BathShack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Semi Final
Ruairi Og Cushendall V Shamrocks Loughgiel
Ruairi Og dethroned 2016 Antrim champions Loughgiel by a solitary point at a wintery Ballycastle with a performance full of bravery, effort and hard work. A final score of 0-13 to 0-12 generally indicates a dour contest but given the conditions the scoreline distorts the reality of a game that saw these two great rivals stand up and go toe to toe for the full sixty minutes. The fierce breeze blowing down Pairc McQuillan robbed the sizeable crowd of any likelihood of free flowing hurling but there was a raw, rugged beauty about how these two teams went at each other. It was hard, uncompromising stuff as players on both sides laid it all on the line.
Cushendall played into the gale in the first half and they made the perfect start when wing back David Kearney gathered possession and scythed his way through the Shamrocks defence to open the scoring. The Dall doubled their lead when Donal McNaughton used his strength to wrestle the ball from a group of players and he pointed from the right wing. Shan McGrath got Loughgiel off the mark in the eighth minute and two Barney McAuley frees saw the Shamrocks take the lead. Eoghan Campbell, named at midfield but playing the sweeper role then made light of the conditions when he played a scintillating one two with David Kearney and then pointed from distance to raise a loud cheer from the Dall support. It was then the turn of hard working Neil McManus to point to claw back the lead for Cushendall. Loughgiel knew they needed to make hay while they had the breeze at their backs but several attacks perished on Ruairi Og defensive rocks Campbell, Kearney and Ryan McCambridge. McAuley drew Loughgiel level and in the 26thminute Dan McCloskey edged his side in front. McAuley pointed two further frees to leave three between the sides as half time approached but critically for Cushendall Cormac McClafferty evaded the Loughgiel cover and his point left the score at the short whistle Loughgiel 0-7 Cushendall 0-5.
The Dall now had the aid of the strong wind but it was the Shamrocks who made the better start, sharp shooter Barney McAuley again converted a free. Cushendall got going five minutes later when Neil McManus intercepted a wayward pass and clipped over a tidy point. Loughgiel pressed forward and had a half chance of a goal but stout defending from the Burke brothers, Paddy and Martin cleared the danger area but Mark McFadden gathered the loose ball and converted a point for his team. Cushendall needed inspiration and Paddy McGill provided it when he sprung into life. Aidan McNaughton who was getting through a mountain of work fed McGill the ball and from distance he fired over. He repeated the dose three minutes later as Ruairi Og began to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Yet again McGill, now on fire, pointed after Conor Carson did the spade work. The McGill treble drew the teams level. Loughgiel were getting no change from an almost impregnable Dall rear guard and two booming long range frees from Neil McManus put Cushendall in the driving seat. Maol Connolly reduced the deficit to the minimum as the game entered the home stretch. The tension was palpable throughout the crowd. Wylie veteran Eunan McKillop, not long introduced, won the ball and ran at the Loughgiel defence where he was fouled. McManus held his nerve and converted to restore Cushendall’s two point cushion. Loughgiel threw the kitchen sink at Cushendall but a maroon and white wall repelled all comers. Dan McCloskey did get a point for Loughgiel but it wasn’t enough. After almost six minutes of nail biting injury time referee Colm Cunning blew the full time whistle and it was Cushendall who had prevailed by a single point 0-13 to 0-12.
This was another epic battle between these two storied rivals. No quarter was asked or given from the first minute until the last. It was absorbing, emotional stuff, a real war of attrition. Credit to Loughgiel who hurled like champions and never threw in the towel. However this was Cushendall’s day. Eoin Gillan was solid under the high ball on a treacherous day for a goalkeeper. In front of him Ryan McCambridge was a colossus at corner back and he looked back to his very best. Cut from granite, his power won a number of challenges he had no right to win and his lung bursting runs relieved pressure on Cushendall’s defence. Eoghan Campbell played the sweeper role brilliantly and at midfield Aidan McNaughton had his finest hour in a Ruairi Og shirt. He covered every blade of grass on the field, worked like an absolute warrior. Probably the smallest man on the pitch he threw himself into tackles with an utter disregard for his own body. A real team player, selfless. Up front Cushendall knew they could relay on the duo of the magnificent Paddy McGill and Neil McManus to get the scores. That being said every player who took the field for Cushendall worked their socks off and it took every one of them, subs included to get the team over the line. However my man of the match goes to the brilliant David Kearney who also gave his best ever performance for Cushendall. His performance had everything. He signalled his and his teams intent with the opening score. He intercepted, blocked, hooked and harried. His distribution was superb in poor conditions and he set up a number of attacks. No matter who Loughgiel sent his way to ask questions Kearney had all the answers. Sublime.
Team: 1. E Gillan 2. R McCambridge 3. M Burke(capt) 4. S Delargy 5. A Graffin 6. P Burke 7. D Kearney(0-1) 8. E Campbell 9. N McManus(0-5, 0-3fs) 10. A McNaughton 11. S McAfee 12. D McNaughton(0-1) 13. P McGill(0-4) 14. C Carson 15. C McClafferty(0-1)
Subs used: R Delargy, F McCambridge, E Laverty, E McKillop.