Epic clash see Rasharkin and Ballela share the spoils

AIB Ulster Club Junior Hurling Championship – Quarter Final

Ballela GAC 3-20           St.Mary’s Rasharkin 2-23 (AET)   

Sunday 4th October 2015

This very entertaining end to end fixture had all the thrills and spills of championship hurling, both sides had chances to win this fixture in normal time and indeed additional time but neither did enough to get over the line and alas neither team deserved to lose. The game was nip and tuck until Antrim kingpins Rasharkin pulled away, going eight clear by half time of extra time and the game looked to be over. They then went nine up early in the second period of additional time but Ballela with a never say die attitude, rallied scoring 2-3 on the bounce to rescue draw from certain defeat.

The Down Champions coming out of the hat first were afforded home advantage and due to the unavailability of county ground Páirc Esler in Newry, St.Mary’s Rasharkin, who recently collected their third Antrim Junior crown, travelled to Ballela on Sunday past to fulfil this Ulster Club Junior Hurling quarter final tie against the Katesbridge side.

Derrytrasna club man Anthony Nash was officiating and was flanked with linesmen his brother Eddie and Leon Reynolds, fourth official was Gerard Devlin.

First blood when to the visitors when St.Mary’s corner man Conor McFerran flashed the sliotar through the posts inside the opening minute, Ballela’s wing half back Niall Burns opened his sides account three minutes later, indeed it was the Down men who settled best in the early exchanges the home side when on to point a hat trick of long range frees from their talisman and Down County star Johnny McCusker. Rasharkin responded with points from Thomas Doherty and two sublime strikes from wing half back Daniel Doherty to leave the tie all square midway through the first half. St.Mary’s last line of defence James O’Mullan produced an excellent save on sixteen minutes to deny Ballela’s Daniel Doran, the agile keeper was quick off his line to narrow the space and turn the ball from a one on one situation.

Long range free takers on both sides played a big part of this fixture throughout, and both made valuable use of the elements. Ballela’s Johnny McCusker and Rasharkin Brendan McMullan exchanged frees on the eighteenth minute before the Down Champions finished the half on a high – four points in as many minutes all from the stick of McCusker, three from the set piece and one resulting from a poor clearance out of the Rasharkin defence, saw them establish a firm grip. Shane Hasson and Declan McKay replied for the visitors before McCusker registered his ninth point on half time to leave halftime scoreline Ballela GAC 0-10 St.Mary’s Rasharkin 0-7.

The Katesbridge men started the second period with a substitution, Paddy Mackin had an instant impact on the game and had barely fastened is helmet before he lifted the Rasharkin net with a rasper in the opening seconds. Rasharkin skipper Declan McKay restored calm within ranks and coolly slotted over a minute later, before Shane Hasson pulled on the sliotar from close range to raise the green flag following a goal mouth scramble and reduce arrears to two points. McKay struck again for the blue and amber hoops to close the gap to the minimum before McCusker pointed a free to nudge his side further ahead after ten.

The Dreen men dug deep and took full advantage of the wind in the second period, Decky McKay pointing two frees before his side took the lead for the first time in the game after Brendan McMullan drop the ball over the crossbar from right in front of St.Mary’s dugout much to the cheers of the many travelling supporters. Conor McFerran had Rasharkin on their way and pushed further daylight between the sides when he collected possession rounded his maker and split the points from fifty yards, midway through the half. However, the Down men showed reliance and levelled matters for the third time through none other than McCusker after twenty minutes. The pendulum swung back in favour of St.Mary’s when Declan McKay collected his sixth and seventh points to open up another two point lead. It was a one point game once more when Ballela’s McCusker came to the rescue with five minutes on the clock, before Rasharkin’s Conor McKeever pointed a screamer which looked to have lifted the visitors in the closing minutes. Back again came the home side to close out the game with two back to back points and force additional time. Full time score line Ballela GAC 1-16 St.Mary’s Rasharkin 1-16.

Additional time would be ten minutes each way and was ultimately a game of two halves in more ways than one, The Antrim Champions took on board the inspiring words of wisdom from mentors Paul McFerran and Liam McCart and started at 100mph, Conor McKeever fired over within seconds of the restart and followed up two minutes later smashing the sliotar beyond Gary McMullan on the Ballela goal line raising the green flag, Enda McFerran got in on the act with two points back to back followed by Eamon McNeill with two as Rasharkin released the shackles and opened up a commanding eight point lead. A shell shocked Ballela could only respond with a free from Johnny McCusker before Shane Hasson re-established the eight point margin on the stroke of half time.  

St.Mary’s started the second period of additional time similar to the first after Eamon McNeill blazed over to extend their advantage to a convincing nine points with eight minutes remaining. However, the Down men dusted off and got back at it, Ballela’s midfielder Malachy Magee started the comeback with a major after three before Johnny McCusker added two points from range after six. St.Mary’s frantically held on but couldn’t get a foothold, Magee bagged another goal with two minutes remaining before fittingly man of the match McCusker dropped over on full time to bring his personnel tally to a magnificent eighteen points – a good day at the office!

The Antrim kingpins will wonder how they let a nine point lead evaporate and Ballela must be thankful their ace man was is scintillating form. Both sides will have gained a lot from this game, we’ll find out next Sunday who has learned the most. Replay is confirmed 3.30pm Sunday 11th October at Loughgiel. Armagh Champions Sean Tracy’s await the winners of this pairing following their victory over Cavan champions Cootehill.       

St.Mary’s Rasharkin: James O’Mullan, Donagh Quigg, Aidan McKeever, Conor Hasson, Daniel Doherty, Brendan McMullan, Conor Donaghy, Conor McKeever and Thomas McMullan, Eamon McNeill, Thomas Doherty, Shane Hasson, Conor McFerran, Declan McKay and Enda McFerran

Subs: Joey Quinn, Kevin Agnew, Aidan Darragh, Chrissy McKiernan and Emmett McFerran

Ballela GAC: Gary McMullan, Ryan Burns, Daniel McCusker, Donal McCann, Niall Burns, Gareth Burns, Michael Doyle, Johnny McCusker and Malachy Magee, Calvin Magee, Rory McPolin, Daniel Doran, Kevin Close, Ryan McCusker and Mark Cosgrave

Subs: Deon Kelly, Paddy Mackin, James McParland, Paddy McPolin

Referee: Alan Nash (Doire)

Antrim Junior Hurling Champions St.Mary’s Rasharkin

Lines man Eddie Nash (Doire), Ballela GAC captain Johnny McCusker, referee Alan Nash (Diore), St.Mary’s Rasharkin captain Declan McKay, linesman Leon Reynolds (Ard Mhacha) and Standby Referee Gerard Devlin (Ard Mhacha).

Down Junior Hurling Champions Ballela GAC

There was a feeling after the game that this the one that got away and so it proved to be when Ballela narrowly won the replay in Loughgiel but never the less it is a time that the hurlers of Rasharkin can look back at with some pride after the disappointment abated.

Gorts dreams dashed by superior Shamrocks

AIB Ulster Club Junior Hurling Championship Semi-final

Newry Shamrocks 0-16

Gort na Móna 1-9

Gort na Mona’s dream of a place in the Ulster Junior Hurling championship final were dashed at a cold and bumpy Ballela today when they were forced to concede to a superior Newry Shamrocks who adapted much better to the difficult playing surface.

The Down champions always had a bit too much firepower for the Turf Lodge side with their half-forward line of Sean Campbell, Eoin McGuinness and the impressive Ruairi Campbell scoring 0-7 from play between them.

Indeed, the Newry men were clinical with their finishing in the first half and didn’t strike a wide until two minute before half-time and looked to be heading to the dressing room with a healthy lead. A Darren ‘Diesel’ Boyd goal, just before half time handed the Antrim champions a lifeline and left them trailing by three at the short whistle.

It was as close as the Antrim champions got however as they exited the provincial stage at the semi-finals for the second time in three seasons.

Gort Na Móna made a late change to their starting line-up with Sean Doyle coming into corner-back in place of Niall Healy. Patrick McCaffrey also moved to right half-forward with Mark Rea joining captain Declan Hughes at midfield.

It took Newry less than 20 seconds to get the game’s first point with midfielder Ryan Courtney splitting the posts.

Dessie McClean replied in kind for the Gorts one minute later, but the Gort na Mona talisman came in for some close attention after that and it was another 21 minutes before he raised a second white flag.

Frees from Artie McGuinness and Conor McPolin were followed by points by Ruairi and Sean Campbell, Courtney and Eoin McGuinness as the Shamrocks took control to move 0-7 to 0-1 ahead with 20 minutes played.

McClean missed a couple of chances before firing over his second point following a foul on Martin Ward but Ruairi Campbell continued to cause problems for the Gort na Móna defence and his second left six between the sides towards the end of the half.

A fine clearance out of defence by Padraig McHugh found Ward in space and his quick delivery into Boyd created the game’s first goal chance. Despite losing his footing initially, ‘Diesel’ recovered well to fire a shot across Ronan Sheehan and into the net.

The Antrim champions looked to be in for another goal as they enjoyed their best period of the half but Thomas McCaffrey’s initial shot came off the leg of Mark Cribben but broke for Ward to score a point from play.

Sean Campbell had the final score on the half as his third point gave Newry a three-point half-time lead.

Gort na Mona needed a good start to the second half but it took 11 minutes before they got their first point with Mark Rea scoring a stunning long-range effort from play after McPolin converted two frees at the other end for Newry.

Despite enjoying a greater deal of possession Gort na Mona were finding it difficult to break down a resolute Shamrocks defence in which Daniel McGuinness, Matthew Mee and Billy Campbell were outstanding. .

Dessie McClean and Padraig McCaffrey knocked over points from play but the Down champions replied with scores from McGuinness (two) and McPolin to keep their noses in front.

As the game became scrappy in the final 10 minutes, Gort na Móna managed to close the gap to three points with the industrious Boyd landing a fine point from play and five minutes of injury-time gave them a glimmer of hope.

However, Newry kept their composure with a free from McPolin deep in injury-time seeing them over the line with four points to spare while Christopher Devlin’s dismissal at the end compounded a disappointing afternoon for Gort na Móna.

NEWRY SHAMROCKS: R Sheehan; M Mee, G Courtney, M Gribben; A Mee, A McGuinness 0-1 (0-1f), B Campbell; R Courtney 0-2, N Lennon; S Campbell 0-1, E McGuinness 0-3, R Campbell 0-3; J Murphy, O McCaffery, C McPolin 0-6 (0-5fs).

Subs: M McKey for McCaffery (47mins), D Young for R Courtney (54mins),

GORT NA MÓNA: P Fryers; S Doyle, C Devlin, G McKenna; N Henry, P McHugh, C McCann; D Hughes, M Rea 0-1; P McCaffrey 0-1, M Ward 0-1, D Boyd 1-2; T McCaffrey, B Quinn, D McClean 0-4 (0-2fs).

Subs: S Kelly for Henry (36mins), C McErlaine for Ward (53mins).

REFEREE: G O’Neill (Derry).

Gorts head to Balllela to face Shamrocks

Ulster Junior Hurling Club championship semi-final

Saturday 2-30 Ballela

Gort na Mona make the journey to Ballela, outside Banbridge tomorrow where they face Newry Shamrocks in the semi-final of the Ulster Junior Hurling club championship. Both sides had narrow wins in their respective quarter-final and tomorrow’s semi-final could be another close affair.

The Down champions had a goal to spare against Sean Tracey’s of Lurgan in Crossmaglen on the 19th October while on the same day Gort na Mona edged past St. Eunan’s Letterkenny in a tight contest in Letterkenny.

The Antrim champions have been in fine form this year, winning both the division 3 league and Junior Championship and that stiff test against St. Eunan’s should stand them in good stead as they take on the Down champions tomorrow in Ballela.

A point from a Dessie McClean free with the final puc of the game saw Gort na Móna book a place in Saturday’s semi-final at the expense of the Donegal champions. The Turf Lodge men led by two points (1-9 to 1-7) at the end of a keenly contested first half but St. Eunan’s came strong in the second half and more than matched the Antrim champions and had moved two points clear in the closing minutes. The Gorts fought back to level entering injury time and when Darren Boyd pointed them in front it seemed that they had done enough to claim the win. However St Eunan’s captain Conor O’Grady stepped up to the mark to hit the equaliser on 62 minutes and extra time looked like the most likely outcome until Dessie McClean stepped up to fire over the winner and send the Gorts fans into raptures. 

Former Antrim player, McClean has been in great form this season and is the man that Gort na Mona will turn to for scores but he is only one of a number of top class players in the Turf Lodge side. Padraig McCaffrey, Padraig McHugh, Tomas McCaffery and Darren ‘Diesel’ Boyd are others who have caught the eye this year but Gort na Mona’s success has been built on solid team performances.

Newry Shamrocks advanced to tomorrow’s semi-final following a 1-13 to 0-13 victory over Sean Treacy’s.

Shamrocks raced into an early three-point lead in as many minutes, with Ruairi Campbell scoring two from play and Artie McGuinness adding to the scoreboard from a 45.

Sean Treacy’s responded with the next two points only for Newry Shamrocks to re-establish their three-point lead via scores from Eoin and Artie McGuinness.

Artie McGuinness’ 12th minute point was the last Shamrocks score of the first half as Sean Tracey’s staged a come-back.

Points from Danny Magee, Shay McStravick, and Joe McKeever saw matters all square at the break on five points apiece.

Sean Treacy’s made the better start to the second half, scoring five unanswered points in almost as many minutes to open up a 0-10 to 0-5 lead.

However Jordan Murphy opened the Shamrocks second half account with a goal and it was the score that reignited the Newry side’s challenge.

Joe McKeever knocked over a point to give Sean Treacy’s some breathing space after Murphy’s goal, but the tide was beginning to turn.

The Shamrocks scored the next three points of the game to level the score at 1-8 to 0-11, and while Danny Magee edged Sean Treacy’s back into a single point lead with a free, they had no answer for the late Shamrocks surge that was about to come.

The Down champions fired over four points in quick succession to gain a 1-12 to 0-12 lead with time quickly running out and Eoin McGuinness sealed the win with his fourth point of the day in the dying moments as Newry Shamrocks ran out 1-13 to 0-13 victors.

The men from Newry are likely to provide Gort na Mona with a stiff challenge tomorrow but Gort na Mona have always been able to respond this season when they are presented with a challenge and I expect them to advance to an Ulster final with Eogan Rua of Coleraine or Inniskeen of Monaghan awaiting the winners.

McClean’s late magic sends Gorts to semis

AIB Ulster Club Junior Hurling Championship quarter-final

Gort na Móna (Antrim) 1-14 St Eunan’s (Donegal) 1-13

A point from a Dessie McClean free with the final puc of the game saw Antrim champions Gort na Móna book a place in the semi-final of the Ulster Junior Hurling Club Championship at the expense of Donegal champions St Eunan’s Letterkenny on Sunday afternoon. The Turf Lodge men led by two points (1-9 to 1-7) at the end of a keenly contested first half but any thoughts their fans might have had of them getting on top in the second period were not well founded as the Letterkenny based outfit more than matched the Antrim champions and had moved two points clear in the closing minutes. The Gorts fought back to level entering injury time and when Darren Boyd pointed them in front it seemed that they had done enough to claim the win. However St Eunan’s captain Conor O’Grady stepped up to the mark to hit the equaliser on 62 minutes and extra time looked like the most likely outcome until Dessie McClean stepped up to fire over the winner and send the Gorts fans into raptures.  

Darren Boyd runs at the St Eunan’s defence

Gort na Móna started the brighter of the two sides and points from McClean and Boyd gave them an early edge but things changed when St Eunan’s took advantage of a defensive slip to claim the first goal. With the game nearing the quarter mark Gorts took charge again with a well worked goal involving McKenna and McClean, which was well finished by centre forward Martin Ward but their hosts were giving as good as they got and they were able to peg back the Antrim champions who only held a two point lead at the break.  

During the second half the Donegal men kept up the pressure on the visitors and a Conor O’Grady point, this time from play, closed the gap to the minimum. Martin Ward had a chance for a second goal soon afterwards but his shot was off target and it set a trend as the Antrim men were unable to create a gap between themselves and their hosts. In fact St Eunan’s took the lead in the final quarter and though midfielder Declan Hughes pointed to bring the Gorts back on terms. However the Donegal champions came back with points from Hartnett and O’Grady and with just eight minutes of normal time to play, a real upset seemed on the cards. Veteran substitute Sean Kelly came to the Gorts rescue when he fired over the bar to cut the gap to a single point again and a sweet strike from a free by Dessie McClean tied up the scores in the final minutes.

Gorts midfielder Padraig McCaffrey in action

Padraig McCaffrey appeared to have sealed it when he pointed from play but St Eunan’s hit back with two points from O’Grady to edge in front at the game went into injury time, but once again Dessie McClean found an answer to tie things up yet again. Boyd appeared to have sealed it with his late point but the Gorts fans had more anguish to endure as O’Gardy hit his eight score of the game. The Turf Lodge side must have been getting ready for extra time when not for the first time this season Dessie McClean produced his magic and his wonderful point from distance sealed a dramatic win.     

GORT NA MÓNA: P Fryers; S Doyle, N Henry, C Devlin; G McKenna, P McHugh, M Rea; D Hughes, P McCaffrey 0-3; T McCaffrey, M Ward 1-0, C McCann; B Quinn, D Boyd 0-2, D McClean 0-8 (0-7fs).

Subs: S Kelly 0-1 for Ward (48mins), C McErlaine for Doyle (48mins), N Healy for Quinn (55mins). .

ST EUNAN’S: C Hennessy; B McIntyre, A Gaffey, S Halvey; J Matthews, S Doherty, C O’Donnell 0-1; S McVeigh 0-1, C Finn; M Ahern, R Hilferty, T Hartnett 0-1; J Hartnett 1-0, C O’Grady 0-9 (0-7fs), K Kealy 0-1.

Sub: O McGonigle for Ahern (46mins).

REFEREE: A Ferguson (Fermanagh)

Gorts head to Donegal to face St. Eunan’s

Ulster Junior Hurling Club Championship

St. Eunan’s Letterkenny v Gort na Mona

Letterkenny  12-45pm

Referee: Aidan Ferguson

Gort na Mona make the journey to Letterkenny on Sunday as they begin their Ulster Junior Club championship campaign and it is a game the Antrim champions look capable of winning. The Turf Lodge side have had a great season in Antrim, winning division 3 of the All County league before going on to complete the double with a championship win.

The Gorts began their championship campaign with a quarter-final win over Con Magees, Glenravel. The favourites Gort na Mona progressed to the last four with 12 points to spare over Con Magees in Ahoghill.  Despite a spirited challenge from the Glenravel men, Gort na Mona never really looked troubled over the hour in a comfortable afternoon’s work for the men from Turf Lodge.

A first half goal from Dessie McClean and two in two minutes from substitute Christopher McErlean paved the way for the Gort victory.  McClean top scored for the Gorts with seven points in addition to his first half major but this victory was built around the strength in their half backs and midfield.  Padraig McHugh had a major influence throughout from centre half while Patrick McCaffrey and Declan Hughes went through a mountain of work to help the Gorts maintain a sense of control over this quarter-final.

In the semi-final Gort na Mona faced what looked like a stiff challenge when they were drawn against St. Mary’s Rasharkin under the floodlights at Quinn Park. A devastating scoring spell, which yielded four goals in as many minutes midway through the first half, paved the way for Gort na Mona to seal a place in the Junior Hurling Championship final with St Paul’s.  The Turf Lodge side had 13 points to spare over Rasharkin at the end of the hour, thanks largely to a fantastic display from Dessie McClean.  The former county man helped himself to 3-7, his three goals all coming in that four minute onslaught in the first half.

Patrick McCaffrey and substitute Christopher McErlean added the other goals for the Gorts who put in a hugely impressive and controlled display throughout. 

On the other side of the draw, St. Paul’s, who had finished second to Gort na Mona in the league were turning in some impressive performances of their own and wins over St. Teresa’s in the quarter-final and a great semi-final comeback against Shane O’Neill’s, Glenarm suggested that they would give the Turf Lodge side their fill of it in the Antrim decider.

Junior Hurling Championship final

Gort na Mona 0-20 St. Paul’s 0-14

Dessie McClean scored 0-12 as Gort na Mona proved too good in the end for a battling St. Paul’s side who kept going right until the final whistle. The former county man gave an outstanding exhibition of free taking, landing at least four from beyond 70 meters and punished every foul that the opposition conceded.

McClean got the Turf Lodge men off the mark from a free in the opening minute before Sean O’Carroll equalised with a point from play with two minutes on the clock. O’Carroll fired over when he might have had a goal but it was Gort na Mona who went on to dominate the opening exchanges.

St. Paul’s staged a strong second half comeback but in the end they had no answer to the superior teamwork and scoring power of Gort na Mona who had six points to spare at the final whistle.

They were solid in defence where keeper Padraig Fryer, Niall Henry, Padraig McHugh and Mark Rea excelled. Patrick McCaffery and Declan Hughes dominated at mid-field while Dessie McClean and Thomas McCaffery were superb in a sharp attack.

What of St. Eunan’s ?

Gort na Mona’s opponents on Sunday, St. Eunana’s actually played in the Donegal senior championship and were beat in the final by Setanta.

Setanta defeated the Letterkenny side by 3-13 to 0-13 at O’Donnell Park. The Cathedral Town side opened the scoring through Conor O’Donnell and after 14 minutes led by 0-5 to 0-3.

But Setanta came back into the game and a goal by Mark Devine enabled them to lead by 1-10 to 0-9 at the break. Declan Coulter got a second goal for Setanta and a third goal from Devine put them 3-10 to 0-12 ahead inside the third quarter. The men from the Cross finished strongly and won by nine points.

St. Eunan’s should not be taken lightly. Setanta have been a major force in Donegal hurling for many years and despite that defeat St. Eunan’s acquitted themselves well and with home advantage will fancy their chances against the Antrim champions.

If Gort na Mona can produce anything like their best form they have nothing to fear however and Dessie McClean, Patrick and Tomas McCaffrey, Martin Ward, Darren Boyd and Conor McCann should have too much firepower and knowhow for the Donegal side.