Junior Hurling Championship Final preview
Glenarm v Gort na Mona at Armoy
Saturday September 16th at 2pm
By John McIlwaine
Shane O’Neill’s Glenarm bid to bridge a fifty year gap when they take on Gort na Mona in Saturday’s Junior Hurling Championship final in Armoy. 1957 was the last year the club, then known as St Joseph’s Glenarm, last captured the Junior trohy and though they have a won a few at Intermediate level since then the Junior has eluded them. Strange at it may seem they did win the Ulster Junior title in 2004 though. That year the men from Feystown were beaten in the Antrim final by Loughgiel’s 2nds, but because the Shamrocks are a senior club they were not allowed to compete in Ulster at Junior leavel and so Glenarm went through as Antrim’s representatives. The Feystown side took full advantage of their reprieve and they actually went on to win the Ulster title by beating Armagh champions Portadown in the final at Casement Park.
Standing in their way on Saturday is the formidable challenge of Gort na Móna, a team who not too long ago were capturing Intermediate titles at Ulster level
Glenarm started this year’s campaign with a comprehensive win over St Teresa’s at Quinn Park, Ballymena back on August 5th. The Feystown side were slow to start that day and actually trailed by 0-8 to 0-5 after twenty five minutes, but a strong finish to the half saw them hit five points without reply to lead by 0-10 to 0-8 at the break. After the change of ends there was no stopping them and early points from Benny McDermott and Daniel Black, followed by a Sean O’Hare goal saw gain complete control and they played some top class hurling to run out winners by 4-23 to 1-11.
In their semi-final in Armoy they were slow to start once again as Con Magees Glenravel had the better of things in the first half. Playing against the stiff breeze Glenravel looked well placed to cause an upset when a Declan Traynor goal helped them to a 1-8 to 0-6 lead by the twenty fifth minute. Glenarm were up against it but the brilliant free taking of Daniel Black steadied the ship and a point from a Black free and one from play by Darren Hamill cut the gap to just a goal at the break. When the teams emerged for the second half Glenarm were a team transformed and boosted by a goal from county minor star Shane Magill they turned the game around in that second half to run five point winners on a scoreline of 1-17 to 1-12.
Gort na Mona’s path to the final
Gort na Mona faced Cushendun in their opening game and after an epic struggle they got home with a point to spare. Cushendun led early on thanks to a goal from Eoin McQuillan but the Belfast boys fought back and goals from Mark Ward and Thomas McCaffrey saw them open a 2-6 to 1-4 lead by half time. An early second half point saw them go six clear and though Cushendun made a real fight of it Gort na Mona were always able to keep a little daylight between the sides. The Emmets produced a strong finish to get the gap down to a single point but the Gorts never panicked and held on to book a semi-final place.
It was a close battle once again in that semi-final as they faced near neighbours St Paul’s on the 3G pitch at Woodlands. With Dessie McClean pulling the strings for the Turf Lodge men they opened up a three point lead midway through the first half, but a Niall Peoples goal brought St Paul’s back on level terms. Darren Boyd and Dessie McClean put them two clear with half time fast approaching before St Paul’s hit a late point to leave the minimum between the sides at the break. Midway through the second half the sides were level for the seventh time in the game, but three unanswered points from Thomas McCaffrey, Declan Hughes and Darren Boyd gave them a bit of breathing space. However St Paul’s fought to the very end and closed the gap to a single point entering injury time, but just as in the quarter final the Turf Lodge side held on for victory.
This could go either way
A betting man wouldn’t know just what way to call this game. The teams form during the championship had been pretty similar and when they met each other in the league in July it ended level on 1-13 to 0-16. Glenarm’s defence have looked a little suspect at times this season and they will need to be at their best on Saturday to deal with the threat of Dessie McClean who can win a game of his own hurl. However they have some fine hurlers at the back with the likes of Blain McDermott and Hugh Pat McNeill, and the way they snuffed out the Glenravel forwards in the second half of their semi-final must give them confidence. At midfield county minor Shane Magill had his best display of the season in the semi-final and after missing much of the club season because of his county commitment he will be champing at the bit on Saturday. Up front Daniel Black is a key man and his free taking will have a big bearing on the outcome of this game. Darren Hamill has been back to his best this season after a long lay-off through injury and though he was unusually quiet in the win over Glenravel he has the ability to control matters in the half forward line. Another key man is Dylan McLaughlin who has played well all season and his contribution will be vital.
Gort na Mona is a team with loads of talent in their ranks and the likes of Dessie McClean, Darren Boyd, Thomas McCaffrey and Sean Doyle will be formidable opponents. It is only two years since this Gort na Mona side took Creggan to extra time in the Intermediate semi-final, a Creggan team who went to win the Antrim and Ulster titles. Their form dipped the following season when Dessie McClean immigrated to America but the former county star is back and showing good form once again.
As I said in my introduction this is a hard one to call. The sides finished level in the league though Glenarm are four points better off in the league table, with a game in hand. There won’t be a lot between them in the end but I give a tentative nod in the direction of Glenarm……………..if they can stifle the threat of Dessie McClean.