Ruairi Og v Shamrocks-the captains views

By Brendan McTaggart

Burke tells of relief at full time whistle

Cushendall Captain Martin Burke was obviously delighted but after having to be taken off during the second half after a reoccurrence of a niggling injury on Sunday afternoon, the Ruairi’s full back told us that the six minutes of added time seem to last for an eternity: “The nerves weren’t good.  It’s grand when you’re on the field but at that stage my foot had went again so I was on the side line. There was massive relief when we heard the whistle on the bench.”

After coming through a battle, Burke told us that his side have had their eyes on this match since the draw was made and the match transpired to be exactly the type of warfare they had expected: “Yeah it was great to get over the line. We have had our eye on this game all year to come out on the right side of a game like that means everything to us.

“It was battle out there but we were expecting that. The softer pitches at championship time often turn it into that sort of game. But when you come out on the right side of a battle like that it’s nearly more satisfying.”

Despite trailing by two points at the interval, Burke told us the Ruairi’s were delighted with their first half performance but wary that they had only half the job done: “We were happy with our first half performance and the work we were putting in and it gave us a great platform to kick on in the second half but as the saying goes and as has been proved before when these sides meet the wind never wins any game.”

A meeting with the Cuchullains lay ahead now for Burke and his side and the Cushendall full back told us that they are keen to right the wrongs they endured from 12 months ago: “After last year’s final, we felt we underperformed.  It has been our aim to get back to a count final this year but we are under illusions as to the task that awaits.”


Cushendall captain Martin Burke and Loughgiel skipper Shay Casey with match referee Colum Cunning before the game Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

Casey: “Better team won on the day.”

Loughgiel Captain Shay Casey was clearly disappointed as he led his team off the Páirc Mac Uílin field.  No-one wants to be captaining their side to a loss against their rivals and Casey was hurting but he still had time to speak to us before going to the changing rooms.

Before we could even get into the finer details of the match, the Loughgiel full forward offered his congratulations to the Ruairi’s, a sign of the huge respect between the sides despite the rivalry that exists: “Congratulations to Cushendall.  They were the better team on the day.  There was only ever going to be a poc of the ball between the teams, especially with the conditions.

“It was a good sporting game played out in bad conditions but we can have no complaints.  We had plenty of opportunities but it’s swings and roundabouts.  Hopefully it will be us that will come out on top next year.

“We’re severely disappointed as we’ve put a hell of a lot of effort in.  It’s not an easy result to take.”

Despite playing with the elements in the first half, the Loughgiel Captain told us that they were satisfied with their work in the opening half: “We were confident at half time that we could see the job through but it wasn’t to be.”

Casey told us that the Ruairi’s playing with Eoghan Campbell as sweeper had a major bearing on the game but they were aware before the match of what they would come up against: “Cushendall played with a man back, that’s their tactic that they use to nullify our forwards and we worked with it alright.  We were happy enough being two up at half time. These things go for you and some don’t, the better team won on the day and that’s it plain and simple.

“But as I’ve said, we can have no complaints.  Fair play to Cushendall, they were the better side on the day and deserved to win.”

‘Dall edge past Shamrocks after dour and dogged contest


Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship – Semi-Final

Ruairi Ogs, Cushendall 0-13 Loughgiel Shamrocks 0-12

By Brendan McTaggart

Cushendall v Loughgiel 12

Cushendall’s Neil McManus raises his hurl in celebration while team manager Philip Campbell punches the air in the background after McManus sends over a free in the late stages of Sunday’s semi-final win over champions Loughgiel at Pairc MacUílin. Pic by John McIlwaine

It may not have been the classic, high scoring encounter that these two great rivals have produced at different times in the last 12 months but it was every bit as epic.  A high intensity 60 minutes of hurling that had the travelling faithful to Ballycastle biting their finger nails right to the very end.  They had to endure six minutes of injury time but in the end the Ruairi’s avenged their defeat in last year’s decider to dethrone the Shamrocks.  One point separated the sides by the time Colum Cunning called time and Cushendall’s championship ambitions continue to burn brightly.

1055242_orig copy-AFTERWith major doubts over the pitch at Ballycastle, there was a late inspection before it was given the go ahead.  With the tie already having moved from Dunloy due to unforeseen circumstances, the weather was playing havoc with the biggest game of the season between these two adversaries.  Another major rain shower threatened the game even further but the match went ahead and these two great rivals slogged it out in a game of cat and mouse.  High winds meant neither side really got comfortable or hit their strides in the first half but it was the Ruairi’s who started the game brightly.  With Eoghan Campbell dropping into a sweeper role, Neil McManus moved into midfield with Conor Carson and Cormac McClafferty forming the inside forward line for Cushendall.  David Kearney and Natty McNaughton splitting the posts inside the first four minutes to give the Ruairi’s the early advantage.

Both sides were guilty of missing frees in the opening exchanges but it was the Ruairi’s who looked more at ease in the first half, employing a shorter passing game to counter the elements.  Loughgiel were keeping Paul Gillan free at the back and it was the Loughgiel full back line who were hugely impressive in the first half.  Gillan and Ronan McCloskey were first to every ball played into the corners while Neill McGarry was catching everything that came his way.

Goal chances were at a premium throughout the match but the Ruairi’s had an opening after just three minutes.  Paddy McGill with the effort but the Loughgiel defence defended heroically to block his effort.

Shan McGrath opened Loughgiel’s account in the eighth minute and when Barney McAuley found the target with two long range frees, the Shamrocks were in the lead for the first time by the 13th minute. It was a war of attrition everywhere on the pitch with neither side giving an inch.  Conditions meant neither side could showcase their skills but it added to the nerves and excitement among the gathering hoards in attendance at Páirc Mac Uílin.

McAuley continued his metronomic accuracy from frees with Dan McCloskey lively for the Shamrocks to give Loughgiel an edge while McManus and Cormac McClafferty split the posts for the Ruairi’s.  There is no doubting who the happier side was at the short whistle though.  The Ruairi’s went into the interval trailing by just two points with a score line of 0-7 to 0-5 in favour of Loughgiel.

The teams traded scores at the beginning of the new half, but when midfielder Mark McFadden dissected the uprights in the 36th minute, Loughgiel looked like they would push on having opened a three point lead for the first time in the match.  McFadden’s point would be the Shamrock’s last score for 17 minutes though as Cushendall, and Paddy McGill in particular, found another gear.  McGill had a busy first half without gaining much reward but his second half performance would prove to be the difference between the sides.  Four points in the second 30 minutes while in the thick of everything for his side, McGill was the catalyst to spur the Ruairi’s over the line in the end.

There was chances for goals at either end, substitute Benny McCarry with a chance for Loughgiel but his effort was blocked before it reached the length of Eoin Gillan in the Cushendall goals while Loughgiel had Neill McGarry to thank for a last minute hook on Sean McAfee when the Cushendall man looked a nailed on certainty to score a major.

Both sides looked to gain advantages in any way possible, Ronan Gillan and Maol Connolly coming off the bench, Gillan with a tidy score to keep the Shamrocks in touch but the accuracy of McManus from placed ball (something which had been missing in the first half) helped the Ruairi’s into a two point lead going into injury time.

Connolly's LogoLoughgiel laid siege on the Ruairi’s goal mouth in search of the goal that would swing the tie in their favour but all they could muster was a Shan McGrath point to leave the Ruairi’s one point winners.

The scenes at the full-time whistle perfectly reflected 60 minutes of high intensity championship hurling between these two great rivals.  On one side, Cushendall manager Philip Campbell turned to salute the Ruairi’s support while raising his fists to the air.  The devastation from the Loughgiel side at the Ballycastle pitch was palpable.  The realisation that they had surrendered their crown to their biggest rivals and their aspirations gone.

Cushendall now face the kids on the block Cuchullains in a repeat of the 2009 final.  The Ruairi’s will be hoping for a different result but for now, they can breathe a huge sigh of relief after reaching their ninth county final in ten years.


Aidan Campbell, son of Cushendall manager Philip Campbell can’t hide his delight as the final whistle sounds at the end of Sunday’s SHC semi-final at Pairc MacUílin, Ballycastle. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

Cushendall: Eoin Gillan; Ryan McCambridge; Martin Burke; Sean Delargy; Arron Graffin; Paddy Burke; David Kearney; Eoghan Campbell; Aidan McNaughton; Conor Carson; Neil McManus; Donal McNaughton; Cormac McClafferty; Sean McAfee; Paddy McGill

Scorers: Neil McManus 0-5 (3 frees); Paddy McGill 0-4; Cormac McClafferty 0-1; Donal McNaughton 0-1; Eoghan Campbell 0-1; David Kearney 0-1

Loughgiel: DD Quinn; Paul Gillan; Neil McGarry; Ronan McCloskey; Tony McCloskey; Damon McMullan; Odhran McFadden; Mark McFadden; Seamus Dobbin; Donal McKinley; Eddie McCloskey; Barney McAuley; Dan McCloskey; Shay Casey; Shan McGrath

Scorers: Barney McAuley 0-6 (5 frees); Dan McCloskey 0-2; Shan McGrath 0-2; Mark McFadden 0-1; Ronan Gillan 0-1

Referee: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)

Pics by John and Dylan McIlwaine

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Dunloy v Ballycastle – The captains views

By Brendan McTaggart

McKeague feels Cuchullains Strength in Depth has been a factor this season

Dunloy Captain James McKeague had been outstanding at full back for his side throughout the hour.  Mr Dependable in the Dunloy shirt and one happy man as he was leaving the Cushendall pitch on Saturday evening.  McKeague led by example on Saturday and while his management team refused to speak of their previous encounters with Ballycastle, McKeague said that his side used it as motivation to push on at half time: “There was a big emphasis this year on getting to the county final.  We came up against a very good St John’s side in the quarter-final and we knew that Ballycastle would be coming very prepared here today and very focussed so for us, today was all about getting a job down and working hard and thank God we’re through it.

“We came into this game for the last two years and come unstuck against Ballycastle while leading at half time.  We threw them games away.”

Playing with the wind, Dunloy went about building a substantial lead after the first 30 minutes and McKeague told us that his side were prepared for any scenario that they might have been faced with, regardless of the conditions: “It didn’t matter about getting a lead.  We wanted to come out and perform and express ourselves in a semi-final.  Semi-final’s are for winning and it didn’t matter if we were one point up at half time or five points, we knew we had a job to do in the second half.  We’re a very focussed team and if we were playing with the breeze in the second half, I don’t think it would have made a major difference because we were coming out to do a job in the second half regardless.”

The second Dunloy major effectively ended the Ballycastle challenge in the 42nd minute, McKeague praised the strength of the Cuchullains bench when he continued: “We knew that we had big impact players to come off the bench in Nicky (McKeague) and Ally Dooey.  The first ball Ally got, he skinned his man and put the ball into the bottom corner.  It was a massive statement from the young fella to come on and do that.  He was probably disappointed that he wasn’t starting so it was massive for him to come and do that.”

A first final since 2012 now beckons and the Cuchullains are now 60 minutes away from bringing ‘Big Ears’ back to the village for the first time since 2009.  McKeague told us that they know they will be up against class opposition regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s second semi-final: “We don’t care who we play, we just thank God that we’ll be there.  Whoever we get, either Loughgiel or Cushendall, we’re going to be underdogs.  That’s two serious teams playing tomorrow and it’ll be interesting battle.”


Dunloy captain James McKeague and his Ballycastle counterpart Matthew Donnelly with matach referee Fíonntan McCotter before Saturday’s semi-final. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

Donnelly Praises Cuchullains after Semi-Final Defeat

Ballycastle full back Matthew Donnelly was obviously bitterly disappointed after his sides loss on Saturday evening but, as always, the McQuillans Captain was willing to share his thought on what had transpired.  Donnelly started by praising his opposition with a touch of class that we have come to expect from a star of the game: “We knew that Dunloy would come with huge amounts of intensity after we had beaten them in the last couple of years.  They have a lot of talented players coming through as well and they can back it up.  Hopefully they push on and go on and win it.”

It’s been a harrowing season for the McQuillan’s and Donnelly gave us a bit more insight into the sudden demise and for why a squad of players who probably should have won the championship two years ago, will now be playing Division Two hurling in 2018: “We have had a lot of boys away travelling and boys injured all at the same time.  It’s just all seem to happen at once.  We were in the final a couple of years ago and from the 30 man panel on that day, I think it’s 15 are away due to retirement, injuries and travelling.  That would leave a massive hole in any squad so we just hope now that we can regroup over the winter and bring through some of the minors from this year.”

13 points separated the sides at the interval and with the substantial wind, Donnelly told us that his side still felt that they were in with a shout after the restart: “We thought with the breeze that we were still in the game, if we could take our scores from distance then we could claw our way back into the game but to be fair to Dunloy, they won a lot of dirty ball around the middle.  All the breaking balls they were winning and they took the scores when it mattered.  Fair play to them.”

Donnelly finished off by adding: “It is a majorly disappointing changing room in there at the minute but we will be back next year and we’re hopeful of bringing our own group of young players up through.”

Brilliant Cuchullains end McQuillan’s championship dreams


Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship – Semi-Final

Dunloy 2-21 Ballycastle 0-11

Saturday September 9

By Brendan McTaggart


The umpire reaches for the green flag as Nigel Elliott gets ready to celebrate after scoring his team’s opening goal. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

As referee Fionntan McCotter called for time at the end of the hour, there was muted applause around the Cushendall grounds.  A far cry from the celebrations at the full-time whistle in both the respective quarter-finals. Cuchullains simply blew away the challenge of The Town, winning at a canter and any memories of their previous brace of defeats to the McQuillan’s were drowned out by a flurry of green and gold brilliance.  It was an emphatic performance from Dunloy, a 16 point victory that was every bit as convincing as it sounds.  The McQuillan’s were obliterated, picked apart and dismantled throughout the hour and left Páirc Mhuire bowed and broken.  A team that came into the last four tie with hopes, dreams and aspirations of breaking a 31 year drought for Ballycastle had their ambitions left in tatters and ruins.

The Cuchullains played with the aid of a substantial wind in the first half and set about building a significant lead.  With the inside forward duo of Conal ‘Coby’ Cunning and Eoin O’Neill pulling the Ballycastle full back line apart and the work-rate of Chrissy Brogan not giving the McQuillans full back line a spare minute.  The Cuchullains kept Conor McKinley as their sweeper in the first half and with a reshuffle of their pack, they were dominant from the first whistle.  They scored the first goal of the semi-final in the eighth minute and it was as majestic as it was simple.  Good work from Kevin McKeague saw the Dunloy man bring the sliotar free before playing the ball cross field in the direction of Nigel Elliott.  The Dunloy forward used his speed to fend off the challenge of the Ballycastle defenders before unleashing a drive high into Ryan McGarry’s net.

Elliott’s major opened the floodgates for the Cuchullains as the the Ballycastle challenge faltered.  A run of nine unanswered points, with five of the starting six Dunloy forwards getting their names on the scoresheet, kept the momentum firmly with the Cuchullains.  The variety in their attack with scores from different ranges and angles meaning the Ballycastle defence couldn’t settle and any attempt to play as a sweeper was futile.

The dominance of the Dunloy midfield ensured they kept their vice like grip on the half, Shorty and Ciaran ‘Cat’ Elliott going through a mountain of ‘dirty’ work.  McGarry was varying his poc outs to try and give the McQuillans a foothold in the game but Cuchullains were on top everywhere in the pitch.  Winning individual battles and gathering momentum that Ballycastle had little or no answer to.

Conial Brown and Caolan McCaughan added to the earlier scores of Ciaran Clarke (free) and Tiernan Butler but Shorty’s fifth score of the half on the stroke of the short whistle gave the Cuchullains a 13 point lead at the interval.  Half time score, Dunloy 1-14 Ballycastle 0-4.


Game Over…

The introduction of Ben McQuillan and Ciaran Butler gave the McQuillans a brief injection of impetus and they outscored the Cuchullains by three points to one in the opening exchanges but their challenge was clinging on by its fingertips.

An inspirational point from Kevin Molloy, having burst clear of a couple of Ballycastle challenges, lifted the Cuchullains from their half time slumber but it was the sight of Saul McCaughan having to leave the field with what appeared to be a hamstring injury that really hurt the McQuillans.  The enigmatic Ballycastle man had come into the match as the McQuillans ‘ace’ in their pack.  In the last two seasons he was the one who broke the hearts of the Cuchullains with his devastating displays but on Saturday it just didn’t happen for him.  Leaving the field hobbling, refusing the need for a stretcher and it boosted the Cuchullains even further.

Ally Dooey, on the field for five minutes but with the game stopped for McCaughan’s injury, he managed to score the Cuchullains second goal with his first touch of the game.  Again, a diagonal ball played into the corner and while Dooey collected, he had plenty of work to do before creating the goal chance.  Dooey’s play underlined the Cuchullains devastating play.  Speed, ingenuity, accuracy, brilliant.  He sped past the challenge of the Ballycastle defence, cutting along the end line before cleverly finishing ensuring he wouldn’t get hooked.  Game over.  17 points separated the sides at the mid-point of the second half and the Cuchullains began to empty their bench and shut up shop.

Points from Conor Boyd and TT Butler gave the Ballycastle men some form of respectability in the score line but as the full time whistle rang, there was no chorus of cheers or scenes of celebration.  It was ‘job done’ as far as the Cuchullains were concerned while the McQuillans were left beleaguered.

The Cuchullains progress to their first county final since 2012 with 16 points to spare.  Can they go on to lift ‘Big Ears’ for the first time since 2009?  That remains to be seen.  Ballycastle didn’t ask enough questions of them to really give a definitive answer.  The Cuchullains won’t have gained too much from the tie other than adding to a confidence that is already brimming.  Youthful exuberance, strength in depth and a hunger to do whatever it takes.  A deadly combination that is bringing belief back to the Dunloy support, management and players.  For now, they can rest easy knowing that they have booked their place in the championship decider and await the winners of tomorrow’s second semi-final between Loughgiel and Cushendall.

Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin; James McKeague; Oran Quinn; Kevin McKeague; Conor McKinley; Kevin Molloy; Ciaran Elliott; Paul Shiels; Keelan Molloy; Gabriel McTaggart; Nigel Elliott; Conal Cunning; Christopher Brogan; Eoin O’Neill

Scorers: Paul Shiels 0-9 (6 frees); Conal Cunning 0-5 (2 frees); Eoin O’Neill 0-4; Nigel Elliott 1-1; Ally Dooey 1-00; Gabriel McTaggart 0-1; Keelan Molloy 0-1; Kevin Molloy 0-1

Ballycastle: Ryan McGarry; Paul McLernon; Matthew Donnelly; Dermott Donnelly; James McShane; Neal McAuley; Conor Boyd; Conaire Butler; Caolan McCaughan; Conial Brown; Tiernan Butler; James McLister; Saul McCaughan; Kevin-Barry McShane; Ciaran Clarke

Scorers: Ciaran Clarke 0-3 (3 frees); Tiernan Butler 0-2; Conor Boyd 0-2; Conial Brown 0-1; Caolan McCaughan 0-1; Ciaran Butler 0-1

Referee: Fionntan McCotter (Sarsfields)

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Ground-hog day…. by Colum Thompson

Colum Thompson who contributes some great articles to the Ruairi Og Facebook page wrote this preview of tomorrow’s game earlier in the week. A well balanced view of the match I have to say where his love of the game shines through. I have added a few photos from last year’s final and the 2014 meeting, which were both at Páirc MacUílín, which includes a couple of great players, some for one reason or another who sadly will not be lining out for their club’s tomorrow 

Ruairi Og Cushendall V Shamrocks LoughgielPairc MacUilinb

Ground-hog day. In The more things change the more things stay the same. Cushendall and Loughgiel, the dominant forces in Antrim hurling over the past decade or so have, as expected, qualified for a semi-final meeting. Although we learned little about either team in the earlier rounds of the competition the records will show that The Dall have arrived at this point thanks to a 4-20 to 0-12 preliminary round win against Clooney Gaels and then a quarter final demolition of Cloughmills 6-26 to1-10. Loughgiel have also got to this point without ever having to get out of second gear. In their quarter final they proved much too strong for Creggan and ran out easy winners on a score of 5-20 to 0-12. It was all very predictable for pundits… up until this point.

1055242_orig copyIf Loughgiel V Cushendall matches over the past ten years have taught us anything it is that all rational predictions and the form book can very often get torn to shreds. Not that much has separated the two teams this season. In league head to heads each team holds a victory over the other. In The Feis Cup it took two games to separate the sides, Loughgiel recording a solitary point victory after a replay.

There have been classics and epic battles between these two fierce rivals in the recent past. Loughgiel claimed their 20thChampionship crown last year with a battling 1-15 to 1-12 win in Páirc MacUílín. In 2015 Cushendall showed their metal coming through a two game saga by two points.

Both teams have blooded new players over the course of the season and many of these young guns are pushing hard for a starting place. The likes of Maol Connolly, James McNaughton and Declan Gillan are capable of coming in and doing a job for Loughgiel. Equally don’t be surprised if the likes of Cormac McClafferty, Fergus McCambridge or Stephen Walsh force themselves into Cushendall’s starting 15. The exuberance of youth is one thing but very few teams survive in the white hot atmosphere of Championship hurling without experienced heads and proven performers and both teams have exactly this type of player in abundance. For Cushendall Sean Delargy, Donal McNaughton, Paddy McGill, Neil McManus and Arron Graffin have been the mainstays of the team for many years. For Loughgiel Barney McAuley, Paul Gillan, Neilly McGarry and Eddie McCloskey have been there, done it and bought the t-shirt.

PrintAn impossible game to predict but what you can be sure off is that both teams will give it their all. Players will empty the tanks and give everything for their clubs and their communities. There will be blood, sweat and tears. As always both sets of supporters will back their teams to the hilt. There will be colour, atmosphere, tension and noise. If hurling is uniquely Irish then this game will provide something that is unique to The Glens Of Antrim. For the people of Loughgiel and Cushendall the world stops for a couple of hours this Sunday afternoon, all roads lead to Páirc MacUílín Ballycastle. May the best team win.DYLN5206
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