Ballycran downed the ‘Dall 25 years ago

Ulster Club Senior Hurling final preview

Its 25 years since Cushendall and Ballycran last met in an Ulster final and on that day the Down champions come out on top with a 2-10 to 0-12 win at Casement Park. Here we reproduce Jim Smyth’s match report from the Ballymena Guardian from October 1993.

Ballycran 2-10 Cushendall 0-12

By Jim Smyth – Ballymena Guardian

Ulster Club Hurling Champions Cushendall found the dual challenge of Ballycran and a niggling injury list just too much to cope with on Sunday as they relinquished their Ulster title to a hungrier and more committed Down team who had waited 17 years to take their third provincial title at Casement Park on Sunday.

The Ards men were tight in defence, mostly in control at midfield and their forwards found easy paths through what up until now had been a very tight knit ‘Dall defence. This was probably the biggest factor in the Glensmen’s defeat. Most of their defenders seemed to have an off day at the same time and only centre-half-back Leonard McKeegan came anywhere near his own standards.

At half-time only two points separated the teams and the game was evenly balanced, but wind advantage favoured Ballycran in the second half and in the end they held on for was a deserved four point victory.

Young Barry McNaughton got the holders off to a fine start with a good point which was immediately equalised by Conor Arthurs, who gave his marker a torrid first half, and but for some poor handling the Ards men would have had a bag of scores. Cushendall’s best forward Conor McCambridge pointed a free from 55 yards, but Dermot O’Prey equalised with a similar effort which went over off the inside of the post.

That man McCambridge gave the Dall the lead for the last time on seven minutes when he robbed a Ballycran defender to grab a great score, but super combination by O’Prey, Michael Braniff and Danny Hughes saw Arthurs grab his second point, and the equaliser after ten minutes. Shortly afterwards the roof fell in on the Glensmen when Ballycran hit two goals in as many minutes to leave the champions chasing the game. The first came when Danny Hughes sideline broke to Michael Braniff and he fired the ball to the roof of Ciaran McNaughton’s net to open a three point gap. The gap was doubled two minutes later when a long Gary Savage free fell behind the ‘Dall defence for Kevin Blaney to gain possession behind Brendan McAlister and kick the ball diagonally to the corner of the ‘Dall net for a goal that was to turn out to be the vital score.

In spite of the creaking defence Cushendall were still creating chances but weak finishing lead to five wides in seven minutes when scores would have been paramount. Points from Paddy Walsh, Brian McNaughton, Jackie Carson and a from a Conor McCambridge free closed the gap to just two, but in spite of all they tried the champions just could not get that vital goal as the Down defence tackled, harried and blocked heroically.

With three minutes to the break Sean Mallon and McCambridge swapped points and goalkeeper extraordinaire Noel Keith came to Ballycran’s rescue with a good stop from a Danny McNaughton shot to send his team in at the break with a 2-4 to 0-8 lead.

On the restart Sean McKeegan replaced an off form Alastair McGuile for Cushendall. Kevin Blaney gave Ballycran a dream start with a brace of points in the first two minutes and though McCambridge pulled a point back from a free it was clear the champions were struggling to find any rhythm. Their supporters were justifiably aggrieved with Offaly referee Padraig Horan when a great Conor McCambridge run came to nothing, in spite of the fact that he should have had a free as a chasing defender could nothing but throw his stick at him as he strode away.

Mark McCambridge hit a grand point from 70 yards to reduce the leeway to two, but the impressive Danny Hughes replied immediately as play swung from end to end as it became obvious that the next couple of scores would be crucial. These fell to the Ards men and O’Prey found the target from a 65 and Hughes pointed following a great run with twenty minutes to go.

Amazingly this was to be Ballycran’s last score in normal time as the ‘Dall threw everything into saving their title. But the Ards defence held firm with goalkeeper Keith bringing off save after save, while some very weak finishing also contributed to the very low scoring rate. Two fine points by the impressive McCambidge left just a goal in it with ten minutes remaining, but the scores simply wouldn’t come. Danny McNaughton was particularly unlucky to see his angled shot flashing wide after being set up by a great run by Leonard McKeegan

A goal here would have levelled proceedings but it was not to be and the Down men finished stronger with two wides in the final minute. The final point came from Peter Braniff two minutes into injury time to leave the ecstatic black and ambers deserved Ulster champions for the third time.

Overall it was a reasonable game of hurling with captain Dermot Woods running Noel Keith close as Ballycran’s best defender, with Danny Hughes and Kevin Blaney causing most danger up front. As for the ‘Dall it was one of those days when right. Too many injuries. Too many players having an off day. Ciaran McNaughton had a sound game in goals with Leonard McKeegan the pick of a very ragged defence. Paddy Walsh and Mark McCambridge were forced to play second fiddle to O’Prey and McCarthy at midfield while Barry McNaughton offered Conor McCambridge most support in the forward department.

Scorers –

Ballycran –  K Blaney 1-2); M Braniff (1-0); D O’Prey (0-2 frees); D Hughes (0-2), C Arthurs (0-2); S Mallon 0-1; P Braniff 0-1.

Cushendall – C McCambridge (0-7, 4 frees); B McNaughton 0-2; M McCambridge 0-1; P Walsh 0-1; J Carson 0-1)

BALLYCRAN – N Keith, S McAree, P Dorian, H Torney, G Savage, B Hughes, D Woods, D O’Prey, J McCarthy, C Arthurs, M Braniff, S Mallon, M Blaney, K Blaney.

Subs – P Braniff for K Blaney; H Gilmore for C Arthurs

CUSHENDALL – Ciran McNaughton, Brendan McAlister, Aidan McAteer, Ciaran McCambridge, Declan McKillop, Leonard McKeegan, James McNaughton, Mark McCambridge, Paddy Walsh, Conor McCambrdge, John Carson, Danny McNaughton, Alastair McNaughton, Alastair McGuile.

Subs – Sean McKeegan for McGuile

Referee – Padraig Horan (Offaly).02388935The Cushendall 3-in-a-row team who won Antrim titles in 1991, 92 and 93, but their bid for three Ulster titles in a row was halted by Ballycran in 1993.

 

Gillan: “It was a tough game but we looked in command for a lot of it.”

Managers View – Eamon Gillan, Cushendall

By Brendan McTaggart

“Expected nothing less.  It turned out we had a bit to spare in the end but they kept chipping and chipping.  The goal was huge for us and we pushed on from there.  It was a tough game but we looked in command for a lot of it.”  The immediate reaction from Cushendall manager Eamon Gillan to his sides three point win over Loughgiel on Sunday afternoon.

After a decent start by the Ruairi’s, Loughgiel looked to edging the game until Paddy Burke landed the first goal.  Gillan told us the experience of the previous two final defeats helped them regain control while the momentum gathered from the two matches against St Johns proved pivotal: “The guys were really up for it.  They were bouncing before going out.  Maybe it was losing the last two, I don’t know.  Last year, a different opposition but they felt like they didn’t so themselves justice.  In the end, they lost the match, deservedly in the end but they used that for this year.

“I think the extra game against St Johns didn’t do us any harm.  It was tough, tough matches.  You know, people haven’t given St Johns the credit they deserve but it played into our hands.  They were tough games, we got over the line, albeit just but it definitely stood to us.”

In a gritty hour of hurling when scores and space were scarce, Gillan singled out two individuals when adding: “Natty was superb in the first half.  Knocked over two or three great scores at a time when a point was a big score.

“Eoghan Campbell was outstanding for a man who is carrying a broken bone.  We got a special cover for it but he played through the pain threshold.  The only time he was in pain was when he actually hit the ball.  The pain isn’t there when his arm’s in a natural position but he covered some ground.

“He’s a great hurler.  The perfect sweeper.  I know they pushed up on him in the second half and we lost our momentum for maybe a ten minute period but we were expecting them to do it earlier than that.”

The Cushendall manager reserved praise for his native club when he concluded: “Loughgiel aren’t a bad side.  They’re a good side but they just lost that wee bit of momentum today and lost a bit of composure but let me tell you something, they’re still a good outfit and to be respected.”

“They won’t be far away again next year.  I think the championship will be something similar next year which is only good for Antrim hurling but therein lays the problem.  How can you get this transferred into the county set up?”  The conundrum that has faced the Antrim hurling management teams for the better part of 30 years but for now Gillan was a happy man leaving Páirc MacUílin having finally tasted success as a manager on senior final day after two previous defeats in the decider.

Johnny Campbell – “Most of the game was played on Cushendall’s terms.”

Managers View

Johnny Campbell, Loughgiel

By Brendan McTaggart

Stood waiting in the Ballycastle changing rooms for what felt like an eternity, the Shamrock players made their way out to face the reality of it all after Sunday’s final.  The realisation of defeat in a championship final just gets worse with every passing hour and the Loughgiel men were suffering.  Every one of them looked pained.  The type of pain that only comes from a defeat in the final to your fiercest rivals.

Loughgiel manager Johnny Campbell was one of the last to leave the changing rooms.  You could tell he couldn’t see us far enough but faced up to the waiting media.  The pain of a final loss etched over his face yet the Shamrocks manager was magnanimous in defeat: “There’s no question about it, the better team won.  Most of the game was played on Cushendall’s terms and we couldn’t get our players into the game and that makes the difference on big days.”  Campbell continued: “Whether that was down to us or how they went about their work, I’m not sure but we didn’t win too many individual battles all over the pitch for us to get anything going.”

The Shamrocks made a promising start to Sunday’s final, twice opening a two point lead at 0-4 0-2 and 0-7 0-5 before Cushendall landed the first major blow of the match and scored the opening goal.  Campbell acknowledged the significance of Paddy Burke’s goal, adding: “It was always going to be nip and tuck but goals win games is the cliché and it proved to be the case.

“We lost individual battles around the middle third and they capitalised and supported each other better than we did and it’s something that we set out to do but they were better than us.”

It was a double whammy for the Shamrocks, their minors losing out in a titanic battle with Dunloy in the curtain raiser while suffering their first defeat in the decider since 2008, the last of the six finals lost in succession.  Once they get to the decider, they have an inner belief and knowhow of the big occasion that drives them to getting the job done but on Sunday they came up short.  Campbell told us that the Shamrocks will be back for another tilt in 2019 while keeping an eye on the talent coming through the ranks at Fr Healy Park: “Hopefully but I’m sure Dunloy will have something to say about that too.  It was a good championship this year, unfortunately it wasn’t the right result for us.

“St Johns have entered the fray now as well and I hope that once the boys have a rest they’ll be back out and at it next year again with hopefully a couple added out of the minor panel into the mix too.

“Loughgiel will be about for the next few years and will be competitive but time will tell.”

Natty: “We’ll celebrate but we’ll regroup and come back to get a look at Ballycran.”

By Brendan McTaggart

Donal ‘Natty’ McNaughton is one of the most under-rated stars of the Ruairi Og’s.  It was his introduction in the first match against St Johns that helped to turn the tide for Cushendall while starring in the replay.  On Sunday he put in another gargantuan performance.

The relief, joy and ecstasy was clearly visible as the 33 year old stood for photographs with his three children holding the Volunteer Cup.  The Ruairi Og forward gave us his initial thoughts on his side reclaiming the Antrim championship on Sunday: “I thought the whistle would never blow.

“We got a good start but we seemed to hit a lull.  In the end up it was tit for tat to get over the line.

“It was another gritty and determined performance.”

The easiest commodity carried in sport is momentum.  Once a team have it, they become hard to stop.  When a team like Cushendall have that, you get an end result like Sunday.  Natty gave us his thoughts: “We got on a good roll from the St John’s games and the momentum kept going.  We never say die and we kept fighting.  There was no big scores out there today, it was a battling performance.

“That’s what you look for.  Big heavy challenging matches, it keeps you going.  It keeps the momentum going and I know they got a break and Loughgiel said they were happy with the extra week but I wouldn’t look at it that way.  I’d rather play through the niggle with the momentum.  Winning gets rid of niggles better than any week off.”

Natty was too hot for the Loughgiel defence to handle in the opening half on Sunday, scoring three points from three shots in the opening 30 minutes while in the second half he put in another monumental performance, covering every inch of the Páirc MacUílín pitch tackling, chasing, harassing and doing whatever it took to get his team over the line.  Natty added: “I had it in my head before the game but the main one was composure.  If I did get the chance I had to be sure, be clinical.  I think I had three shots and three scores, I had to make sure any of the chances I got I stuck them over.”

The swing in momentum from Cushendall’s first goal was game defining.  It gave the Ruairi’s the lead for the first time in the final at a time when Loughgiel were starting to find their rhythm.  Natty agreed that their first major came at an opportune time, although from the most unlikely of sources as he joked wondering why his captain was 80 yards out of position: “We said the same thing in the St Johns game.  He went into block a ball to get a goal but we’ll not hear the end of this from Paddy Burke now.”

Cushendall now prepare for an Ulster final meeting with Down champions Ballycran.  Natty commented on the ‘Cran’s result over Slaughtneil when adding: “That’s a big, big result for Ballycran and fair play to them but we weren’t looking any further than this match today.  We literally take one game at a time.  We looked at Loughgiel, we won today and we’ll celebrate but we’ll regroup and come back to get a look at Ballycran.”

McNaughton had been contemplating retirement at the end of last season and refused to comment if he would be around the Ruairi’s squad to add to his healthy collection of six Antrim championships: “I don’t know, that’s up for debate but I’ll enjoy this one for now.”

Roy of the Rovers stuff from McManus

Saffron Gael contributor and Cushendall fan Colum Thompson felt the need to put ‘pen to paper’ to share his thoughts on the Ruairi Og win.

It was an absolute war of attrition, a slug fest, two heavyweights standing toe to toe throwing hay makers from start to finish. No quarter asked or given, no compromise. Loughgiel don’t lose championship finals, you have to turn up and beat them and that is what Cushendall did. It was every bit as tight as the pundits predicted, could have gone either way but critically at the crucial times in the game Ruairi Og stood tall.

The two Burke brothers hurled the shirts off their backs and Aaron Graffin gave yet another epic display. Eoghan Campbell, four weeks after breaking his wrist against St. Johns, made a Lazarus type comeback and controlled the game like an NFL quarterback. Alex Delargy’s ability to hurl defies logic and science, small in stature but a giant on the field, how he emerges from rucks with the ball in hand is beyond me.                                Donal McNaughton, a veteran with eighteen years service under his belt hit three magnificent points and Conor Carson made Paddy Burke’s goal and contributed 1-1 himself. But the vital contribution, that special something that every team needs to get over the line was provided by the imperious Neil McManus.

His contribution from open play over the hour was immense, he was untouchable. Yes he missed a few frees, it would have affected a mere mortal and you would have understood if he had regressed into himself. But Neil McManus is made of stronger stuff than that. With nine minutes to go a ball fell from the heavens, McManus rose into the blue sky and ripped the ball from the clouds, broke a tackle and pointed from way over near the side-line. In the dying embers of the game Loughgiel, three down needed a goal to rescue the game. They threw everything including the kitchen sink at Cushendall but the maroon wall was impregnable. The Shamrocks sent two high balls that dropped under the Dall crossbar, both landed in McManus’s big left hand and were cleared to safety. For me those three moments were the difference between the teams. It was Roy Of The Rovers stuff.

Senior 6Loughgiel’s James McNaughton

You have to spare a thought for Loughgiel. They are worthy adversaries who always give their best and don’t know when they are beat. Damon McMullan is a magnificent hurler who led by example, county material for sure. In James McNaughton they have unearthed a real gem this year and I have no doubt he will provide the fulcrum of their team for the next ten years. With a marquee forward like him they will always be there or there abouts. Those two stars on the back of their shirts represent something special, something that the rest of us dream about. They have set the standard for Ulster hurling that we all aim to match. It was a tough day for them loosing both finals but their minors made a massive contribution to two epic battles with Dunloy and their seniors were typically unyielding as well. There is no shame in defeat when you stand up and give your all.

But for now The Volunteer Cup is back in Cushendall and we have an Ulster Final against Ballycran to look forward to. These are special moments in our lives, as the great Buff Egan says “Drink it in mannn!!!”