Intermediate Hurling Championship Final
Clooney Gael 1-19 Cushendun 1-15
Saturday 15 October
Brendan McTaggart reports from Dunsilly
With just over ten minutes of this final remaining, it looked like Cushendun were on the cusp of adding to the junior crown they claimed so memorably just four years ago. The men from Clooney were in no mood to listen to any fairy-tale endings at Dunsilly however. Led by the brilliant James O’Connell, the Gaels were simply superb in the closing stages, turning a three point deficit into a four point victory.
This was a final that brought a rollercoaster of emotions for those in attendance. Clooney Gaels looked much brighter and hungrier in the first half, taking a three point lead and could have been further ahead but for a brilliant penalty save from ‘keeper Gareth McGhee. Cushendun came out in the second half a different side however. With Conlaoth ‘Loaf’ McNeil firing over frees from all angles and captain Harry Kilgore at the heart of everything the Emmett’s had to offer, Cushendun looked most likely to take the Intermediate crown. However, the introduction of Eoin Graham and a second wind for James O’Connell in the closing stages ensured the red and black army of Clooney were celebrating at the final whistle.
James O’Connell top scored with 0-13 for his hours work with five points from play. A scintillating display, especially in the first half where he was simply too good for the Cushendun defence. Jack McKay was his equal as Cushendun turned the screw after the half time break but O’Connell’s accuracy from frees and overall attacking play was on another level. He scored the final point of the game with an outrageous point with his feet closing on the whitewash on the right hand side and barely 21 yards from goal. A fitting end to a final where his light shone brightest for the men in red and black.
Both sides started brightly at Dunsilly with O’Connell’s free opening the scoring with barely a minute gone. Cushendun fired over an instant reply from Matthew McCartin before Callum Kilgore gave the Emmett’s an early lead. It was short lived however as the Gaels went up another level. A huge free form Fionnbar O’Neill restored parity before Patrick Graham hit the opening goal of the tie. James O’Connell collecting the sliotar and passed to the rushing Patrick Graham. His fierce shot was blocked initially by McGhee in goals but the sliotar managed to get over the line despite the Emmett’s best efforts.
Cushendun reacted well to the concession of the goal with Harry Kilgore and McNeill splitting the uprights either side of another James O’Connell point. The Gaels began to stretch their legs though with Pat Graham and a trio of james O’Connell points (2fs) were only responded to by a solitary score from Conor McHugh to leave five between the sides after the first quarter.
The Gaels maintained their five point lead with both sides firing over a brace of scores, Cushendun more wasteful in front of the target but they found a glimmer of hope in the 28th minute when they scored their major. Harry Kilgore finding David Gilgore and with a sharp turn he found himself one on one with Francis Neeson and made no mistake to leave two between the sides.
A super score from Ronan Graham from wide on the right followed before the Gaels forced another goal chance. PJ O’Connell was brought down in the large square when he was through on goal and referee Ciaran McCloskey awarded a penalty. Francis Neeson made his way up the pitch from between the Clooney sticks for the penalty but his effort was superbly saved by McGhee with the half time whistle going soon after to leave the Ahoghill me 1-10 to 1-07 ahead at the interval.
With the elements swirling in their favour, Cushendun made a rapid start to the second half. Conrad McDonnell and McNeill (free) reduced the Clooney lead to the minimum before Neil ‘Boris’ O’Connell split the posts for the Gaels. It was their last score for close to ten minutes however as the Emmett’s began to dominate the middle third, forcing errors from the Gaels and Loaf McNeill punished any indiscretions with expert ease from placed ball. A trio of frees came between scores from Harry Kilgore and Conor McHugh to leave Cushendun three ahead with just over ten minutes remaining. McHugh’s score quite brilliant with three passes from one end of the pitch to the other in next to no time before he split the posts.
Cushendun appeared to be well in control, such was their dominance of the Gaels but they found something extra with their championship lives on the line.
The introduction of Eoin Graham certainly gave them an extra dimension in attack and with James O’Connell once again thick in the heart of the Clooney Gaels renaissance. He would fire over a brace of frees before showing his predatory attacking instincts with a tidy score to leave the scores tied after a run of three points in as many minutes.
Another O’Connell free preceded scores from substitute Eoin Graham, his brace leaving four between the sides again in favour of the Ahoghill men.
A super score from Donal O’Hara gave Cushendun a glimmer of hope but the Gaels were not to be denied. O’Connell’s final score outrageous and a fitting end to a quite brilliant display that had those in red and black celebrating at the final whistle.
Cushendun: Gareth McGhee; Sean Hamilton, Aidan Corbett, Jack McKay; Tom Scally, Donal O’Hara, Oisin McMahon; Matthew McCartin, Conor McHugh; Conleth McNeill, Harry Kilgore, Calum Kilgore; Conor Bannon, David Kilgore, Conrad McDonnell
Scorers: C McNeill 0-5 (4fs); C McHugh 0-3; H Kilgore 0-3; D Kilgore 1-00; D O’Hara 0-1; M McCartin 0-1; C Kilgore 0-1; C McDonnell 0-1
Clooney Gaels: Francis Neeson; Harry O’Donnell, James Magee, Diarmuid Graham; Fionnbar O’Neill, Bernard Graham, Daniel O’Neill; Eamonn Brady, Neill O’Connell; Ronan Graham, Thomas McGlone, Patrick Graham; PJ O’Connell, Donal Graham, James O’Connell
Scorers: J O’Connell 0-13 (8fs); P Graham 1-1; Eoin Graham 0-2; F O’Neill 0-1 (1f); N O’Connell 0-1; R Graham 0-1
Referee: Ciaran McCloskey (Loughgiel)