St John’s and Cushendall managers share their views

CRLL0498Managers view….Tony McNulty – St Johns

Johnnies “Live to fight another day…”

By Brendan McTaggart

St Johns manager Tony McNulty was still recovering from the nail biting finale to the semi-final at Pearse Park when we caught up with him on the pitch.  On a match where both sides squandered chances and missed frees, the Johnnies manager said the elements played havoc but for both teams: “They missed frees and so did we.  The wind was crazy, fairly deceiving.  Conor Johnston, Micheal Bradley and then Ciaran.  It was unusual, Neil McManus missing a few as well.  The wind is crazy though and some people won’t allow for that.”

With the unsavoury scenes towards the end of the game happening right infront of him, McNulty said it all started from a case of mistaken identity: “It was a Cushendall man that hit his own man then a few boys got involved.”  McNulty continued: “In a game that was so good, it didn’t need that.”

Five points with five minutes remaining and four with two minutes of normal time, McNulty told us they were content with a draw in the end although he did think he had a case of déja vous: “A draw was a fair result for both teams.

“We did think ‘here we go again’.  Four points up before they got the goal.  We came down and then they replied.

“It shows how much we’ve progressed in the three years since and Simon McCrory had been injured coming into the match.  We had to spring him and he made a massive difference when he came on.”

McNulty praised man of the match Ciaran Johnston for holding his nerve over the last free after the delay: “He scored the previous two but it still took serious nerve to step up and nail that score.”

St Johns led for the majority of the second half but needed Johnston’s long range free at the death to force a replay.  McNulty praised his team when he concluded: “I thought we were super.  It’s another day for us.  What we showed today is we’re up there with the rest of them.  We live to fight another day.”

15Managers view….Eamon Gillan – Cushendall

Ruairi’s happy to get out of jail…

As the Ruairi’s made their way off the Pearse Park pitch, the Cushendall management team were deep in conversation as the analysis of the drawn semi-final began.  Team manager Eamon Gillan spoke with us as we headed towards the changing rooms and gave us his initial assessment of the game: “St Johns were the superior team in the first half although there was only a point in it.  We seemed to be nervous with two or three young boys on which isn’t unexpected.”

The Ruairi’s strength in depth seemed to have changed the momentum at the death with Alex Delargy and Natty McNaughton both having a major impact from the bench.  Gillan told us that it took a serious effort from his side to get back into the game: “We got our way into the match at the start of the second half until they scored their goal.  It was a huge score for them but we kept going.  We made a couple of changes that helped and we ground out a draw.”

Despite St Johns adding the late equaliser, the Cushendall manager told us that he believes the Whiterock Road side will feel deflated at the result: “St Johns will probably feel worse leaving the pitch because they will feel they should have won the match.  That being said, we went over time, got a free, I thought it was a soft enough decision.”

Gillan continued by adding the Ruairi’s weren’t at their best on the afternoon, only really coming to life in the last quarter when they looked like exiting the championship: “I think we were below par.  The last 10 minutes we came into the match and really went for it.  Made a few changes and possibly could have won that match but we’re happy enough to get the draw.  I think a draw was the fair result on the day.  We’ll take it.”



“Organisation and sheer heart won them the game.”

Managers view….Johnny Campbell – LoughgielCRLL6493

By Brendan McTaggart

Easily the happiest man in Paírc MacUílin.  Loughgiel manager Johnny Campbell stood before us like a man who had just witnessed hours and days of preparation pay off.  The Shamrocks manager gave us his initial thoughts before acknowledging his side were ready to bring their ‘A’ game when it was needed the most: “Credit to Dunloy, we knew coming here today we had to bring our best and I felt the lads were pretty close to that to be honest.  The way we set up, the organisation and sheer heart won them the game in fairness.”

It was an hour of pure grit and savage determination from the Shamrocks and Campbell sang his sides praises before calling for calm heads ahead of the final: “I couldn’t fault any one of them out there today and I know its easy saying that after winning a semi-final.  There was mistakes and there’s always going to be mistakes but for pure effort and heart I couldn’t fault them.

“It would be interesting to see the stats for turnovers and that type of thing but at the end of the day and I can’t stress this enough, it’s just a semi-final.”

James McNaughton proved to be Loughgiel’s match winner on the day.  Eight pointed frees from nine efforts, majority of all from distance while dealing with swirling wind, it was a phenomenal free taking display from the Loughgiel man and Campbell said it’s the hard work paying off for the Shamrocks sharp shooter: “That’s why you practice them so that you can nail them when it matters. It was a superb display, the same as Johnston last night in Dunloy.”

The Shamrocks played a tactically perfect hour and more of hurling and the Loughgiel manager told us they had their homework done: “It’s easy saying this after we won but for raw talent, they have close to the best forward unit in the county.  We looked at them, seen how they won last year and seen the strengths they have and threats just like they know ours.  We knew we had to be at the top of our game to get anything out of today to negate them things.  They have quality everywhere and bringing quality on.”

With the final now postponed to allow for the Cushendall and St Johns replay next weekend, the Loughgiel manager told us they will use the week to recover and will have a keen eye on the replay on Sunday week: “There’s a lot of sore bodies in there and it will do us no harm.  We’ll regroup again, mind the bodies and the injuries and niggles will hopefully have cleared up but you saw that match last night.  Whoever comes through that is going to be a tough game in the final.  We’ll go to the replay and enjoy it and see what we can learn from that.”

“Cuchullains will learn from this”

5Managers view…..Gregory O’Kane – Dunloy

By Brendan McTaggart

Possibly the worst poker player you’ll ever come across.  Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane was visibly distraught after the full time whistle in Ballycastle on Sunday as the Cuchullians relinquished the title they won in 2017 to their near neighbours.

O’Kane began his assessment by saying: “We didn’t bring it today.  We couldn’t get ball into our forwards.  We couldn’t get width in our game.  We did for about 10 minutes at the end of the first half and that was it.”

It was a fair analysis of the hours hurling from O’Kane.  The Cuchullains trailed by four at one stage in the first half before clawing their way back to trail by one at the interval.  They began to second half well but the Shamrocks always managed to keep them at bay.  O’Kane felt that if his side could have managed to get their noses in front it would have made a difference.

It was obviously a disappointing day for the Dunloy manager but he was keen to highlight the role of another of the Cuchullains youth production line in recent time: “Young Aaron Crawford at corner back was outstanding.  Still a minor but it doesn’t matter what age you are.  If you’re good enough age doesn’t matter.”  When asked if he felt it was a big call, O’Kane continued before praising the rest of his defence: “It was and it wasn’t.  When you see him in training and the quality that he brings.  Out there today I thought he was one of our best performers.

“I thought our backs done very well too.  At the end of the day we only conceded 14 points and only six or seven of that from play.”

The Dunloy manager bemoaned the quality of ball into the Dunloy forwards on the day before adding: “We just couldn’t get flowing or any structure into our game.

“Eight points tells the story.  You’re not going to win too many games by only scoring eight points and it’s something we’re going to have to look at in more detail.”

After winning the league and favourites to retain their crown, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for the Cuchullains but O’Kane told us that his young side will learn from Sunday’s defeat: “They say a mistakes only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.  There’s plenty of young men in that dressing room who are hurting inside and out after that.  They’ll learn from this today.”











It wasn’t pretty but Shamrocks dug out a result

Ciaran Laverty advert copy2Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship – Semi-Final

Loughgiel 0-14 Dunloy 0-8

Sunday September 30

Brendan McTaggart reports from Paírc MacUílin, Ballycastle

Pics by Dylan 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.Favour copyCreagh copy2

9Loughgiel’s Odhran McFadden in action against Dunloy’s Keelan Molloy.

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.

The Cuchullains sprung a surprise with Aaron Crawford handed his championship debut in defence making it six starters in the Dunloy team from their U21 success earlier in the year.  Any doubts over James McNaughton and Neil McGarry’s fitness were soon to be allayed.  Both men ultimately played huge rolls in insuring the Shamrocks victory.

Much like the semi-final 24 hours earlier, it wasn’t a game for the purists of the great game.  Chances, space and time were in short supply with both teams tackling hard and throwing their bodies on the line in only a manner that a championship match can bring.

Although the Shamrocks did start the match brighter, once Shiels had cancelled out an early McNaughton free it was warfare.  Loughgiel went into a three point lead by the 19th minute of the match, Joey Scullion, Mark McFadden and McNaughton (free) all splitting the posts for the Loughgiel men.

Nigel Elliott stopped the rot for the Cuchullains moments later with a typical score by the Dunloy man.  Showing his pace and power to free himself from the Loughgiel clutches before splitting the posts.  Incredibly, Elliott’s effort at the Loughgiel goal was just their third effort in the opening 20 minutes.  Loughgiel got their match ups right all over the pitch and in the opening quarter they had the Cuchullains number.

Dunloy did hit back and by the 25th minute they were back on terms.  A brace of frees from Shiels and one from play by the Dunloy man brought the Cuchullains back but Loughgiel edged the closing stages.  McNaughton’s third free of the match and a Donal McKinley point came either side of Shiels’ fifth white flag to leave the Shamrocks ahead by the minimum at the short whistle.Glen Bar ad copy copyAPound ad

With the wind showing no signs of easing blowing straight across the pitch, it took until the fourth minute after the interval before we had our first score of the second half.  Kevin Molloy leaving his half back berth to dissect the uprights and restore parity to the sides once again.  A brace of McNaughton frees in the 38th and 40th minutes stretched the Loughgiel lead to two once more and while Keelan Molloy evaded the clutches of the Loughgiel defence to halve the deficit in the 43rd minute, it would be the Cuchullains last score of the contest.  A further McNaughton free opened the two point lead once again before a couple of uncharacteristic missed frees from Shiels albeit from distance and one hugely contentious, hurt the Dunloy challenge.

Substitute Shay Casey fired over in the 54th minute before Joey Scullion had the freedom of Paírc MacUílin to repeat the feat for the Shamrocks with two minutes of normal time remaining.

Four points separated the sides with the semi-final, to use a boxing analogy, entering the championship rounds.  Challenges were flying and the game had become fractious in the last quarter with a minimum of five minutes allowed at the end of the hour.  It wasn’t going to be enough for the Cuchullains though as the Shamrocks had their number on the day.  The Dunloy men continued to press in an attempt to penetrate the Loughgiel rear-guard but they were in no mood to let this on slip.  McNaughton’s seventh and eighth frees of the match came either side of the red mist descending on Nicky McKeague and as the heavens opened, referee Darren McKeown called for time.

It wasn’t a game of pure hurling many of the neutrals in attendance would have hoped for and it was a game that won’t live long in the memories of most but the Shamrocks won’t care.  Style of play is important but when it comes to the championship it’s all about getting the right result at the end of the 60 plus minutes.  Loughgiel are 60 minutes away from adding to their tally of 20 Antrim championships and look forward to a meeting with either Cushendall or St Johns in the final.Pound ad

28EmMartin Hurls copyPremier 1

Dylan McIlwaine presents the Martin Hurls Man of the Match award to James McNaughton


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)

Johnston holds his nerve to earn the Johnnies a second bite of the cherry


Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship


Cushendall 1-16 St Johns 1-16

Saturday September 29

Brendan McTaggart reports from Pearse Park, Dunloy

There’s nothing quite like championship hurling.  It may not have been one for the purists but Cushendall and St Johns produced an epic yet titanic tussle.  In a match that was littered with mistakes, uncharacteristic errors, wides, goals, a late comeback and a late royal rumble just for good measure.  By the time referee Colum Cunning called time, there was nothing between the sides.  A draw in a game that was tied on 10 occasions as both teams live to fight another day.

Who got out of jail?  Both sides will feel like they let this one get away.  St Johns were four points up with two minutes of normal time remaining yet the Ruairi’s staged a comeback to rival that of three years ago on the same pitch.  A late major from substitute Alex Delargy brought them back into the game while fellow substitute Natty McNaughton and Neil McManus both pointed in injury time to edge Cushendall ahead.  The Johnnies dug deep though and through man of the match Ciaran Johnston they replied on each occasion from frees to snatch a draw.

Both the Johnnies and Cushendall reached double figures with their wide count, they know they’ll need to improve on that the next day out.  On a blustery afternoon at Pearse Park, the Johnnies went through three different free takers while McManus was guilty of missing a couple as well.  Uncharacteristic for the normally imperious Ruairi Og man from placed ball.  After a nip and tuck first half, St Johns seemed to find another gear in the second half with Donal Carson’s major giving them the edge for long periods of the second half.

With the game in the melting pot after St Johns were rewarded a free some 70 yards from goal after McManus had edged his side ahead once again.  After a lengthy delay, Ciaran Johnston stood alone in the middle of the pitch and nailed the sliotar over the bar.  A hectic end to an astonishing and absorbing encounter.  When the replay will be at this stage is anyone’s guess.  St Johns are involved in the senior football championship next weekend and won’t want to play Cushendall the day before.  Floodlights for hurling matches is never ideal but it may be the only option but both sides are relieved to still be in with a shout of claiming the Volunteer Cup for 2018.People1st

KCiaran Johnston goes high to win possession during a hectic period of play. Pic by John McIlwaine

Connolly's Logo copy 4It was a fast flowing start to the semi-final with both sides looking sharp from the first whistle.  The sides were tied on three occasions in the opening five minutes with Cormac McClafferty (two) and Eoghan Campbell finding the target for the Ruairi’s while Shea Shannon, Barry McFall and Conor Johnston (free) replied for the Johnnies.

Campbell’s second point of the match edged Cushendall ahead once again in the 6th minute only for Conor Johnston’s second free of the match to peg the Ruairi’s back once again with the very next attack.  Cushendall were keeping Fergus McCambridge and McClafferty on the inside forward line and giving McManus the licence to roam.  Barry McFall picked up McManus leaving Conal Morgan and Aidan McMahon to marshal McCambridge and McClafferty.  St Johns were playing more flowing hurling than Cushendall as the Ruairi’s struggled to impose their game plan.  They were reliant on some last gasp defending on a number of occasions to thwart St Johns while Conor Johnston will wonder how he didn’t find the back of Eoin Gillan’s net in the 12th minute.

Conor Johnston’s third free of the match gave the Johnnies the lead once again in the 17th minute, the first score of the game after eight minutes without.  Cushendall responded through Paddy McGill and McManus (free) before Conor Johnston pointed his first from play with 10 minutes remaining of the first half.

McManus and Conor Johnston swapped frees in the 22nd minute before the Cushendall man (free) and Shea Shannon’s second of the match left the side’s tied on 0-8 apiece with two minutes of the first half remaining.  McManus landed his fourth free of the opening 30 minutes in first half injury time to leave the Ruairi’s one point ahead at the short whistle.

The half time score line wasn’t a true reflection of the first half.  St Johns were struggling from placed ball with Conor Johnston missing twice while electing to go short on a couple of occasions.  The Corrigan Park men had looked the more cohesive team in the opening 30 minutes while Cushendall only hurled in patches, relying on pieces of individual brilliance from McManus and Campbell while Arron Graffin was showing little signs of the knee injury that had kept him on the side lines since the Feis Cup win over Loughgiel.  Graffin and Stephen Walsh were imperious if not overworked in the first half.  There’s no doubting Cushendall would have been the happier team to get into the changing rooms at Pearse Park with the score board reading in their favour.Dani's Designs logo-text

HDonal Carson celebrates after scoring a brilliant goal early in the second half


St Johns introduced Simon McCrory at the half time break for Colm McFall and after two minutes they had struck the first telling blow of the semi-final.  Donal Carson it was who smashed the sliotar beyond Gillan in the Cushendall goals but the build up play was breath taking.  It was Michael Dudley who provided the final pass for Carson but the movement and speed to create the chance was outstanding.

Cushendall’s response came through another McManus free in the 37th minute but that, incredibly, was to be the Ruairi’s last score for 16 minutes.  St Johns didn’t fare much better in the same space of time however with points from Conor Johnston and Donal Carson all they had to show for their efforts in the same space of time.  Missed frees, wides and errors blighted both sides as they wrestled for supremacy.  Cushendall looked to their bench with Alex Delargy and Natty McNaughton introduced in an attempt to spark life into their attacking unit.

The Ruairi’s almost scored the second major of the contest in the 50th minute, McManus collecting a high side line from Conor Carson before seeing his attempt heroically blocked by St Johns full back Conal Morgan.  The Cushendall man did score the resulting ’65 to take his tally to 0-6 for the match but St Johns responded with a trio of unanswered points from Peter McCallin and two Ciaran Johnston frees to give the Johnnies a five point lead with as many minutes remaining.

Cushendall dug deep to stage another comeback.  Points from McManus (free) and Natty McNaughton came either side of a major goal chance where McNaughton and Paddy Burke were denied by some last gasp St Johns defending and superb goal keeping by Simon Doherty.

Donal Carson took his tally to 1-2 for the match with two minutes of normal time remaining and it looked like the Johnnies were on the verge of taking the scalp they have threatened in recent times.  Cushendall had other ideas.  Paddy McGill’s second point of the match took the Ruairi’s to within three points before the north Antrim men scored their goal in the last minute of normal time.  Delargy getting a hold of a long delivery from McManus before crashing the sliotar to the back of the net.All Dalled Up banner

GCushendall’s Eoghan Campblee breaks clear of St John’s Ciaran Johnston and Micheal Dudley

The Johnnies would have been forgiven for casting their minds back to 2015 and when Natty McNaughton landed his second point of the match, it looked like the comeback was complete.  St John’s showed how much they’ve progressed though in the last three years.  Ciaran Johnston scored his third free of the match in the fourth minute of injury time only for McManus to split the posts with the next attack.  With tensions heightened and the game in the melting pot, players got involved in handbags that escalated.  Unsavoury scenes spreading into the crowd all while the Johnnies were awarded a chance to equalise from another placed ball.  Once calm was restored, Johnty stood over the sliotar and proved to be the calmest man on Pearse Park to split the posts with the last poc of the game.  An epic end to a tantalising contest that made up for it’s lack of quality with an abundance of passion, tension and drama.  Let’s do it all over again for another 60 minutes.


Cushendall: Eoin Gillan; Arron Graffin, Paddy Burke, Stephen Walsh; Sean Delargy, David Kearney, Francis McCurry; Eoghan Campbell, Niall McCormick; Conor Carson, Paddy McGill, Ryan McCambridge, Fergus McCambridge, Neil McManus, Cormac McClafferty

Subs: Alex Delargy for F McCurry (36); Donal McNaughton for N McCormick (42); Martin Burke for S Walsh (46)

Scorers:  Neil McManus 0-8 (5 f’s, 1 ’65); Alex Delargy 1-00; Eoghan Campbell 0-2; Paddy McGill 0-2; Cormac McClafferty 0-2; Donal McNaughton 0-2

St Johns: Simon Doherty; Stephen Tierney, Conal Morgan, Aidan McMahon; Ryan McNulty, Barry McFall, Colm McFall; Shea Shannon, Jimmy Peoples; Peter McCallin, Ciaran Johnston, Micheál Bradley; Donal Carson, Michail Dudley, Conor Johnston.

Subs: Simon McCrory for C McFall (HT); Sean Wilson for A McMahon (56); Oisin Donnelly for M Dudley (58)

Scorers:  Conor Johnston 0-5 (4 f’s); Ciaran Johnston 0-5 (4 f’s); Donal Carson 1-2; Shea Shannon 0-2; Peter McCallin 0-1; Barry McFall 0-1

Referee: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)YDylan McIlwaine presents the Man of the Match award, a Martin Hurl sponsored by Emmet Martin, to St John’s Ciaran Johnston.

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Pics by John McIlwaine