will no doubt suit the visitors to Feystown who were drawn in what some considered the group of death with Shane O’Neill’s, St. Brigid’s and Lamh Dhearg and the Glen Rovers only qualified for the quarter-finals with a win over Lamh Dhearg in Armoy in their final group game after losing to both Shane O’Neill’s and St. Brigid’s.

Glen Rovers performed reasonably well in those two defeats, losing by a point at home to St. Brigid’s and scoring 3-10 on their visit to Feystown but eventually losing by 9 points.

Their win over Lamh Dhearg saw them drawn away to group 1 runners up, Michael Davitt’s and a win at Davitt’s Park is never easy and so it proved to be but the North Antrim side pulled out all the stops to win by 3-12 to 2-13 and that game will have given them the ideal preparation for Saturday’s encounter.

Shane O’Neill’s have been in top form this season, suffering only one league defeat at home to St. Brigid’s Cloughmills and they avenged that defeat when they travelled to Cloughmills in round 2 of the league by winning 4-20 to 3-17.

Two goals from corner-forward Kevin O’Boyle and goals apiece from Darren Hamill and Niall McGarel were the vital scores in a game that eventually decided the destination of the division 3 league and these three with Barry Hamill, Declan McDermott and the O’Boyle’s, Ben, Kieran and Sean and Dylan McLaughlin should give Shane O’Neill’s the edge on Saturday.

PJ McBride led the Armoy challenge against Davitt’s and finished with 0-4 while Thomas Burns was also to the fore with 1-3, Eamonn McCaughan, Rocky Dillon and Colin Lordan all to the fore for the visitors. The afore mentioned with Conor Devlin, Emmet O’Hara, Arthur Devlin and Owen Kinney will spearhead the Armoy challenge and they might not be too far away but I would expect home advantage to swing it Shane O’Neill’s way.

Rasharkin v Cloughmills Saturday 3-00pm (Rasharkin)

League form would suggest that St. Brigid’s will start this one as firm favourites despite St. Mary’s enjoying home advantage by virtue of topping their group in the championship. The Cloughmill’s men finished second in the league to eventual winners, Shane O’Neill’s and were the only team to beat the Glenarm men.

That win came at Feystown which would suggest that the ‘Biddies’ will not be over concerned by travelling to Dreen but they should never the less be wary of a Rasharkin side who seem to have found their best form in the championship following a less than impressive league campaign.

Rasharkin recorded only four wins in their 12 league starts and are the only team of Saturday’s semi-finalists to not make the cut when the league split and finished second bottom at the league’s end.

St. Mary’s have put that indifferent form behind them in the championship however and topped group 1 though it has to be said, group 1 wasn’t as strong as group 2. The  Dreen side beat what was in front of them however and after wins away to Ballymena and at home to the other St. Brigid’s (the Musgrave Park version) They defeated Davitt’s in Rasharkin to top the group.

Their opponents on Saturday, Naom Brid, Cloughmills finished second in group 2 with wins over Armoy and Lamh Dhearg with their only defeat suffered at the hands of Shane O’Neill’s in Cloughmills on the 2nd September.

As runners up in the group they had to play a quarter-final against All Saints and had little difficulty accounting of the Ballymena side in Cloughmills.

Cloughmills are strong in defence where Sean McKendry, Johnny Duffin and Conor Laverty anchor a solid unit. Ruairi Laverty and Geoffery Og Laverty form a solid mid-field partnership while defender turned attacker, Aaron Smiley, Liam Kearns and Mickey Devlin, if available form a real attacking threat.

Rasharkin will look to Conor Doherty, Ruairi O’Boyle and Emmet McFerran in defence while Tiernan O’Boyle has emerged as strong mid-fielder this season and could be partnered by the experienced Thomas McMullan with Declan McKay also dropping deep.

Perhaps the strongest unit in the St. Mary’s side is there half-forward line where Shane Hasson, Conor McFerran and Eamon McNeill all offer a serious threat while the pace of Donagh Quigg could also cause problems in the full-forward line.

Home advantage will certainly give Rasharkin a fighting chance and a big home support will get behind the men from Dreen but if Naomh Brid are at their best then I expect them to win this one and set up a final meeting with Shane O’Neill’s.

Rossa fight back to claim Nipper Quinn Shield

Nipper Quinn Shield 

Rossa 6-03-1-12 St Johns 

Kevin Herron reports from Pairc Rossa

Rossa fought back from 7-points down at the beginning of the second half to claim the Nipper Quinn Shield on home soil with a 6-03-1-12 win over St Johns at Pairc Rossa on Sunday afternoon. 

The Johnnies were much more confident in the opening stages and were 0-06 ahead before the hosts replied. 

Five of those scores were from the placed ball as Lewis Rafferty and namesake Jack helped themselves to a brace each from frees, Brian Gough converted a 45’ in between and Jack Rafferty notched up the only point from play. 

It took Rossa while to get to grips with things, but they soon restored parity, Jack Cunningham did well to parry an initial shot- though Conor Stewart fired home at the second time of asking and moments later Adam McCahey struck a second to make it 2-00-0-06. 

St Johns edged ahead again through a super point from Oliver Donnelly and further scores from Jack and Lewis Rafferty helped their side to a 0-09-2-00 lead at the break. 

An Oliver Donnelly shot early in the second period squeezed beyond the reach of the Rossa goalkeeper and had St Johns six-points to the good for the second time in proceedings. 

Donnelly added his second point of the afternoon to increase his sides lead, but Rossa fought back. 

Adam McCahey added a point to his first half goal and then Lorcan O’Reilly sent a free spinning towards the net to reduce arrears to a single goal (1-10-3-01). 

The Young Rossa fans behind the goal can’t hide their delight as Lorcan O’Reilly struck a goal for their side

Back-to-back frees from Jack Rafferty were the perfect response for St Johns- but that advantage would soon disappear. 

McCahey converted a free for Rossa and then slipped a pass inside to Sé Whitteker who slammed a shot inside the near-post to make it a one-point game (1-12-4-02). 

A converted free from Fionn Collins levelled and had the final on a knife-edge with ten minutes remaining. 

Momentum was with the home side, and they hit the front for the first time though a Patrick Hamill strike and later clinched things through a second Whitteker goal to move 6-03-1-12 ahead. 

St Johns piled on the late pressure in the hope of setting up a grandstand finish, but the closest they came was a free from Oliver Donnelly that was blocked on the line as Rossa saw out time to lift the Nipper Quinn Shield at the games conclusion. 

South Antrim Chairman Frank Caldwell presents joint captains Fionn Collins and Tiernan McDonnell with the Nipper Quinn Shield after their comeback win over St Johns