Junior B Hurling Championship semi-final
Latharna Og Larne 2-12 All Saints 2-10
Never-say-die, Latharna Og staged a late rally to claim the Junior B Hurling Championship when they defeated All Saints in a bruising encounter in Ahoghill tonight. The Ballymena side looked well on their way to retaining their title when they led by 2-5 to 0-3 at the break but the Larne men came back strongly after the break.
Goals from Anthony O’Neill in the 24th minute and a second from Seamus McNeill two minutes later turned the contest on its head and late points from Michael Lismore and Brian Quinn sent the Brustin Braes supporters into wild scenes of celebration as All Saints capitulated under sustained pressure.
It looked all so different in the opening half as Ciaran Neeson and Damian Gillan shot the Slemish Park side into a two point lead before Philip Craig opened the Larne men’s account from a 5th minute free.
Damian Gillan from a free and Ciaran Neeson from play edged All Saints three ahead at the end of the opening quarter as referee Paul O’Neill tried to keep a lid on matters with some of the challenges from both sides not for the faint hearted.
A great catch followed by a clever sidestep saw Ciaran Neeson burst through for the game’s opening goal in the 18th minute and All Saints looked to be gaining control. Both sides were guilty of poor finishing as the wide count mounted before Conor Matthews got Latharna Og’s second point.
All Saints were enjoying the better of the exchanges however and might have increased their lead when Ciaran Neeson was fouled 20 meters from goal. Neeson decided to go for goal however and his firmly struck shot was stopped on the line and cleared by the Larne defence.
It didn’t seem to matter however when Ciaran Butler was on hand to finish to the net from close range after Liam Cassley was clattered as he bore down on goal. Philip Craig raised the Seasider’s third white flag from a 27th minute free before seeing Red two minutes later.
As matters threatened to get out of hand Craig got his marching orders for a bad pull on Liam Cassley but the All Saints man retaliated by driving the sliotar at the Og’s number ten to accompany him on the way to the dressing room.
Still the momentum was very much with the Junior B holders as the half time whistle sounded and they looked in a fairly comfortable position as they took an eight point lead into the turnover.
Latharna Og had been strictly second best in the opening half but they began the second with a flurry and an inspirational point by corner back, Conor Barkley from 70 meters got their challenge up and running in the opening minute and Michael Lismore added another from a 30 meter free with three minutes of the new half gone.
Damian Gillan replied from a free at the other end before the influential Lismore pointed his second of the half and a point from play by Conor Matthews cut the deficit to five after seven minutes and slowly the boys from Brustin Braes were gaining a foothold in the game.
The Balymena side were struggling to replicate the fluency of the opening half with many of their passes going astray but Gillan eased them six ahead once more before Niall McGoldrick responded from a long range free for the Larne side to the delight of their noisy travelling support.
The hits were coning thick and fast with referee, Paul O’Neill issuing a number of yellow cards and a number of players still fortunate to be on the field as Damian Gillan moved All Saints six in front once more from a 14th minute free but the Ballymena attack were now struggling to win clean possession.
Still when their top scorer, Gillan increased his side’s lead to seven from another free in the 17th minute and Cormac Magill followed with another from play, following an excellent Luke O’Rawe sideline cut they looked to have weathered the storm.
Their lead had been extended back to eight points and they appeared to have done enough but Latharna Og were having none of it and they threw everything but the kitchen sink at the opposition, producing an intensity that rocked their opponents out of their stride.
Full-forward Anthony O’Neill fielded a high ball before firing home in the 24th minute and Seamus McNeill followed with another, two minutes later as the All Saints defence crumbled under the pressure.
Conor Matthews and Niall McGoldrick levelled the contest as the Ballymena side’s attempts to play short ball disintegrated and when the usually dependable Gillan was off target from a couple of frees there was a growing feeling that there was only going to be one winner.
Even the dismissal of Darren Martin for a second yellow failed to disrupt the Larne men’s momentum and they hit the front for the first time through Michael Lismore as the game went into time added on with Brian Quinn following with another to make a famous victory secure.
The final whistle was greeted by scenes of wild celebrations from the Latharna Og side and their supporters while their opponents could hardly believe what had just happened. Manager Darren McGinty, while obviously disappointed, covered himself in glory as he came forward to congratulate the opposition and it was hand-shakes all round at the end.
CCC Chairman, Seamus McMullan presented the cup to Latharna Og captain Caolan Shields while the first Saffron Gael award of the season for Man of the match went to Michael Lismore.
Latharna Og: Chris Keenan, Niall McGoldrick, Barry Petticrew, Conor Barkley, Darren Martin, Ryan O’Donnell, Thomas Carson, Caolan Shields, Philip McKendry, Philip Craig, Brian Quinn, Michael Lismore, Seamus McNeill, Anthony O’Neill, Conor Matthews. Subs: Caolan Hay, Ciaran McKillion, Declan Regan, Brian Rogan, Cris Rolston
All Saints: Daire Hasson, PJ O’Kane, Chris McAffee, Terry Diamond, Sean O’Rawe, Colum Neeson, Padhraig Magill, Damian Gillan, Vincent Esler, Cormac Magill, Gary Miskella, Luke O’Rawe, Ciaran Neeson, Kieran Butler,Liam Cassley. Subs: Ciaran Cassley, Padraig Magill, Francis Casey, Anthony Mitchell, Barry Dorrity.
Referee: Paul O’Neill (Creggan)