Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship
Cushendall 3-14 Loughgiel 2-16
Brendan McTaggart reports from Pairc Mac Uilin, Ballycastle
As the clock ticked into the last minute of the hour in Ballycastle, Cushendall looked like they had the job done. Eight points ahead, three minutes of injury time to come and the Ruairi’s could have been forgiven for thinking on the decider.
Loughgiel had other ideas. Two goals from Rian McMullan and Maol Connolly either side of a point from James McNaughton left Cushendall hoping for the sharp shrill of Colm McDonald’s whistle. It eventually came as the Ruairi’s booked their place in their first decider since 2019 but they were pushed all the way by a Loughgiel side who will feel like they left this one behind them.
That being said, some of the play from Cushendall was scintillating. Moreso in the second half when they looked to cut loose on a number of occasions. The passing for their second and third goals was sublime and impossible to defend against. Vision, craft, running off the shoulder and sharp finishes. It had the Ruairi’s faithful in Pairc Mac Uilin purring.
In a first half where both sides really cancelled each other out, Cushendall were reliant on Neil McManus for their scores. The Ruairi’s talisman fired over their opening six points (four frees) while Loughgiel did the majority of the early running. With Maol Connolly busy in attack and Christy McGarry causing plenty of problems for the Ruairi’s, Eddie McCloskey and James McNaughton pulling the strings, the Shamrocks looked like they had more scoring options. A stream of early wides from the Shamrocks looked like it would take the sting out of their challenge but by the time James McNaughton fired over his third point of the tie, Loughgiel has opened a two point lead with six minutes of the first half remaining.
The Ruairi’s had that lead halved before scoring the opening goal of the game. McManus gathering the sliotar and finding substitute Fred McCurry in space. He passed the sliotar to Sean McAfee and he made no mistake despite the close attentions of Chris O’Connell.
Ryan McCambridge and McNaughton (free) swapped scores before the short whistle to leave Cushendall two clear at the half way mark.
In a half where both sides flattered to deceive, neither really took control of the contest. Both hit wides that were out of character but Cushendall just made less mistakes to edge the opening half.
With an air of anticipation still rumbling around Pairc Mac Uilin, the game was well in the melting pot. Shan McGrath and McManus (free) swapped white flags but the Shamrocks began to misfire. McManus and McAfee split the posts either side of Maol Connolly’s 39th minute point before Cushendall put daylight between the sides with their second major. A brilliant move involving Niall McCormick, Paddy McGill and McAfee before Alex Delargy hit the back of Eoin Gillan’s net.
Six points separated the sides and Loughgiel looked to the bench with Rian McMullan, Enda Og McGarry and Rian McKee all being introduced with a positive impact. Loughgiel bgean to dominate the middle third and with Connolly taking over the free-taking duties, he fired over before McMullan scored with his first touch since coming off the bench. The Shamrocks couldn’t make the most of their dominance however with four wides and a free dropping short before McManus fired over for Cushendall’s first score for nine minutes.
Loughgiel were thrown a life line when Liam Gillan saw red for a second yellow card. Referee McDonald booking Gillan for bringing Eddie McCloskey to the ground when he had the Cushendall goal in his sights. Connolly converted the resulting free to leave five between the sides.
Substitute Christy McNaughton fired over either side of points from McMullan and Rian McKee before he would score the Ruairi’s third major. Another brilliant move resulted in McNaughton in space and while O’Connell got his hurl to the sliotar, he couldn’t stop it from crossing the line.
With their championship hopes hanging in the balance, Loughgiel rolled the dice one more time. Their first goal came from a piece of quick thinking by Connolly from a free. Playing a one-two with Eddie McCloskey, they found McMullan in space and he hammered the sliotar to the back of the net. James McNaughton followed it up with his fourth point of the semi final in the first minute of injury time.
Another quick free from ‘keeper O’Connell this time found Eddie McCloskey. His effort was stopped but the Shamrock’s recycled and Connolly was in the right place at the right time.
But time had ran out for the Shamrocks. They couldn’t muster another opportunity to take the tie to extra time and Cushendall held on. A gripping end to another titanic battle between these two giants of the game with the Ruairi’s taking the honours.
Loughgiel: C O’Connell; T Coyle, T McCloskey, Ronan McCloskey; C Blair, D McCloskey, Rory McCloskey; D McCloskey, J McNaughton (0-4 3f); P Boyle, E McCloskey, D McKinley; C McGarry (0-2), M Connolly (1-4 2f), S McGrath (0-2)
Subs: Shay Casey for D McCloskey (46); Rian McKee (0-1) for R McCloskey (44); Rian McMullan (1-2) for D McKinley (44); Enda Og McGarry for R McCloskey (49)
Cushendall: E Gillan; L Gillan, P Burke, M Burke; S Walsh, E Campbell, M Donaghy; A Delargy (1-00), R McCambridge (0-1); D Delargy, S McAfee (1-1), N McCormick; A McNaughton, N McManus (0-10 6fs), P McGill
Subs: Ronan McAteer for M Donaghy (14); Fred McCurry for D Delargy (23); Christy McNaughton (1-2) for P McGill (44); Fergus McCambridge for S McAfee (54); Shane McKenna for C McNaughton (inj)
Referee: Colm McDonald (St Galls)