The Final Word…..

Brendan McTaggart has a look at the two hurling finals at the weekend with provincial honours on the line…

Two of the three Ulster hurling finals at the weekend have Antrim teams taking to the field in search of silverware.  Some out there would be rubbing their hands at the thought, for those in the Saffron Gael, the workload increases.  That being said and just like the players and managers involved, there’s nowhere else we would rather be at the weekend.  The weekend rounding off with Dunloy and Sleacht Néill but first, the Intermediate decider.

Naomh Eanna v Eoghan Ruadh

AIB Ulster Intermediate Final

Naomh Éanna travel to Dungiven on Saturday for their day/night match in Owenbeg.  A 4pm throw in for a match in the middle of November is, interesting to say the least.  For me, you either have the throw in for early afternoon and the match is played in daylight or you throw in during the evening.  I’m sure there’s rationale somewhere, I just can’t figure where it’s at.

Eoghan Ruadh stand between the ‘Mighty Town’ men and another piece of provincial silverware after Naomh Éanna’s exploits with the big ball 12 months ago.  The Dungannon based side were beaten in the Ulster quarter-final last year by Keady under the tutelage of John ‘Smokey’ McKillop.  With Colm McGuinness at the reins this year, they have reached the provincial decider for the first time.  Victories over Fermanagh and Armagh champions Lisbellaw and Keady, both by four points ensured their path to Owenbeg with forward Damian Casey the leading light for the Tyrone champions.  They are far from a one man show however with captain Conor McNally, forward Matthew Mulgrew and midfielder Martin Devlin all catching the eye on their run to Saturday’s decider although doubts remain over whether Devlin will have shaken off an injury in time to make the 15.

Everyone knows the history with the club during the Troubles but now they’re pointing towards a brighter future.  The rigours of the Antrim championship with matches against Clooney Gaels, Creggan, Glenariffe and Carey where they showed all their range of skills, desire and tenacity to make the breakthrough at Intermediate level for the first time in the clubs history. 

To say Naomh Éanna’s run to the Ulster final has been dramatic would be a massive understatement.  A titanic battle against favourites Banagher preceded a massive scare against Bredagh.  The Hightown Road men were big favourites to progress but it took extra time to see off the Down champions with two points to spare.  Naomh Éanna dug deep in both matches and went to a place they have probably didn’t know they had in their armoury.  Their character and resolve were tested and they answered the questions asked with more of their own, they’ll be asked more of the same on Saturday evening and as Sambo told me during the week – a repeat of their performance against Bredagh won’t cut the cheese. 

They have leaders, natural leaders at that.  Mark Donaghy at centre half has been excellent all season while John McGoldrick, Philly Curran and Ryan Bogue have all had major roles to play throughout the championship.  Killian and Cormac Jennings providing moments of magic in attack while Ruairi Diamond, Cormac Ross and Joe Maskey have been superb in an imperious defence who have yet to concede a goals since the county final against the Faughs.

An attacking unit can only flourish if the defence are solid and Naomh Éanna have the foundations in place.  An improvement will be required but they have it within them to meet the challenge.  It will be their toughest test to date and Eoghan Ruadh won’t be coming to Owenbeg to make up numbers

Dunloy Cuchullains v Slaughtneil

AIB Ulster Senior Hurling Club final

Two years in the making….

Dunloy and Sleacht Néill.  The Four Seasons Cup on the line and the highlight of the club hurling calendar in Ulster on Sunday.  The Athletic Grounds is being kept for the big ball next weekend, controversial I know it’s hard not to acknowledge that fact, so the Ulster council made an early call for a change of venue.  If you believe all the rumours that have been in the mill, one of the sides in Sunday’s final were aware of that and had at least one training session in the preferred new venue before the announcement was made.  Sure the banter’s great for these type of games but essentially, Páirc Esler awaits or as it’s been known in the not so distant past, ‘The Marshes’.  Not an inspiring name you would think and wouldn’t fill you with confidence of having a good playing surface for the weekend but I’ve been reliable informed the Newry pitch will be in as good as shape as the Athletic Grounds was for the semi-finals.  Both teams will settle for that.

All thoughts have been cast back to two years ago when these two sides faced each other in front of over 6000 people in Owenbeg.  I think there’s still people walking back to their car from that game, the queue stretched as far as the eye could see along the Foreglen Road.  Abiding memories from that game, Nigel Elliott’s early goal and Dunloy taking a six point lead and Shorty nailing a 40 yard free into the roof of the net at the end of the game.  What happened in between was less memorable for me but of massive importance for the Cuchullains. 

Sleacht Néill started slowly but once they met the challenge, they took over.  Gerard Bradley was immense.  I can remember watching him against Cushendall in their drawn game in Owenbeg, I think it was five years ago and he was in beast mode for the full game.  He went close to replicating that two years ago.  Brendan Rodgers aka Ron Burgundy (sorry big man) with the goal that underlined their turnaround and 1-8 without reply to take control.  The biggest performance on the say came from Cormac O’Doherty.  11 points over the hour and scores from all angles.  He had the knack of being in the right place in the right time and everything he touched turned to gold, or a point as the case may be.

In all, it was a tough lesson to learn but an essential one in the growth and development of the Cuchullains.  This match has the feel of being two years in the making.  Such was the build up of excitement and atmosphere in Owenbeg in 2017, it’s a shame we’ve had to wait until now to see these two go at it again.

A closer look at Sleacht Néill and a chat with Lavey manager earlier this year, Johnny McGarvey and he told me there isn’t a team in Ulster who will get close to the Robbies this year.  Sleacht Néill racked up 1-32 against the Erin’s Own men in the semi-final, the Gulladuff side with not much in reply while Sleacht Néill purposely played the last five or so minutes with 14 men so not to cup tie anyone.  Comfort zone personified.  “They had boys like your big man Jerome (McGuigan) in full forward who I hadn’t seen before and we just couldn’t handle him.  If we got to grips with him someone else stepped up.”  Lavey manager McGarvey lamenting about Sleacht Néill’s strength in depth but an insight into the power players they have as well as finesse when it matters.

Against Middletown, they didn’t really have to get out of second, possibly third gear and that’s no disrespect to the Armagh men but Sleacht Néill did what they had to do.  It didn’t please Mickey McShane and understandably so.  They would have wanted a performance as well as a win but they had to settle for a place in the final, something that alluded them last year after Ballycran dealt them a first Ulster championship loss in three years with 10 points to spare.

For Dunloy’s part, they probably surpassed many peoples expectations with their performance against Ballycran in the semi-final.  They were sharp, fast, economic and more like the blazing hurling they took the Antrim league by storm with.  The Cuchullains were allowed to dictate the game on their own terms with Ballycran’s reluctance to play a sweeper.  I can’t imagine that luxury being afforded to them on Sunday.  How Gregory O’Kane’s men deal with that will be the pivotal to their chances.  If they can still provide the likes of Conal Cunning, Nigel Elliott, Keelan Molloy and Eoin O’Neill then they’ll do damage.

In defence, Kevin Molloy picked up Rodgers two years ago and I’d imagine it will be the same again on Sunday.  Conor McKinley could have the challenge of facing Jerome McGuigan while I’d imagine Kevin McKeague will look to pick up Cormac O’Doherty.  Dunloy’s key player and it’s not secret, is Paul Shiels – the Dunloy Pirlo.  Sleacht Néill will look to curb his influence but so have plenty who have went before this year.  ‘Shorty’ has the knack of being in space to deliver ball into forwards, sitting deep and spraying the sliotar into space for the Dunloy attack to cause carnage.  If he reaches his usual high standards on Sunday, the Four Season Cup will be making the journey back to the Cuchullain Village on Sunday.

Intermediate managers give their view

AIB Ulster Club Intermediate Hurling Championship

Naomh Éanna vs Eoghan Ruadh, Dungannon (Tyrone)

Saturday November 9th @ Owenbeg @ 4 pm

Referee: Tarlach Conway (Ballinascreen, Derry)

Managers View

Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton – Naomh Éanna

“I organised a challenge match against Kevin Lynch’s.  It was my first time seeing the lads in action.  I can remember driving back home from Dungiven on them wee back roads thinking ‘what in the name of f**k have I got myself in for.’  Naomh Éanna manager, Cushendall and Antrim legend, Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton telling us that this year wasn’t plain sailing for the Antrim champions.  The road to an Ulster final rarely is and the road to promotion from the choppy waters of an ultra-competitive Division Two is no less easy to navigate but Naomh Éanna stand on the brink of a perfect season. 

In his first year of managing outside of his beloved Ruairi Og’s, Sambo told us it took something different to kick start their season.  “I didn’t want to be travelling up two or three nights a week to training 11 or 12 boys.  That’s a waste of everybody’s time.”  Continued McNaughton.  “The first night I has a full panel at training was the night I invited Kieron Kingston up for a session.  Everyone was there and I said ‘It took a southern accent to get you’s all out’ and from then they’ve really bought into everything.

“Last Sunday we had 33 lads out on the pitch at 10 o’clock for training starting at 11.  That’s the sort of commitment they’re showing now.

“The potential is here and these boys are starting to realise that now.  They’re getting it right between the ears and that’s half the battle.”

After their heroics against Banagher in the quarter-final where a second half goal from Philly Curran proved to be decisive, there was expectation more than hope against Bredagh in the quarter-finals.  Sambo was wary and aware of what was happening within his squad in the two weeks between those games: “I knew the attitude wasn’t right before the Bredagh match.  The Banagher game was built up so much, the lads looked like they had this won after that.

“I flipped with them on the Thursday night before the Bredagh game but in hindsight, that game brought us back down to earth.

“I’ve been there before with my own club.  We went through an epic battle against Sleacht Néill and bombed in the final.  We never turned up and got beat.  That’s the exact scenario these lads went through.

“It wouldn’t have taken much more to have lost that game.  We had too many boy’s who didn’t perform but they know that themselves and that’s the beauty of where these boys are at now as a team.”

McNaughton bemoaned the standard of pitches Naomh Éanna have been faced with through the campaign: “It’s a leveller.  You see if you land to a pitch that’s into the eyes like the way Owenbeg and Lámh Dhearg’s pitch was, form and ability nearly goes out the window.  I know Lámh Dhearg were training on their pitch for the football but the state of thon pitch was shocking.”

“The work rate and support we’ve shown all year wasn’t there. The basics had left us and that was the baffling thing.

“There was plenty of positive from the day though as well.  The best period we had in that game was extra time.  We started to look more like ourselves but we were put through the ringer.

“The lack of experience and knowhow in that match scenario almost cost us.  When you feel like everything’s going against you in a game, it can be fierce hard to get that turnaround but thankfully the lads dug deep.”

Sambo and his management team made a massive call ahead of that game with Killian Jennings being replaced by brother, Cormac in the forward line.  Killian was introduced in the second half of normal time and Sambo was delighted with his contribution: “You try to make changes, bring boys on to make a difference.  If they do that, they’re in the forefront of your mind when it comes to picking the 15 for the next day.  What’s the point in having subs if you don’t do that.

“Killian Jennings came on and had an impact.  That’s exactly what you’re after.”

While John McGoldrick’s exploits have made him a household name within Antrim and beyond, Sambo was keen to point to the overall contribution of the Naomh Éanna squad in their titanic season: “Like any other hurling man or a man who knows anything about the game, you look for where the free came from.  The plays throughout the year that have helped us to get to Saturday’s final.  The side line cut’s by Bogue, Mark Donaghy’s catch in the middle of the defence, Philly’s goal.  Performances from Ruairi Crummey, Eddie O’Connor.  All these lads have chipped in somewhere along the line with significant contributions.  Without those lads doing that, we wouldn’t be preparing for an Ulster final.

Dungannon stand between Naomh Éanna and a second Ulster title in two seasons.  They stand on the cusp of greatness but McNaughton knows they have another battle on their hands: “We played them twice, it was two tight games.  They’re a big, strong side but they have good hurlers throughout their team as well.  Obviously Casey and his frees but he’s not the only danger they have.

“At the start of the Ulster championship I looked at the draw and I genuinely felt that they would come through from that side of the draw.  I said to myself that if we make the final, we’ll be playing Dungannon. 

“I wasn’t surprised in the slightest by their result against Keady.  I got a chance to watch that game and they played well.  If anything the score line flattered Keady at the end.

“It’s the clubs first Ulster hurling final.  It’s good for Naomh Éanna and it’s good for Antrim hurling.  Keeping my aul Antrim head on, the county needs a team like Naomh Éanna to come through and challenge for ‘Big Ears’ with the likes of Cushendall, Loughgiel and Dunloy.  That’s my dream.

“Naomh Éanna are a massive club, have huge desire and have a lot of good people behind the scenes but if we play like the way we did against Bredagh then we’re not winning anything on Saturday.  That’s the long and short of it.” 

Managers View

Colm McGuinness – Eoghan Ruadh

Now in his second term in charge of the Dungannon side, Sarsfields native Colm McGuinness has led Eoghan Ruadh to their first Ulster Final.  “There’s been some change around the place since I was last here.” Said McGuinness: “The work into the youth set up was already there but there was none of what you see today.  The changing rooms and new pitch.  It’s a massive change and a sign of where the club are going.

“The underage set-up here is incredible.  Not many outside of Tyrone mightn’t be aware of the work that’s going on.  On any given Saturday they don’t think twice in taking a group of under six’s and under eight’s 70 or 80 mile for blitzes.

The momentum within Eoghan Ruadh this season has brought a feel good factor to the Tyrone side.  Reaching the Ulster minor final in Ballinascreen, defeating Derry champions Lavey before losing to an excellent Loughgiel side in the final last month.  Their run to Saturday’s final has continued that vein of form.  Playing in the Antrim leagues has helped McGuinness’s side: “The Division Two league is perfect for us.  You’re playing against the best Intermediate sides in Ulster and that’s helped us big time in Ulster.

“We played Lisbellaw and won by four points.  People might look at that and think that it was an ok result but that was the Fermanagh county team we were playing.  Those lads are used to playing at a higher level and are a decent side.

“Keady was a big match for us.  They beat Eoghan Ruadh last year in the Ulster quarter-final so to get one over on them this year was nice.  A good turnaround for the lads and shows how much they’ve came on this year.

“I analysed last years match and seen where it went right and where it went wrong.  It was a massive win for us and for the club.  For this club to be playing in an Ulster final is massive.”

McGuinness’ side played Naomh Éanna twice this year with the Glengormley men winning on both occasions.  The Eoghan Ruadh manager gave his assessment on the Antrim champions: “They’re a big, strong team but a bigger squad as well.  They were the best team in Division Two last year and there’s no-one could argue that.

“They beat us by five or six points in Dungannon and we played them in the last game of the league.  They needed a win to get promotion and in fairness they put in a big performance against us.  They beat us handy and I suppose it was their first step to where they are today.

“They will start as favourites.  Stepping back and looking at it, it’s the Antrim champions against the Tyrone champions.  Historically, that’s been a one way street for the Antrim champions and we’re hoping we can buck that trend.”

With a plethora of players involved with the Tyrone county set-up, the Eoghan Ruadh lads will be used to playing in matches of this level.  It may be their first Ulster final, but as McGuinness told us, it’s a scenario his lads are well used to at this stage: “Off course we’re looking forward to it.  These boys won’t be daunted by the occasion.  They’re used to playing for Tyrone on bigger stages so they’ll be mentally prepared and ready for Saturday.

I’ve been saying to the boys through the championship, if you’re not out to win then there’s no point in being there at all.  We believe we can win and we go to Dungiven with the knowledge that we can.  Naomh Éanna are a good team but more so they’re a strong squad.  We know Saturday’s a big ask and we’re going in as underdog but we’re going to be trying everything we can to make sure we do that on Saturday.”

Naomh Éanna get across the line in extra time

AIB Ulster Intermediate Hurling Championship Semi-Final

Naomh Éanna 0-18 Bredagh (Down) 0-16 (aet)

Saturday October 26

Brendan McTaggart reports from Hannahstown

If Naomh Éanna ever needed proof that the old saying was true, they were given it on Saturday afternoon in Hannahstown.  Nobody said it would be easy.  It took extra time and a gargantuan effort from the Hightown Road men but they sealed their place in the Ulster final with two points to spare.

It was another battle and huge test of character for Naomh Éanna, just like their quarter-final win over Banagher.  They held a six point lead at half time, to hanging on at the end of the hour when Bredagh staged an almighty fightback.  They held their nerve in extra time however to outscore the Down champions four points to two with substitute Killian Jennings grabbing the insurance point in injury time.

Naomh Eanna’s centre back Mark Donaghy in action against Bredagh’s Joe Hanraghan during Saturday AIB Ulster Intermediate Club semi-final at Hannahstown.

It was another workman like performance from Naomh Éanna where they had to dig deep and grind out the result.  An error strewn first half while playing with the aid of a substantial wind did little to help their cause but once again their Naomh Éanna defence were immense.  The full back line were imperious and half backs just got stronger as the game progressed – lead superbly by captain Cormac Ross.  He was in the right place at the right time on innumerable occasions while landing two points from play.

The work rate in midfield from Ruairi Donaghy and man of the match Ryan Bogue was relentless.  Donaghy with a mountain of work in rucks and repelling the Bredagh efforts while Bogue was superb.  His point from a side line midway through the first half seemed to spark Naomh Éanna into life but he was their stand out performer on the day.  He run himself into the ground for the Naomh Éanna cause on a day when defences were on top.

Naomh Eanna’s Edward O’Connor in action against Bredagh’s Declan McCartney during Saturday AIB Ulster Intermediate Club semi-final at Hannahstown.

Bredagh came close to causing an unlikely upset.  They kept Naomh Éanna to just one point in the lats ten minutes of the hour while scoring six points of their own, having managed just six in the previous 50 minutes.  They were buoyed into life with the efforts of Sean McGourty in midfield, Ronan Costello on the full forward line while captain Ian Galway’s performance was immense.  His free taking kept the Down men ticking before the late scoring surge looked to have taken them to the brink of defying the bookies.  But like Naomh Éanna, their performance was built around a brilliant defence led superbly by full back Tom McGuckian with Matthew McAreavey and Danny Robinson immense either side.  Extra time proved to be a step too far for the Down men though as Naomh Éanna held their nerve in extra time.

Both sides weren’t firing from the first whistle on Saturday afternoon.  With a biting cold wind playing down field in favour of Naomh Éanna and with the onus on the Hightown Road side to make the early running, it wasn’t happening for the Antrim champions.  During the first half, they hit nine wides with passes going astray and the normal, fluent, cohesive style of hurling was missing.

Bredagh weren’t far behind them with nerves playing their part but they did strike the opening two points of the match.  Donal Hughes and a Galway free from his own ’65 settling them into the semi-final after five minutes.  Cormac Ross and John McGoldrick (free) restored parity by the 11th minute but the Naomh Éanna wide count had already mounted to four by that stage. 

Galway’s second free of the match in the 17th minute edged the Bredagh men ahead once again but Naomh Éanna finally found their form in the closing stages of the first half.  Bogue sending the sliotar between the posts from a side line cut, 35 yards from the posts before Eddie O’Connor’s superb individual piece of skill yielded their fourth score of the match in the 20th minute to give them the lead for the first time.

Joe Maske, O’Connor and Ross all followed suit to make it four points in just under five minutes and while Cormac Hughes responded for Bredagh, Naomh Éanna were on top.  A pair of McGoldrick frees either side of a Cormac Jennings score meant Naomh Éanna held a six point lead at the short whistle.

Naomh Eanna full back Noall O’Connor battles his way through a Bredagh tackle during Saturday AIB Ulster Intermediate Club semi-final at Hannahstown.

Half time: Naomh Éanna 0-10 Bredagh 0-4

The closing stages to the first half were exactly what Naomh Éanna required.  The wind was substantial enough though to give Bredagh a glimmer of hope in the second half.  Costello opened the scoring two minutes after the throw in before Ruari Donaghy replied for Naomh Éanna. 

The Hightown Road side were finding playing into the elements difficult but Bredagh were hit with the same problem Naomh Éanna had in the first.  They would hit an inordinate number of wides throughout the second half but a trio of unanswered points from Galway (two frees, one ’65) cut the deficit to four points midway through the second half.

McGoldrick’s fourth free of the match briefly halted the Bredagh charge but the Down men kept coming.  Galway (free) and Cormac Jennings exchanged white flags going into the final ten minutes of the hour as Bredagh hit a purple patch to rattle Naomh Éanna.  Galway (free), a brace from the impressive Costello, Sean McGourty and Sean Hughes restored parity to the sides with three minutes of the hour remaining.  A run of five points in less than six minutes and it looked like there was only one winner at that point.

Manus Mullan restored the Naomh Éanna lead, Philly Curran with the assist but Bredagh came back once again.  Sean Hughes setting up McGourty for his second of the half and tie the sides on 15 points each going into injury time.  Naomh Éanna had chances to land what would have been a winning score but Cormac Jennings twice went close from long range frees at the death but both sides had to be content with extra time.

Naomh Eanna’s Ruairi Donaghy gets away from Bredagh’s Ian Galway during Saturday AIB Ulster Intermediate Club semi-final at Hannahstown.

FT: Naomh Éanna 0-14 Bredagh 0-14

As the hailstones thundered down on the Hannahstown pitch and the temperature dropping another degree or two, Naomh Éanna were left with a mix of emotions.  Relief to have staved off the Bredagh comeback and frustration at letting their lead slip.

A sublime side line cut from Galway shortly after the restart gave Bredagh the lead for the first time in the semi-final since the 11th minute of the hour.  With tensions heightened and intensity cranked up, time and space became more precious.  Neither side incredibly showed signs of tiring and Naomh Éanna looked to have regained a degree of composure after what they endured at the end of normal time.  McGoldrick, re-introduced from the for extra time tied the sides with his fifth free of the match as the sides were still tied at half time in extra time.

ET Half Time: Naomh Éanna 0-15 Bredagh 0-15

Naomh  Éanna had the wind at their backs for the second period of extra time and they played with more assurance.  They began to make better use of the sliotar while their half back line repelled any attacks from Bredagh, Mark Donaghy and Cormac Ross superb while Ryan Bogue was leading the Naomh Éanna charge.  Cormac Ross fired over his third point of the half before Bogue and McGoldrick combined smartly to release the midfielder for his second point of the match.  A piece of brilliance between the pair among the mayhem that gave Naomh Éanna a two point lead with five minutes remaining.

Sean Hughes split the posts for his second of the match to halve the deficit and Bredagh thought they had the equaliser when Oran Flynn sent the sliotar towards the posts from distance but his shot tailed wide and with it, Bredagh’s championship hopes.  Killian Jennings fired over what was the last point of the semi in injury time to ensure Naomh Éanna sealed their place in the Ulster Final and a meeting with Dungannon in two weeks  time.

Naomh Eanna manager Terence McNaughton

TEAMS

Naomh Éanna: Martin Curran; Niall O’Connor, Rian Gillen, Ruairi Diamond; Cormac Ross, Mark Donaghy, Joe Maskey; Ryan Bogue, Ruairi Donaghy; Philip Curran, Manus Mullan, Edward O’Connor; John McGoldrick, Matthew O’Hare, Cormac Jennings

Subs: Killian Jennings for M O’Hare (HT); Oliver Breen for E O’Connor (34); Ruari Crummey for J McGoldrick (47) Extra Time: John McGoldrick for O Breen (4); Matthew O’Hare for C Jennings (inj).

Scorers: John McGoldrick 0-5 (5 f’s); Cormac Ross 0-3; Cormac Jennings 0-2 (1 f); Ryan Bogue 0-2; Eddie O’Connor 0-2; Joe Maskey 0-1; Ruairi Donaghy 0-1; Manus Mullan 0-1; Killian Jennings 0-1

Bredagh: Eoghan Donnelly; Matthew McAreavey, Tom McGuckian, Danny Robinson; Chris Ferry, Oran Flynn, Declan McCartney; Ian Galway, Sean McGourty; Cormac Hughes, Donal Hughes, Niall McFarland; Joe Hanrahan, Malachy Scullin, Ronan Costello

Subs: Sean Hughes for M Scullin (HT); Emmett Trainor for J Hanrahan (49) Extra Time: Joe Hanrahan for I Galway (15).

Scorers: Ian Galway 0-7 (5 f’s, 1 ’65); Ronan Costello 0-3; Sean Hughes 0-2; Sean McGourty 0-2; Cormac Hughes 0-1; Donal Hughes 0-1.

Referee: Aiden Ferguson (Fermanagh)

Cross city derby for Naomh Éanna in provincial semi

AIB Ulster Intermediate Championship

Semi-Final

Naomh Éanna vs Bredagh (Down)

Saturday October 26

Venue:  Hanahstown

Throw In: 2:30pm

Ref: Aidan Ferguson (Erne Gaels, Fermanagh)

By Brendan McTaggart

One more step.  Naomh Éanna are one more step from another Ulster Final.  The Hightown Road side are on a roll and their journey is a short one on Saturday.  A short trip to Hannahstown for a provincial semi-final and a meeting with Down champions, Bredagh.

It’s a short journey for both sides, Bredagh residing from south Belfast and they too have had a good season.  Plying their trade in Division Three of the Antrim leagues, Bredagh showed signs of challenging for promotion.  Keeping tabs with the Gorts for the majority of the season but their form tailed off, losing four of their last five league games.  Their win coming against the men from Turf Lodge on a night when the Gorts could have taken the league crown.

Their route to Saturday’s match saw them safely negotiate the Down championship, despite needing another hour before seeing past the challenge of Carryduff in the final.  Bredagh had 10 points to spare over Clonduff and Carryduff in the group stages before seeing off their neighbours under the lights at The Dub 2-13 to 1-8.

In their last match, the Mourne men saw off the challenge of Monaghan champions and last years Ulster Junior champs, Castleblayney.  Four points to spare over the side who narrowly defeated Cushendun in the provincial junior championship last year.

For all the brilliance Naomh Éanna have shown in achieving promotion to Division One, they ground out a major result and performance in the Ulster quarter-final.  Naomh Éanna showed more grit, determination and heart than pure skill the last day out.  But when the chips were down, the Antrim champions had men who stood to be counted.  Leaders.  Ruairi Donaghy and Cormac Ross helped to turn the screw at the death while the introduction of Cormac Jennings off the bench into the attack gave them an edge. 

Naomh Eanna manager Terence McNaughton

Banagher looked to have their number until Philly Curran’s 52nd minute goal.  It gave the Hightown Road men the sniff of an opportunity they needed and like all good teams, they took it with both hands.  The Derry men fancied their chances of going the whole way and their performances in the championship to claim the Intermediate crown would have backed that claim.

It was more than just a win for Naomh Éanna.  They dug deep, deeper than they have ever had to in the past.  In a quagmire of a pitch and in horrendous conditions, Naomh Éanna kept the dream alive.  If they are going to make the final, they will have to negate the dangers Bredagh possess.  Donal Hughes is their playmaker from centre half while Niall McFarland will be their man from frees.  They’re captained by Ian Galway, a strong midfielder while Sean McGourty is another forward Naomh Éanna will have to keep tabs on, normally lining out around the three quarter line.  The Down champions will be without the services of Mark Patterson for the semi-final, they appealed his red card in the quarter-final win over Castleblayney but it was reduced to one game from the initial three.

The frost in recent nights will help to harden up the ground which you would imagine will play into the Naomh Éanna’s hands.  They like to play a fast and direct brand of hurling and the wide pitch in Hannahstown will be perfect for them.  Their defence were immense against Banagher but they went 25 minutes without scoring.  It’s not common any team would do that and come away with a win, that shows the magnitude of the performance from the Naomh Éanna defence.  ‘Sambo’ and his management team will be hoping for an improved attacking performance from their side.  It was a rare off day for John McGoldrick, he missed more frees in Owenbeg than he had in the rest of the year combined.  His accuracy is spellbinding and to see at all was such a shock to anyone who has watched him play in recent times.  He and the rest of Naomh Éanna will be hoping that it was a one-off.  Killian Jennings was well marshalled by Banagher but showed glimpses of what he can do.  Those moments of magic will be required in Hannahstown.

Naomh Éanna start as favourites but Bredagh will come with hopes of causing an upset.  A final place beckons, next stop – Hannahstown.

Philly Curran’s goal saved the day for Naomh Eanna last time out

Donaghy point in injury time sends Naomh Éanna to semi’s

AIB Ulster Intermediate Hurling Championship Quarter-Final

Naomh Éanna 1-10 Banagher 0-12

Brendan McTaggart reports from Owenbeg, Dungiven

They left it late, very late, but Naomh Éanna edged past Derry champions Banagher at Owenbeg on Sunday to make the semi-finals of Ulster Intermediate Hurling Championship.  Ruairi Donaghy was the man who hit the vital score in the third minute of injury time to seal the Hightown Road sides’ progression at the end of a titanic battle over the hour, as the Derry men pushed them all the way.

Naomh Éanna trailed by three points at half time and with the underfoot conditions already poor, the heavens opened in the second half.  The quarter-final went from a hurling match to a battle of wills.  Neither could take control and it was 18 minutes into the second half before the first score came.  Banagher had missed chances to increase their lead while Naomh Éanna were getting little joy out of a tenacious defence.

The weather and underfoot conditions weren’t conducive for free-flowing hurling at the Dungiven venue.  Both sides hit double figures in wides throughout the hour and while there was plenty of handling errors that you wouldn’t normally see from either side, Naomh Éanna were just keeping in touch of the Derry champions.

The game changed in the 51st minute with the only goal of the match.  John McGoldrick sent a side line cut to the heart of the Banagher defence 45 yards from goal.  Banagher ‘keeper Daryl McDermot couldn’t control and despite laying on the ground Philly Curran swept the sliotar over the line from the edge of the box to give his side a one point lead.

Philly Curran celebrates after scoring the goal that changed the game.

The intensity increased in the closing stages with both sides throwing everything at each other.  Banagher were reduced to 14 men in injury time, Oisin McCloskey seeing red for a reckless challenge on Cormac Jennings and Naomh Éanna took advantage.  From the resulting free the sliotar was moved out to the right and Ruairi Donaghy did the rest and set up a meeting with Down champions Bredagh in the last four.

Bright Start

In a nervy opening, four wides evenly split did little to settle any pre-match nerves.  A signature free from John McGoldrick opened the scoring in the sixth minute from half way before the Naomh Éanna repeated the trick moments later, this time from close to 80 yards out.

Banagher opened their account in the ninth minute, Jonathan Dwyer firing over after good work from Steafan McCloskey.  Naomh Éanna regained their two point lead when Philly Curran split the uprights two minutes later but the signs were already there of Banagher finally settling into the tie.

Mark Lynch dropped back in an attempt to starve the Naomh Éanna attack of time and space.  Killian Jennings was causing huge problems and was out in front and commanding the ball in that opening quarter.  It was his point in the 19th minute that opened a three point lead for the Glengormley side but Banagher were beginning to get on top.

Steafan McCloskey’s influence grew while Dara Cartin and Oisin McCloskey became more dangerous.  A brace of points from Tiarnan McCloskey (free) and Steafan McCloskey reduced the deficit to the minimum and while Matthew O’Hare instantly replied, Banagher dominated the closing stages.

Tiarnan McCloskey (free) and Sean McCullagh tied the scores and while John McGoldrick’s third point of the half re-established the Naomh Éanna lead, it would be their last score for 25 minutes.

Having scored five points in the opening 25 minutes, the Derry men scored four points in the time that remained of the first half to take an element of control.  Steafan McCloskey, Ciaran Lynch, Tiarnan McCloskey (free) and Dwyer all finding the target to leave Banagher ahead by three at half time.

Banagher full back Ruairi McCloskey solos out of defence with the ball.

Half time: Banagher 0-9 Naomh Éanna 0-6

Half time couldn’t come quick enough for Naomh Éanna.  Banagher were well on top in the closing stages and had the Hightown Road side on the ropes.  The start of the second half was more of the same however and but for some wayward frees from Tiarnan McCloskey, Banagher should have stretched their advantage.

Both sides struggled with conditions and lost their accuracy in that opening quarter of the second half.  Defences were well on top with time and space at a premium, adding to the frustration at the increasing wide count on both sides.

The first score of the second half came in the 48th minute, Eddie O’Connor finally getting Naomh Éanna firing again before the pivotal moment of the contest.  Curran’s goal was as unexpected as it was welcome for the Naomh Éanna men but it gave them a huge lift going into the final ten minutes.  John McGoldrick’s side line dropped short, a plethora of players were waiting on the dropping ball and while Banagher ‘keeper McDermot got to the sliotar first, he lost control and Curran was at the right place and right time for his side to sweep the ball home while vertical on the turf.

Philly Curran bundles the ball over the Banagher line for the only goal of the game

The goal stirred Banagher into a response and they were back in front again with two minutes remaining.  A brace of frees from Cartin ending a 24 minute scoreless spell for the Derry men as both sides looked to wrestle control.

McGoldrick’s fourth free of the match restored parity, another huge score from close to the half way line before Manus Mullan fed Ruari Crummey to split the uprights in the last minute of normal time.  Cartin’s third free of the half tied the sides for the fifth time during the hour. 

Naomh Éanna were thrown a huge lifeline when Banagher were reduced to 14 men, Oisin McCloskey’s tackle deemed worthy of a red card by referee James Connors and from the resulting free the Antrim champions fashioned the winning score.

Cormac Ross stood over the free close to his ’45 and a crowd of players went to gather the dropping ball.  The sliotar was passed out to Ruairi Donaghy 45 yards from goal and he split the posts with what was the winning score in the third minute of injury time.

A frenetic ending to a pulsating game and while it wasn’t their most fluent hour of hurling, Naomh Éanna won’t mind as they progress to the last four and a meeting with Bredagh in two weeks’ time.

Big Joe Maskey strikes a Naomh Eanna free

TEAMS

Naomh Éanna: M Curran; N O’Connor, R Gillen, R Diamond; C Ross, M Donaghy, J Maskey; R Bogue, R Donaghy (0-1); P Curran (1-1), M Mullan, E O’Connor (0-1); J McGoldrick (0-4, 4 frees), M O’Hare (0-1), K Jennings (0-1). Subs: Cormac Jennings for J McGoldrick (blood sub 34 reversed 40); C Jennings for R Bogue (45); R Crummey (0-1) for E O’Connor (59)

Yellow Cards: J McGoldrick (16); R Gillen (37); C Jennings (55)

Banagher: D McDermot; G Farren, R McCloskey, S Murphy; D McCloskey, M Lynch, N Farren; C Lynch (0-1), B Óg McGilligan; S McCullagh (0-1), S McCloskey (0-2), D Cartin (0-3, 3 f’s); T McCloskey (0-3, 3 f’s), O McCloskey, J Dwyer (0-2). Subs: P McCloskey for T McCloskey (48); C McGilligan for C Lynch (56)

Yellow Cards: O McCloskey (14); D Cartin (26); S McCullagh (49)

Red Cards: O McCloskey (inj); S McCullagh (after full time).

Referee: James Connors (Dún na nGall)