Cuchullains remain Antrim kingpins

Bathshack.com Senior Hurling Championship Final

Dunloy 2-20 Loughgiel 2-13

Sunday September 13

Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Mac Uílín

Dunloy retained the Volunteer Cup on Sunday afternoon as they disposed of Loughgiel with seven points to spare.  A second half blitz by the Cuchullains put daylight between the sides but the Cuchullains foundation for their success was laid from their defence. 

Opting to play against the substantial wind blowing a gale in Páirc Mac Uílín in the first half, the Cuchullains put in a huge performance full of work rate, endeavour, pressure and turning over Loughgiel attacks that frustrated the Shamrocks.  They went into the interval tied with Kevin Molloy’s 30th minute major helping them on their way.

Dunloy captain Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels celebratates at the end of Sunday’s Antrim Senior Hurling Championship final win over Loughgiel at Pairc Mac Uílín, Ballycastle.

The second half belonged to the Cuchullains as they turned the screw. Eight points in the first quarter were answered by just two from the Shamrocks with Keelan Molloy putting on a masterclass.  Scores from outrageous angles and playing with such style and verve it made him impossible to get to grips with.  Five points from play over the hour in a tantalising performance where he covered every blade of grass on the Ballycastle pitch for his side.

But he had plenty of support as the Cuchullains played with the attacking brilliance during the second half that they have threatened in this year’s championship.  Eoin O’Neill with one of the best points of the day from a ridiculous angle was an example of the confidence they played with while Seaan Elliott, Gabriel McTaggart and Conal Cunning provided able support.  ‘Coby’s’ point midway through the half where he caught the sliotar from the clouds and split the posts from close to halfway one of many memorable scores throughout the hour by the Cuchullains.

Liam Watson who was Loughgiel’s top scorer with 1-3.

A doubt beforehand, captain Paul Shiels was key for his side.  Organising, dictating, leading by example.  ‘Shorty’ was at his imperious best.  Described by manager Gregory O’Kane as a ‘Rolls Royce’, he was pivotal in a deeper roll in the first half as Dunloy’s defence kept Loughgiel at bay while his distribution from deep in the second was outstanding.  But again, he had support.  Ronan Molloy, Phelim Duffin and Conor McKinley excelling.

The Cuchullains got their matchups right on the day.  Duffin kept James McNaughton scoreless from play while Woody’s battle with Liam Watson was every bit as mouth-watering as promised.  The Loughgiel legend finished with 1-3, his goal coming at from a trademark free in the 58th minute.

The Shamrock’s didn’t have the same fluency in attack as the Cuchullains however.  Shan McGrath had a permanent shadow in Aaron Crawford and while he showed glimpses of the brilliance he can produce, they were fleeting with Dunloy tactically getting it right on the day.

Kevin Molloy scores the first of his two goals during the first half.

Kevin Molloy’s goal gave the Cuchullains one hand on the cup as he blazed his way through the Loughgiel defence, he sidestepped the challenge of Chrissy O’Connell before hammering home.  The Dunloy lead went to 10 points with just five minutes of the hour left.

Loughgiel never gave up and laid siege on the Dunloy goal in the closing stages.  Watson’s goal gave them hope but Dunloy’s defence were imperious in the face of any Loughgiel pressure.  Woody and Ryan McGarry excelling when Loughgiel tried to turn the heat on the Cuchullains and test the metal in their defence.  Benny McCarry scored the Shamrock’s second goal in the fifth minute of injury time but it did little to take the gloss off an superb display from the Cuchullains who have become the last winners of the Volunteer Cup and the first to have their name engraved on the Fr Fitzpatrick Cup.  A third title in four years and the first time the Cuchullains have retained the crown as Antrim champions since 2003. 

Loughgiel’s Neilly McGarry and Seamus Dobbin battle with Dunloy’s Conal Cunning

Some say it’s the beginning.  Going by Sunday’s match, the Cuchullains show no sign of stopping their assault on the Antrim championship and remain the team to beat.

TEAMS

Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Aaron Crawford, Conor Kinsella; Ronan Molloy, Conor McKinley, Ryan McGarry; Paul Shiels, Nicky McKeague; Seaan Elliott, Kevin Molloy, Keelan Molloy; Conal Cunning, Gabriel McTaggart, Eoin O’Neill

Subs: Eamon Smyth for N McKeague (52); Chrissy McMahon for G McTaggart (56); Kevin McKeague for A Crawford (inj)

Scorers: Conal Cunning 0-8 (5f); Keelan Molloy 0-5; Eoin O’Neill 0-2; Kevin Molloy 2-2; Seaan Elliott 0-2; Paul Shiels 0-1 (1f)

Loughgiel: Chrissy O’Connell; Tiernan Coyle, Neil McGarry, Seamus Dobbin; Declan McCloskey, Damon McMullan, Tony McCloskey; Donal McKinley, Dan McCloskey; James McNaughton, Callum McKendry, Eddie McCloskey; Shan McGrath, Liam Watson, Shay Casey

Subs: Ryan McKee for C McKendry (46); Benny McCarry for S Casey (46); Odhran McFadden for T McCloskey (56)

Scorers: Liam Watson 1-3 (1-00f); James McNaughton 0-4 (4f); Donal McKinley 0-3; Benny McCarry 1-00; Eddie McCloskey 0-1; Shan McGrath 0-1; Shay Casey 0-1

Referee: Darren McKeown (St Galls)

‘Winter’ is here but the Cuchullains should bring the sunshine

By Brendan McTaggart

In a season of uncertainty, there’s a familiar look to the final pairing.  North Antrim’s ‘Old Firm’, Dunloy and Loughgiel make their way to Páirc Uí Uílin with the Volunteer Cup on the line.  But before we look into the who’s who and what’s what of the final, we have to talk about the semi-finals.

Rossa and St John’s played their part in one of the most epic match day’s in my living memory.  I could quite easily be writing about the first all-city final in my lifetime with both of these Belfast big guns going agonisingly close.

Rossa had Dunloy down.  Having recovered from an early Cuchullain blitz, they found a way back and Dunloy were on the brink.  An inspired point from Seaan Elliott and Chrissy ‘Rossa Slayer’ McMahon edged Dunloy into the final.  An epic ending yet so cruel on a Rossa side who died with their boots on for their club.  Who knows if a more spread schedule would have helped the Jeremiah’s.  I’ve been fascinated in recent years with how Slaughtneil men have fought on both fronts to Ulster titles and the overriding attribution is momentum.  The Derry kingpins kept rolling, perhaps the Antrim hurling semi-final was one roll too many.  Stephen Beatty and James Connolly having to come off certainly had a bearing on the game but Dunloy responded like the champions they are.

St John’s are probably wondering what they have to do in order to reach a county final.  Three years, extra time on each occasion, the Johnnies have to wait one more year.  Four points up going into injury time at the end of the hour last Sunday, not only had they one foot in the door, they were about to close the said door behind them.

Loughgiel hit back.  Eddie McCloskey and Damon McMullan immense, Donal McKinley tireless with Liam Watson and Benny McCarry rolling back the years.  The Shamrocks made extra time their own but the match will forever be remembered for one man.  Domhnall Nugent.  Curly likened him to Roger Federer with his one-armed action swing, a quite brilliant analogy.  A performance that deserved to put his side into a first Antrim final in 26 years but it wasn’t to be.  Loughgiel had other ideas.

So.  A Dunloy and Loughgiel final.  ‘Friends’ from across the sheugh head to Ballycastle in a hotly anticipated final.  Matches between these two sides rarely disappoint and if there’s one thing you can expect, it’s the unexpected.

There’s injury concerns everywhere you turn in both camps.  Starting with the reining champions first, they’ve had a gruelling schedule with football commitments and an Intermediate final to look forward to next weekend.  12 of their starting 15 from Tuesday nights semi-final against All-Saints are dual players so niggles and concerns are to be expected.

Paul Shiels tops the list.  Forced off after a quarter of their game with Rossa, the Dunloy camp have played down any concerns.  I’d imagine they’ll patch him up if possible to get one last tune out of ‘Shorty’ for this season.  The Dunloy quarter-back is pivotal in how the Cuchullains play.  Ryan McGarry faces a race against time to recover from his knee injury while Deaglan Smith is in the same position.  Plagued with problems since the end of the 2019 league, Smith will be itching to have any involvement.

Loughgiel’s main concern lays in their full back line.  Neilly McGarry remains doubtful while Tony McCloskey looked in a fair amount of discomfort leaving the Dunsilly pitch.  The initial assessment is his ankle and I’d be amazed if the Shamrock’s defender makes the starting 15.  Odhran McFadden is also a doubt after taking a knock against St Johns.

Sunday might come down to who has less injuries or more strength in depth.

The strength in depth gives Dunloy a huge nudge.  There’s no doubting, Loughgiel are building something but Dunloy talk about finishers these days instead of substitutes.  Guys who can come on and make instant impact.  Last Sunday, some eyebrows were raised, mine included, when Gregory O’Kane called for Kevin Molloy to come off for Chrissy McMahon.  ‘Bunga’ is a warrior and the type of player you want in a battle that the game against Rossa undoubtedly was.  O’Kane’s move was bold but the saying ‘fortune favours the bold’ was ringing through my ears on the way home from Dunsilly.

Looking at potential match ups, the possibility of Conor McKinley and Liam Watson coming up against each other is mouth-watering and one both players will relish.  Phelim Duffin could pick up Shan McGrath while Conor Kinsella could look to curtail the influence of James McNaughton.

How Loughgiel look to dampen the Dunloy attack is likely to be a collective effort more than individuals.  Two years ago they ambushed the then reigning champions, Dunloy.  A display of total commitment, work rate and fierce desire.  Absolutely no let-up for the full 60 plus minutes in a windy and rain swept Ballycastle pitch. 

I’m expecting more of the same with the pace of Eddie McCloskey, McNaughton and Callum McKendry their outlet to break from rucks.

Two years ago it worked, last year Dunloy did enough.  What will Sunday bring?  That depends on how Dunloy approach this and their personnel.  If the Cuchullains go to the trenches with Loughgiel, they need Shorty in quarter back to play the pass and pick the speed merchants in Seaan Elliott and Keelan Molloy.  They have the game to go that road and play Loughgiel at their own game.

12 months ago they targeted rucks, even from the majority of their own puck-outs.  A ploy I didn’t see coming yet one that ultimately proved to be successful.  The Cuchullains play better with quick ball from the restart and fast ball into their forwards.  If they go to mirror last year, expect Gabriel McTaggart to be below a lot of Ryan Elliott’s puck-outs with Nicky McKeague, Keelan Molloy and Shorty close by for assistance if fit.

Free takers will be crucial.  In the game known as ‘Dugout Gate’ James McNaughton’s accuracy from placed ball in a windswept Ballycastle was mesmerising.  It wasn’t just at the same heights last week but McNaughton has nerves of steal and has shown he will stand up for the Shamrocks when required.

The Cuchullains have the same in Conal Cunning.  But if it isn’t working for Coby, they have Seaan Elliott, Nicky McKeague and Shorty to reach the sliotar to.

Prediction time and just for the record, I got a full house last week.  It took six rounds of championship matches but I finally got there.  My prediction?  Are you really expecting me to back anyone else other than Dunloy?  I didn’t think so.  I joked with a good friend during the week, I’d make a case for Dunloy to beat Tipperary but I genuinely believe Loughgiel need everything to go right for them and for the Cuchullains to have an off day to take the Volunteer Cup back to Fr Healy Park.  The ‘leveller’ could be the extent of the Cuchullains injuries but I believe they have enough in reserve.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with this and to steal a line from the late great Seamus Heaney: “If we can winter this one out, we can summer anytime.”  I was reminded of it a while back and yet it has never been more apt.  This has been a year most want to forget with fear, worry and stress rife.  None more so than I.  Yet, hurling has been a release.  An uncertain beginning to a season no one expected to have on our doorstep and a very big realisation if it were needed, that GAA plays a massive part of our lives.  It has been a bonding agent for helping us all get through troubled and stormy waters.  We’re knee deep in ‘winter’ but I for one don’t want the hurling to end.  Sunday promises to be a cracker, lets hope it lives up to the billing.

Gregory O’Kane: “That’s what big players do. In big games when the pressures on, they make an impact”

MANAGERS VIEW

By Brendan McTaggart

Relief, ecstasy and unbridled joy.  Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane beamed from ear to ear at the final whistle as his side edge Rossa in classic.  One point, four minutes into injury time but belief and trust were key for the Cuchullains manager: “I felt we were starting to get a few plays together but at that stage you’re basically trusting your players.  You trust them to do the right thing when on the ball and make the right decision.  That exactly what they’ve done.

“Seaan’s score before that was exceptional too.  That’s what big players do.  In big games when the pressures on, they make an impact.  Chrissy’s a young lad, not long out of minor and he just wants to get involved.  No better man to be in that position.”

The game itself was a rollercoaster.  The opening quarter was Dunloy at their best, running into an eight point lead but O’Kane paid tribute to the Jeremiah’s for how they clawed their way back into the contest: “We had a brilliant first quarter and Rossa got a goal out of nothing.  The second and third quarter we couldn’t get into the game.  We couldn’t get structure or flow in our game but to be fair to Rossa, they do that.  They pull and drag you all over the pitch.”  O’Kane continued: “Rossa have been the story of this years championship.  They’ve been exceptional and we were lucky to hang on in there in the end and get the scores when we needed to.”

With the age profile of the Dunloy team still in the early 20’s, O’Kane said championship matches like these just adds to their development: “They need to grow and learn and develop as players and as athletes.  Playing championship hurling and making them decisions, that’s what it’s all about.”

One major concern for the Cuchullains was Paul Shiels having to leave midway through the half but O’Kane lauded the impact of Ciaran ‘Cat’ Elliott when he replaced the Dunloy playmaker along with Nicky McKeague: “He twigged something in the first quarter and it was pulling at him so we took a chance and got him out of there as soon as.  We’ll assess him this evening and tomorrow and see where we are.

“Cat’s good in the rucks and gave us that edge to get over the line.  That’s what he’s good at but in particular he tracked Deaglan Murphy all over the park and he did that very well. 

“Nicky will give you everything he has.  He’ll die for you, he would die with his boots on, he’s that type of player.”

When Dunloy needed leaders, they found them at the death.  Their defence tightened and the Dunloy manager reserved praise for another substitute when he continued: “It comes a stage you just have to trust the players.  Kevin McKeague came on and dug two or three ball out of there he had no right to win, Conor Kinsella and Phelim Duffin.  You could see our backs starting to find men in the middle third.  We needed to get boys in the right places and get the ball over the bar.

“Woody’s a player.  That’s his first competitive game in the championship and he never looked out of place.  He’s a huge presence and has a wealth of hurling experience, no better man to come in and replace Ryan.”

A short window with just seven days until the final but the Cuchullains have an Intermediate Football championship semi-final to contend with.  O’Kane cast a frustrated figure when adding: “We’ll deal with whatever comes but I don’t get it.  Why do we have to play this so quick.  Every county in Ireland.  I can only look at the last four counties that have won the All-Ireland – Galway, Limerick, Kilkenny and Tipperary.  They’re playing from Sunday to Sunday.  Tipperary have 32 senior hurling teams and they’re playing Sunday to Sunday, and 12 football teams.

“The games are quality and this is as good as it gets in any county.  We’re looking forward to it and delighted to be in the final.”

Hugh McCann – Loughgiel “We’ll respect them but we won’t fear them”

MANAGERS VIEW

By Brendan McTaggart

Escaping the clutches of congratulatory supporters, Loughgiel Bainisteoir Hugh McCann was understandably a happy man.  The Shamrocks had just came through a titanic battle with St John’s.  Drama aplenty in Dunsilly with nails being bitten every corner you looked, the Shamrocks came back from the brink at the end of the hour to seal the win in extra time.

“St Johns had us nearly buried a couple of times” said McCann, “but the lads showed great character to come back and back again.”  He continued: “

The boys are dead on their feet.  It’s been a strange season, the bookies had St John’s beat like the same as Rossa against Dunloy.  It’s a funny season but I’m delighted to be in the final.”

Both sides were hit with injuries through the game, but McCann thinks his side had an edge: “The first period of extra time, I think we probably done enough in it to beat them but we missed six or seven chances.  I think that wee bit of extra fitness got us through in the end, they had injuries and were struggling in the end.  I think our fitness and character were the difference.”

McCann and his backroom team threw their wild card into the mix with Liam Watson starting on the edge of the square having left retirement.  McCann told us it was something he’s had in mind since his return: “Liam was carrying a wee niggle.  With the greatest of respect to the likes of Naomh Éanna and that, we felt we had enough in us to beat them without Liam and that’s with the greatest respect to those teams.

We knew what St John’s were going to bring.  St John’s in semi-finals the last three or four years have been there or thereabouts.  We knew that all day long.”

Watson and Benny McCarry rolled back the years, scoring 2-7 from play between them.  McCarry’s goal proving the decisive score at the start of extra time.  With his knee ‘injury’ not as bad as rumoured, McCarry’s scores in extra time gave the Shamrocks some breathing space over the Johnnies.  McCann said: “He (McCarry) got a knock on his knee against Naomh Éanna but it was nothing serious.  He’s been for MRI’s and stuff but it’s nothing serious.  I think you can see that today.  That wee bit of experience with him and Liam saw us over the line.  Some of the ball coming out of defence was top notch and they just put them over the bar.”

With the experience of Watson and McCarry, Loughgiel had some fresher faces starting and introduced.  McCann told us he was happy with how his young guns played: “It’s not about any one of them.  You have the likes of Callum McKendry who played exceptionally well or Ciaran McKay who came on at wing half back who was outstanding when he came on.  Just to pick a couple of them.  There’s Decky McCloskey, stayed on the whole match and he was outstanding.

“We have injury worries.  Tony McCloskey came off, so did Odhran McCloskey.  It might just have been cramp or something along those lines but hopefully it’s nothing serious.”

Having starred in the recent reserve championship, Ryan ‘Betty’ McKee was introduced into the half forward line in the second half of normal time.  McCann told us that ‘wee Betty’ isn’t far from sealing a first team place and is in the forefront of his plans: “Betty would be better in midfield.  You saw it that Monday night in Dunloy, he came on and scored five points in 30 minutes from midfield.  He dropped into midfield at the finish up, his work rates phenomenal. 

“He was very, very close to starting today.  You can only start 15 and he’s very, very close to it, as were a number of other lads.  We’re happy enough that we have that option but I don’t know what way it’s going to pan out through the week with injuries and what have you.”

And so onto Sunday.  A final against their nearest and dearest.  McCann is relishing the prospect of facing the Cuchullains: “I never seen the Dunloy and Rossa game.  I heard the boys talking about it and I think Dunloy showed a bit of character to get over the line as well, similar to what we done here.  Maybe that bit more experience.

“Dunloy are exceptional with exceptional forwards.  The sort of season it’s been, Dunloy have to be favourites.  Look at the bookies and they’ll call Dunloy favourites.  I would call Dunloy favourites.

“We will respect them, but we’re not going to fear them.

“Do I think we can beat them?  Yep or else we wouldn’t show up and that’s being honest with you.  Dunloy will think the same.  It’s got the makings of a great game.

“It’s an exciting season.  Short and strange but we’re delighted to be in the final.”

When last they met…..

North Antrim’s version of the ‘Old Firm’ meet for their first final since 2012 but they’ve locked horns in the past two seasons. 

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship

Semi-Final

Loughgiel 0-14 Dunloy 0-8

Sunday September 30, 2018

Shamrocks dethrone 14 man Cuchullains to reach decider

Brendan McTaggart reports from Paírc MacUílin, Ballycastle

Loughgiel’s Tiernan Coyle reaches for the ball as he is challenged by Dunloy’s James McKeague during Sunday’s Bathashack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final in Ballycastle where Loughgiel caused a real upset to dump the champions out of the competition with a 0-14 to 0-8 win Pic by Dyllan McIlwaine

It wasn’t the easiest hour of hurling to watch.  Dunloy and Loughgiel went to war on Sunday afternoon in the wind and rain at Páirc MacUílin with the Shamrocks dethroning the reigning county champions with six points to spare.  Many had travelled to the north coast in hopes of a classic encounter between these two old rivals, what we were treated to was a low scoring affair littered with intensity, commitment and desire with the men from Loughgiel tactically out performing the Cuchullains on the day.

The Shamrocks defence held Dunloy scoreless for the last 17 minutes of normal time while restricting the 2017 champions to just two points in the second 30 minutes.  Johnny Campbell’s side put in a hugely committed performance where from one to 15, the Shamrocks showed a savage intensity and desire for their shirt.  Packing their defence and starving the hugely vaunted Dunloy attacking unit of space and time, Loughgiel had their homework done and then some.  Ronan and Tony McCloskey superb while Damon McMullan at centre half was imperious.  While the Shamrocks defence stood resolute at the other end, the work rate of their forwards was unquestionable.  Again, desire and commitment in spades.  Like men possessed with the sole focus of overcoming their neighbours.  Man of the match James McNaughton top scored for the men from Fr Healy Park with 0-8 to his name for his hours work.  Although all eight points came from frees, it was the range of McNaughton’s frees under hugely difficult conditions that gave him the nod for MOTM.  Eight from nine on an afternoon where there was a strong swirling yet biting wind, a low autumnal sun and a biblical downpour in injury time, McNaughton was majestic for the Shamrocks when they needed it most.

For the Cuchullains, they didn’t get their game going.  Much of that is down to the Loughgiel tactics on the day where they just didn’t let the Dunloy men settle into their game.  Paul Shiels top scored for the Cuchullains with five points, two frees, for the hour while just one more forward managed to get their name on the scoresheet, Keelan Molloy’s 43rd minute effort all the Cuchullains attacking unit could squeeze out of a savage Loughgiel defence.

Dunloy would finish the match with 14 men, Nicky McKeague seeing red for dangerous use of the hurl in the sixth minute of injury time but it had no bearing on the final result.  Loughgiel dethroned their rivals and neighbours much to the delight of the large Loughgiel support packed into the Ballycastle grounds.

The semi-final had a bizarre start with the throw in delayed for 20 minutes for what can only be described at ‘Dugout-gate’.  A ‘Mexican standoff’ with officials looking to find common ground and some unsavoury scenes all added to the tension in a packed Paírc MacUílin.  This was a championship match that had been six years in the making and the huge crowd in attendance were growing impatient in anticipation of a championship battle between these great rivals.

TEAMS

Loughgiel: DD Quinn; Paul Gillan, Neil McGarry, Ronan McCloskey; Tony McCloskey, Damon McMullan, Odhran McFadden; Mark McFadden, Tiernan Coyle; Joey Scullion, James McNaughton, Donal McKinley; Daniel McCloskey, Eddie McCloskey, Shan McGrath.

Dunloy:  Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, James McKeague, Aaron Crawford; Ronan Molloy, Conor McKinley, Kevin Molloy; Ciaran Elliott, Nigel Elliott; Nicky McKeague, Keelan Molloy, Paul Shiels; Eoin O’Neill, Chrissy Brogan, Conal Cunning.

Scorers for Loughgiel: James McNaughton 0-8 (4 f’s); Joey Scullion 0-2; Mark McFadden 0-1; Donal McKinley 0-1; Eddie McCloskey 0-1; Shay Casey 0-1

Scorers for Dunloy: Paul Shiels 0-5 (2 f’s); Kevin Molloy 0-1; Nigel Elliott 0-1; Keelan Molloy 0-1

Referee: Darren McKeown (St Galls)

Bathshack.com Senior Hurling Championship

Semi-Final

Sunday September 15, 2019

Dunloy 0-20 Loughgiel 0-17

Cuchullains edge rivals to seal final spot

Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc Mac Uílin, Ballycastle

60 minutes of pure intensity, high octane hurling and drama aplenty.  Dunloy and Loughgiel rarely disappoint on the biggest stage and they delivered yet again on Sunday afternoon.  In the end, the Cuchullains avenged last years defeat to their old rivals at the same stage with three points to spare but they were left thanking the heroics of Ryan Elliott between the sticks and a last gasp piece of outstanding bravery from Paul Shiels to ensure they were celebrating at the final whistle.

Dunloy’s Paul Shiels in action against Loughgiel’s Declan Laverty during the 2019 Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final in Ballycastle. Pic by John McIlwaine

Having built a four point lead at the end of the first half and again in injury time after a second half fightback from the Shamrocks, Dunloy had their backs to the wall in the closing stages as Loughgiel laid siege on their goal.  James McNaughton first denied then the brilliant Liam Watson, twice before ‘Shorty’ threw himself in front of the sliotar to deny Eddie McCloskey in what turned out to be the last action of a pulsating hour of championship hurling.

On the balance of play over the hour, Dunloy did edge Loughgiel with their superior attack giving them the edge.  Conal ‘Coby’ Cunning collecting the man of the match award with his tally of 12 points over the hour while Keelan Molloy and Chrissy Brogan were also prominent.  This game was won in the middle of the pitch however and a sure sign that the Cuchullains had learned from this contest from 12 months ago.  On that day, Loughgiel played with a ferocity and desire that had never been seen before in a Loughgiel shirt and their tactics threw Dunloy on the day.  The Cuchullains stepped up to the challenge on Sunday and met it full on.  Shorty and Ronan Molloy forming a brilliant midfield partnership while Kevin Molloy was always in the right place at the right time.  A handy knack to have when playing in centre half and ‘Bunga’ was there when his side needed him most. 

Dunloy’s Conal Cunning in action against Loughgiel’s Seamus Dobbin during the 2019 Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final in Ballycastle. Pic by John McIlwaine

Loughgiel looked dangerous in attack with Watson and Shan McGrath starting brightly.  When the sliotar was delivered into the Dunloy full back line the Loughgiel duo were causing the Cuchullains huge problems.  Watson in particular with an outstanding display and was the Shamrocks best player over the hour but they didn’t see enough of the ball.  Some may question the delivery into the Loughgiel pair such was the work rate, intensity and ferocity in the rucks from the Cuchullains, Dunloy went about choking the Loughgiel challenge and had enough moments of brilliance to edge this tie.

TEAMS

Loughgiel: Chrissy O’Connell; Seamus Dobbin, Tony McCloskey, Ronan McCloskey; Declan Gillan, Tiernan Coyle, Odhran McFadden; Mark McFadden, Eddie McCloskey; Barney McAuley, Declan Laverty, James McNaughton, Shay Casey, Liam Watson, Shan McGrath

Subs: Ryan McKee for B McAuley (19); Dan McCloskey for M McFadden (35); Donal McKinley for D Laverty (41);

Scorers: Liam Watson 0-10 (8 f’s), Shan McGrath 0-3, James McNaughton 0-3, Declan Gillan 0-1

Dunloy:  Ryan Elliott; Aaron Crawford, Conor McKinley, Phelim Duffin; Eamon Smyth, Kevin Molloy, Ryan McGarry; Paul Shiels, Ronan Molloy; Nigel Elliott, Chrissy Brogan, Keelan Molloy; Nicky McKeague, Conal Cunning, Seaan Elliott.

Subs: Eoin O’Neill for S Elliott (50); Chrissy McMahon for N McKeague (55); Shane Dooey for N Elliott (inj)

Scorers: Conal Cunning 0-12 (8f’s, 1 ’65), Keelan Molloy 0-3, Paul Shiels 0-1 (1f), Ronan Molloy 0-1, Chrissy Brogan 0-1, Nicky McKeague 0-1, Chrissy McMahon 0-1

Referee: Mark O’Neill (Armoy)