Dunloy and Ruairi’s start semi’s as favourites

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship Semi Finals

Brendan McTaggart looks ahead to Sunday’s semi finals of this years Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship.

Phoney wars and jostling for positions have come to an end.  One of the best days in the hurling calendar is upon us with the race for the Volunteer Cup reaching the semi-final stages.  Old rivalries renewed, hope rekindled and championship fever setting in.  Four clubs within a stones throw of making the decider.  

Lovely stuff, but the timing could be better.  We didn’t get a double header for the senior matches and we don’t have much time between the two games for travel.  If there’s extra-time in Ballycastle I know of at least one journo who will be hoping there’s no speed camera’s from the north coast to Antrim town!

2pm and 5pm throw in, not ideal.  A 11:30am throw in for the minor final is, well, it could have been kinder for the young lads.  It’s not all doom and gloom however.  It’s good to see the minor final being played as part of a doubleheader with the same pairing in both games at Ballycastle.

That first game is probably the most intriguing of the weekend.  Loughgiel buoyant from a quite brilliant display against Rossa in the quarter-final while Cushendall have been playing like a side with a point to prove.  The form team of this year’s championship and they’ll start this semi as favourites to progress.

When they played each other in the group stages, Cushendall weathered an early Shamrock storm to win comfortably at the end of the hour at Dunsilly.  Loughgiel started superbly with Dan McCloskey and Donal McKinley in the thick of the action while Paul Boyle was unplayable in the opening 20 minutes.  The Ruairi’s responded by switching Scott Walsh onto Boyle and the young Loughgiel flyer was grounded for the rest of the game.  Walsh playing at wing half has been superb this championship campaign for Cushendall and I’d expect him to pick up Boyle again on Sunday.

The Shamrocks stuttered through the group stages, sealing their quarter final place by defeating Naomh Eanna.  There was no such stuttering against Rossa.  Hurling with precision, incisiveness, wonderful vision and panache.  Hugh McCann and his backroom team have the Shamrock’s firing.

Cushendall’s progress to the last four has been more serene than previous years.  A flawless league campaign where they defeated Naomh Eanna handsomely and had a bit to spare over Loughgiel and St John’s.  Talisman Neil McManus missed out on the Johnnies match with an ankle injury but you’d imagine it would take more than that sort of injury to stop McManus from lining out on Sunday!

Where Cushendall have been most impressive is their midfield pairing of Aidan McNaughton and Alex Delargy.  A pairing that you just know will never stop working and who can be so dangerous when breaking from rucks.  

Christy McNaughton’s performance against St John’s was mindboggling.  16 points, plenty from play and it may not be enough to see him seal a place in the starting 15 for Sunday!  It looks like Brian McNaughton and his team like to go for either Christy of McManus, rarely both.  

Loughgiel have been bringing plenty of their talented minor winning squads of recent years through this year and the safety net of the group stages has allowed them to bring them through at their own pace.  Rian McMullan, Paul Boyle, Enda Og McGarry, Rory McCloskey and Christy McGarry all prominent this season while Maol Connolly’s return to a senior Loughgiel shirt has been most welcome for those around Fr Healy Park.

A side that has the talents of Declan McCloskey, Tiarnan Coyle and Eddie McCloskey, not to mention James McNaughton will always be in with a chance but for me Cushendall will have enough in them to reach the decider.  They have been mighty impressive so far this year and while Loughgiel are certainly stepping in the right direction, it might be a year too soon for Shamrocks to add to their record tally of Antrim championships.

Dunsilly is the venue for the second semi final and a repeat pairing of 2021.  Dunloy defeated St John’s that day under a monsoon and Ciaran Johnston won’t want reminded of how that game transpired.  An early rush of blood and the Johnnies were down to 14 men and while the held onto the coat tails of the Cuchullains, a brilliant goal from Keelan Molloy midway through the second half put daylight between the sides.

The Johnnies started the championship with a brilliant win over Loughgiel on home turf before seeing off Naomh Eanna to set up a winner takes all match of sorts against Cushendall.  A sunny day on the north coast and St John’s found Christy McNaughton too hot to handle.  An exhibition from ‘Sambo’s youngest’ and St John’s had to settle for a quarter final spot and a tie against Ballycastle.  The Corrigan Park men were pushed all the way by The Town but their cause wasn’t helped by a 15 wides and passing up on a plethora of goal chances.

During that hour, Aaron Bradley and Oisin Donnelly caught the eye while Michail Dudley was everywhere and probably St John’s best player on the day, followed closely by Shea Shannon.

Playing Peter McCallin at wing back was always a bit of a strange one for me given how good he is on the inside forward line but he forms a half back with Padraig Nugent and Michael Bradley and it’s got the potential to win any game.

Dunloy’s championship campaign has been more of the same serenity the Cuchullains have come accustomed to in recent years.  Their defeat to Loughgiel in the 2018 semi-final remains the last time Gregory O’Kane’s side tasted defeat in the chase for the Volunteer Cup.

The Cuchullains started with a superb display against Ballycastle at Pairc Mac Uilin.  Missing more than a few from the championship 15 from last year, Dunloy were breath taking throughout.  A solid if not spectacular performance followed against a spirited Carey side at Loughgiel before sealing their place in the last four with a win against Rossa on home turf.

Gregory O’Kane’s men have had to manage a run with the big ball within the club this season with Dunloy also in the Intermediate football decider next weekend.  11 dual players in Dunloy’s starting 15 for their football semi final last Sunday against Davitt’s.  A game that saw Seaan Elliott and Chrissy McMahon having to leave the field carrying injuries while Deaglan Smith didn’t look 100% by the full time whistle.  The joys of dual clubs, eh?

Dunloy will start this one as favourites and while I would tend to agree with that favourites tag, St John’s have the ability to cause Dunloy problems.  They too have a host of injury concerns and players unavailable but they showed in biblical like rain that they can stop the Cuchullains and stay with them with 14 men.  If they keep their discipline on Sunday they have every chance.  I expect them to slow the game as much as possible and stopping the Cuchullains from gaining any sort of momentum, just like 12 months ago but Dunloy should have enough to make it a Dunloy and Cushendall decider in two weeks time.

Scintillating Shamrocks seal place In semi’s

Bathshack Senior Hurling ChampionshipQuarter-Final

Loughgiel 3-27 Rossa 0-20

Sunday 18 September

Brendan McTaggart reports from Dunsilly

For 40 minutes at Dunsilly, this was a titanic tussle of free flowing hurling littered with touches of brilliance.  Loughgiel and Rossa were playing out a mini-classic with the type of hurling that left even the neutrals in attendance at Dunsilly purring.  In the end, Loughgiel’s brilliance in the final quarter gave the Shamrocks an emphatic victory to book their place in the semi-final against Cushendall.

The contest was end to end for long periods.  Loughgiel with their young attack firing.  Paul Boyle defying physics and gravity while the experience of Eddie McCloskey was pulling the strings.  The lightning speed may not be there these days but Eddie remains a step ahead between his ears.  The perfect foil for the likes of James McNaughton, Shan McGrath and Dan McCloskey to play off.

But at the other end of the pitch, Aodhan O’Brien was performing minor miracles for a Rossa team who had lost Adrian Kenneally before throw in.  A blow for the Jeremiah’s given they were without the talents of Michael Armstrong (injured) and Stephen Beatty (suspension).  Scoring points from ridiculous angles and frees from any range, O’Brien was outstanding.  For 30 minutes he was helped by the mercurial talents of James Connolly until he too had to come off injured, just before half time.  Seaghan Shannon, Dara Rocks, Eoin Traynor and Stephen Shannon shinning for long periods but effectively the game left them midway through the second half.  O’Brien looked like his race was run, moving to the edge of the square while Loughgiel fired over four points in as many minutes.  Taking a four point lead to seven in the space of as many minutes and the Shamrock’s never looked behind them.  Two Paul Boyle majors in the space of five minutes added gloss to the score line but Loughgiel’s overall play was certainly eye catching.  Slick passing, movement off the shoulder and speed of thought was mesmerising.  

On a day where Rossa needed everything to fall their way to possibly make the last four, Loughgiel were in simply irresistible form and looked to have found a winning combination in attack to compliment a strong defence.

The opening quarter was helter-skelter hurling with 15 points scored, eight of those to the men in red and white.  It was almost exhibitional hurling but neither side could lay a glove on the other such was the speed of thought and play shown by both sides.

But for all the brilliance on show, Loughgiel’s first goal came from an error in the Rossa defence.  Dan McCloskey’s effort for point but it was blocked and Rossa ‘keeper Philip Crean looked to stop the sliotar from going out for a ’65.  Shan McGrath picked his pocket however and fired to the back of the net in the 17thminute.  It didn’t stop Rossa’s and Aodhan O’Brien however.  In a first half where he would score seven points, Loughgiel couldn’t stop him and they did try.  

Stephen Shannon’s mammoth score in the 22nd minute left the minimum between the sides but Loughgiel rallied.  Points from Eddie McCloskey (two) and three from McNaughton (one free) were answered by O’Brien and Thomas Morgan to leave the Shamrocks 1-14 to 0-13 ahead at the half time whistle.

The second half didn’t start with the same feverish entitlement than the first but a brace of scores from O’Brien (free) and Eoin Traynor preceded points from Eddie McCloskey and Stephen Shannon.

O’Brien split the uprights in the 36th minute to leave the minimum between the sides but that was as close as the Shaws Road men got to the Shamrocks.  Incredibly, they would only register another two points in the 24 minutes plus injury that remained while Loughgiel found a bewildering level of brilliance Rossa just couldn’t live with.

Paul Boyle at his blistering best while McNaughton danced and weaved his magic from open play and frees. With 15 minutes of the quarter-final remaining, five points separated the sides.  Rossa brought Adrian Kenneally on to the full forward line in the hopes of some magic but they couldn’t curtail the Loughgiel juggernaut.

The Shamrock’s second goal came in the 52nd minute with six between the sides.  McNaughton providing the assist for Boyle who soloed through on goal and sent the sliotar to the back of the net.

Eddie McCloskey’s sixth point of the match followed before Loughgiel’s third major followed in the 57thminute.  McNaughton standing over a free just inside his own half and well within his range but played the sliotar into the path of substitute Maol Connolly.  Finding Boyle in space, Connolly passed and Boyle’s finish was emphatic.  A simple yet brilliant move that underlined the Loughgiel performance.

Loughgiel continued to add to the score board, their foot to the throat of Rossa’s championship and they played with relentless brilliance.  Emphatic, mesmeric, spell binding hurling from the men in red who set up a mouth watering semi final with Cushendall in two weeks time.

TEAMS

Loughgiel: Chrissy O’Connell; Tiernan Coyle, Rory McCloskey, Ronan McCloskey; Enda Og McGarry, Declan McCloskey, Odhran McFadden; Dan McCloskey, James McNaughton; Paul Boyle, Eddie McCloskey, Donal McKinley; Rian McMullan, Shay Casey, Shan McGrath

Subs: Ruairi McCormick for Ronan McCloskey (12); Caolan Blair for Rory McCloskey (18); Declan Gillan for O McFadden (40); Maol Connolly for R McMullan (44)

Scorers: P Boyle 2-4; J McNaughton 0-9 (4fs 1 ’65); E McCloskey 0-6; S McGrath 1-3; D McCloskey 0-2; E Og McGarry 0-2; R McCormick 0-1

Rossa: Philip Crean; Conor Boyle, Chris McGuinness, Ciaran Orchin; Stephen Shannon, Gerard Walsh, Eoin Traynor; Seaghan Shannon, Aidan Orchin; Dara Rocks, James Connolly, Aodhan O’Brien; Thomas Morgan, Cormac McGettigan, Dominic McEnhill

Subs: Diarmuid Rogan for J Connolly (30); Adrian Kenneally for D Rogan (44); Owen May for A Orchin (56)

Scorers: A O’Brien 0-11 (3fs 2’65s); T Morgan 0-3; Stephen Shannon 0-1; E Traynor 0-1; Seaghan Shannon 0-1; D Rocks 0-1; J Connolly 0-1; G Walsh 0-1

Referee: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)

Johnnies edge Town to reach last four

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship

Quarter-Final

St John’s 1-18 Ballycastle 1-17

Sunday September 18

St John’s edged Ballycastle in the opening quarter-final on Sunday afternoon with the minimum between the sides at the end of a frenetic second half.  Oisin McManus with what turned out to be the winning score in the second minute of injury time, coming from a ’65 and taking his tally to 1-7 for the game.  The Town had chances in a final ten minutes that neither side really took control off.  When Eoin McAlonan pointed from distance he left the minimum between the sides with ten minutes remaining.  They never pushed on however, leaving the door open for the Johnnies who misfired in the closing stages but did enough to earn the win.

The two goals were major scores in this game and came in either half when one side looked to be in control.  Ballcastle led by three when Oisin McManus netted in the closing stages of the first half while the Johnnies stretched ahead by four when Cathal Conor found the back of Simon Doherty’s goal.  Smyth was a shinning light for Ballycastle with his forward play immaculate and always giving the Town an option.

The opening exchanges were dominated by Ballycastle who started much brighter than the Corrigan Park men.  They opened the scoring with a brace of frees from Tiernan Smyth, either side of Oisin McManus opening score.

The opening goal chance fell to Conor Hand in the 10th minute after Michael Bradley and Shea Shannon combined to find him in space but Ryan McGarry was well placed to save his effort.

Points from Aaron Bradley and McManus (’65) followed but Ballycastle looked more hungry than St John’s and pressurised them at every opportunity.  Scores from Smyth (three frees), Diarmuid McShane and Seamus McAuley were answered by a solitary score from Aaron Bradley for St John’s to give The Town a three point lead with eight minutes to go in the first half.

A brace of scores from Shea Shannon and Michael Dudley were answered by Ronan McGarry and Diarmuid McShane.  McShane’s score the result of excellent inter-play from Ballycastle to set him free and restore the Town’s three point lead in the last minute of the first half.

St John’s struck with the next play to stave the Ballycastle challenge.  Ciaran Johnston gathering the sliotar in a world of space in the heart of the Ballycastle defence.  Dragging the defenders his way, he found McManus in space and he finished emphatically.  McAuley and Ronan McGarry pointed in response to Dudley and McManus (free) to leave the scores tied at 0-11 to 1-8 at half time.

St John’s started the second half a different team and had Ballycastle on the back foot.  Shea Shannon took centre stage, firing three points in an eight minute period that saw the Johnnies take control while McManus scored his first from play in the same time to give their side a four point lead.

Ballycastle needed a response and found it through Cathal Conor.  Winning the sliotar in a contest he looked second favourite for, Conor charges at goal and fired to the back of the net in the 39th minute.  A score Ballycastle badly needed and revived their hopes of making the semi-final.

The St John’s response was quality.  Substitute Oisin Donnelly and Aaron Bradley brought them three ahead.  Smyth answered for Ballycastle with a free but they should have had another major midway through the half.  Joe McToal overcooked his pass to Smyth who was in acres of space and the goal at his mercy.

A brace of McManus frees were answered by scores from Conor Boyd and McToal and when Eoin McAlonan pointed in the 50th minute, a grandstand finish was set up for the final ten minutes.

It never really materialised.  St John’s dominated without ever taking their chances. A run of six wides in the closing ten minutes always kept Ballycastle in touch while Ryan McGarry’s save to deny McManus from point blank range was right out of the top drawer.

A McManus free was answered by a Joe McToal point as the game entered injury time.  McManus took his tally to 1-7 for the hour with a ’65 but they had further chances to stretch their lead that came and went.  Ballycastle rolled the dice deep in injury time with Seamus McAuley’s free dropping on the edge of the square, all the Town could muster was a free from Diarmuid McShane as referee Kevin Parke called time before the sliotar could be pucked out.

St John’s progress to the semi-final and a repeat of their clash with Dunloy at the same stage last year in two weeks-time.

TEAMS

St John’s: Simon Doherty; Conal Morgan, Ryan McNulty, Odhran Carleton; Peter McCallin, Padraig Nugent, Michael Bradley; Andy McGowan, Shea Shannon; Michail Dudley, Conor Hand, Ciaran Johnston; Rory Galbraith, Aaron Bradley, Oisin McManus

Subs: Oisin Donnelly sub C Hand (HT); Domhnall Nugent for R Galbraith (52); Ciaran McKenna for P McCallin (60)

Scorers: O McManus 1-7 (4fs 1 ’65); S Shannon 0-4; A Bradley 0-3; M Dudley 0-2; R Galbraith 0-1; O Donnelly 0-1

Ballycastle: Ryan McGarry; Oran Kearney, Matthew Donnelly, Oisin McAuley; Eoin McAlonan, Neal McAuley, Ronan Laverty; Cian Waldron, Ronan McGarry; Seamus McAuley, Conor Boyd, Joe McToal; Tiernan Smyth, Michael Dallat, Diarmuid McShane

Subs: TT Butler for M Dallat (HT); Dermot Donnelly for R Laverty (36); Cathal Connor for C Waldron (47)

Scorers: T Smyth 1-6 (6fs); D McShane 0-3; J McToal 0-2; S McAuley 0-2; R McGarry 0-2; E McAlonan 0-1; C Boyd 0-1

Referee: Kevin Parke (Naomh Eanna)

St John’s and Rossa start as favourites

BATHSHACK SENIOR HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTER FINALS

St John’s v Ballycastle at Dunsilly: Throw-in 1pm

Group 2 runners up St John’s take on Ballycastle, who finished third in Group 1, this Sunday at Dunsilly in the first of the two Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship quarter finals. St John’s started their campaign on a high with a 0-25 to 1-20 win over Loughgiel at Corrigan Park back in August and followed it up two weeks later by beating St Enda’s by 2-30 to 0-14 at Rossa Park in round two. The perfect start but in the bid to claim an automatic semi-final spot they came up just short against a Christy McNaughton inspired Cushendall side at Pairc Mhuire, losing out in the end by 1-21 to 1-16 in a hard fought game.

Ballycastle’s route to Sunday’s quarter final has been starkly different. After losing heavily in their opening game in Group 2 to champions Dunloy by 1-16 to 2-29 at Paric MacUilin, they were even more disappointing in the second round game when Rossa beat them by 0-8 to 0-26 at Dunsilly. After all the work the team had put in under new managers KB McShane and Shane Staunton spirits could have been much lower, and with star man Ciaran Clarke out for the season through injury things looked very bleak. Written off by most pundits going into their final game against next door neighbours Carey Faughs they found the spark that had been missing and following a fast start they went on to produce their best performance in a long time by running out winners by 5-26 to 0-13 to keep their championship hopes alive.

Now St John’s are a different kettle of fish to Carey, but that win must surely give them some confidence that they can put on a better show than they did in the last visit to Dunsilly. St John’s have been knocking at the door for a few years now and were unlucky not to reach a final a couple of times in the last few years. They will go into Sunday’s game as firm favourites, but this game could be closer than a lot of people think.

Rossa v Loughgiel at Dunsilly: Throw-in 5pm

Rossa, who were runners-up in Group 2 take on Loughgiel in the second game at Dunsilly on Sunday, the game throwing in at 5pm. Rossa had a convincing win over Carey Faughs in their opening game at Rossa Park and were untroubled in their second outing against Ballycastle in their second round game at Dunsilly. They lost out to Dunloy in their final game of the group stages by five points which is a more than creditable showing against the champions.

Loughgiel’s start may not have been impressive, losing out to St John’s at Corrigan in their opening game and then going down against the Ruairi Ogs in Cushendall, but there were times in both games that it looked as if they deserved better. They earned their passage to the quarter final with a big win over St Enda’s and will be looking forward to Sunday’s battle with Rossa with a bit of confidence

With James McNaughton back in the fold, after his summer trip to the USA they are a much better team and Rossa will certainly not be taking them for granted.

Michael Armstrong, hero of last years’ semi-final snatch and grab against Cushendall, is more than likely to miss out on this one after pulling up injured in last week’s football quarter final against Creggan. Armstrong’s skill and experienced would be badly missed but it goes with the territory for clubs like Rossa who have so many dual players in their ranks.

I think this is going to be a great game and though Rossa will start as favourites, Loughgiel will also fancy their chances. Extra time could be a possibility!    

Champions claim semi-final spot

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship

Dunloy 1-17 St Rossa 0-10

County champions Dunloy secured their place in the semi-final of the Senior Hurling Championship when they beat Rossa on Saturday at Pearse Park in what was a repeat of last year’s final. The Cuchullains led by double scores at half time 0-12 to 0-6, and while Rossa had slightly the better of the second, there was still five between them at the final whistle.

Dunloy got the run on a slow starting Rossa side in the opening ten minutes when points from Nigel Elliott, Seann Elliott )direct from a sideline cut) and two from full forward Conal Coby Cunning had them four ahead. Rossa got off the mark with a Thomas Morgan point, and though Deaghlan Smith came back with one from Dunloy a minute later, Stephen Beatty pointed for the Belfast men to cut the gap back to 0-5 to 0-2. The next ten minutes was all Dunloy as they hit five in a row through Conal Cunning (2), Deaglan Smith, Keelan Molly and a monster strike from his own half by Eamon Smyth to go eight clear by the 24th minutes. Aodhan O’Brien pulled one back from a free and though Coby Cunning came back with one for the Cuchullains, three in a two minute spell from Seaghan Shannon and Tommy Morgan (2) had the gap back to four as the game entered first half injury time.

Things looked more promising for the Befast men at this stage, but in first half injury time Deaghlan Smith and Ronan Molly added points to send their team in at the break with a six point cushion.

Two early points from Tommy Morgan and Gerard Walsh (from a long range free) early in the second half brought Rossa within four. Points from Dunloy’s Deaglan Smith and Conal Cunning in reply to one from Rossa’s Stephen Beatty pushed the gap out to five by the 37th minute, but two pointed frees in quick succession from Aodhan O’Brien left just three between the sides, but a goal and a point from the ever dangerous ‘Coby’ Cunning gave the home side a bit of breathing space. O’Brien and Beatty came back with points for the men form Shaw’s Road, but they could not get the goal they needed to get back within striking distance. With six minute of normal time Ronan Molloy and Deaghan Smith pushed the gap out to seven and hard though they tried Rossa could not quite bridge the gap, though two more late points from Aohan O’Brien got them to within five.

The win puts Dunloy straight into the semi-final, while Rossa face a quarter final clash with Loughgiel Shamrocks. St John’s face Ballycastle in the other quarter final with Dusilly appearing to be the perfect venue for the games.

DUNLOY

Ryan Elliott, Phelim Duffin, Ryan McGarry, Oran Quinn, Eamon Smyth, Kevin Molloy, Aaron Crawford, Nicky McKeague, Deaglan Smith, Ronan Molly, Gabriel McTaggart, Nigel Elliott, Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning, Seann Elliott.

ROSSA

Philip Crean, Adrian Keneally, Cricky McGuinness, Ciaran Orchin, Ruairi Murray, Michael Armstrong, Eoin Trainor, Seaghan Shannon, Gerard Walsh, Dara Rocks, Stephen Beatty, Aodhan O’Brien, Thomas Morgan, James Connolly, Dominic McEnhill

Referee – Ciaran McCloskey (Loughgiel)