AIB Ulster Junior Hurling Championship Final
Cushendun 0-16 Castleblayney 1-14
Sunday November 11
Brendan McTaggart reports from the Athletic Grounds, Armagh
It was late heartbreak for Cushendun on Sunday as their hopes for Ulster honours were dashed by Castleblayney. One point separated the teams at the end of a pulsating hour of hurling with both sides belittling their junior status.
After a solid first half where they held a four point lead at the short whistle, Cushendun were well placed midway through the second period. They held a five point lead and looked to have all the momentum but Mark Treanor scored the only goal of the final and the Monaghan champions looked rejuvenated. They began to cause the Cushendun defence more problems and with Fergal Rafter metronomic from placed ball, they began to eat into the Cushendun lead. With the game deep in injury time with the match still in the balance and Cushendun holding on, Castleblayney took the lead with Fergal Rafter’s 11th point and 10th free of the match. The first time they would hold the lead and it proved to be decisive. Time wasn’t the Emmet’s friend but they did manage one last chance, Conor McHugh foraging into the ‘Blayney half but he was swarmed by the Monaghan men’s defence. A devastating finish for Chris Dornan’s side, just falling short over the hour.
Cushendun’s Conor McHugh strikes a late free in the Ulster Junior Hurling final defeat to Castleblayney in Armagh. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine
Cushendun made a lively start to the decider with James Morgan landing the opening score of the match after just 30 seconds. Castleblayney responded with a free, Fergal Rafter with the Monaghan champions opening score in the third minute but it was the Emmet’s who were making light of the sandy conditions at the Athletic Grounds.
In midfield Conor McHugh began to orchestrate proceedings with Conleth McNeil influential, Cushendun went about wrestling control of the final. Morgan landed his second of the match to give the Emmett’s the lead once again before David Kilgore and Dominic McQuillan followed suit.
Mark Treanor stopped the rot for Castleblayney when he split the uprights after riding a heavy tackle in the seventh minute but Cushendun were looking sharper all over the pitch with their defence on top and midfield turning the sliotar at every opportunity.
Conor McHugh landed his first ’65 of the match to restore the Emmett’s three point lead once again to ensure they maintained their momentum and it could have been the perfect opening quarter for the Cushendun men but Eugene Duffin’s goal bound effort was well saved by ‘Blayney ‘keeper Paddy Collins. The Cushendun man was played through by David Kilgore and had space to run into but went for the first time effort from 30 yards only to see his effort matches by the ‘Blayney shot stopper.
Cushendun continued to dominate and landed a trio of points. Pierce Bannon, Eugene Duffin and Conleth McNeill opening a six point lead for the Emmet’s with seven minutes of the half remaining. Castleblayney finished the half stronger though with Rafter landing three points (two frees) in as many minutes before McHugh’s second ’65 of the final left the Emmet’s 0-9 to 0-5 ahead at the interval.
The closing minutes of the opening half was the only time in the first 30 minutes where Castleblayney looked on top. Cushendun were well worthy of their four point lead and it was probably the least the Antrim champions deserved.
The opening to the second half was a tight affair. David Kilgore and Rafter (free) swapped scores before Mark Treanor and Dominic McQuillan repeated the same by the eighth minute. Rafter’s second point after the restart reduced the Cushendun lead to three points but the Emmet’s responded with a brace of frees from McHugh to give his side a five point lead with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Cushendun looked to have all the answers to the questions being posed but they came undone in the 46th minute. Mark Treanor collecting a cross field ball before firing the sliotar low and to the back of Eoin Magee’s net, giving the Cushendun ‘keeper no chance.
The Emmet’s response was immediate with McNeill converting a free only for Rafter to cancel it out with the next attack. Two further frees for McNeil, either side of another Rafter effort from placed ball left Cushendun ahead by three with five minutes remaining.
Cushendun’s Jack McKay in action against Castleblayney’s Hugh Byrne during Sunday’s Ulster Junior final in Armagh. Pic by John McIlwaine
The Monaghan men found another gear in the closing stages however with Rafter punishing any indiscretions from the Cushendun defence. A long range free from the ‘Blayney’s star forward and a huge strike from play, fully 75 yards out left the minimum between the sides.
Fintan Finnegan brought the sides level in the last minute of normal time for the first time since the third minute of the match with the momentum in Castleblayney’s favour but the game was still in the balance.
Cushendun had two long range efforts from placed ball to edge ahead once again but McNeill and McHugh both pushed their efforts wide into the stiff wind. Castleblayney were reduced to 14 men with captain Peter Treanor seeing red for an off the ball incident in the third minute of injury time and we all thought the game would go to extra time. However it was the Monaghan men who had the final say and Rafter converting his 10th free of the match deep into injury time to end Cushendun’s dream of an Ulster title.
Cushendun: Eoin Magee; Sean Hamilton, Aidan Corbett, Jack McKay; Mark Scally, Donal O’Hara, Tom Scally; Matthew McCartin, Conor McHugh; Pierce Bannon, Eugene Duffin, Dominic McQuillan; James Morgan, Conleth McNeill, David Kilgore.
Subs: Eoin McQuillan for E Duffin (35); Niall McAuley for P Bannon (40); RJ McQuillan for j Morgan (53)
Scorers: Conleth McNeil 0-4 (4 f’s); Conor McHugh 0-4 (2 ‘65’s, 2 f’s); David Kilgore 0-2; James Morgan 0-2; Eugene Duffin 0-1; Pierce Bannon 0-1.
Castleblayney: Paddy Collins; Colin Merick, Eoin Leonard, Cormac McNally; Bernard Connor, Peter Treanor, Jim McHugh; Brian Flanagan, Paddy Finnegan; Hugh Byrne, Fergal Rafter, Fintan Finnegan; Craig Callan, Brian McGuigan, Mark Treanor.
Subs: Aaron Kenny for C Callan (40);
Scorers: Fergal Rafferty 0-11 (9 f’s, 1 65); Mark Treanor 1-2; Fintan Finnegan 0-1.
Ref: Tarlach Conway (St Colm’s Ballinascreen, Derry)
Pics by Dylan McIlwaine