Brendan McTaggart reports from Fr Healy Park, Loughgiel
The old adage of goals wins games proved to be correct once again on Monday evening as Cushendall edged past Loughgiel in the Reserve Championship opener. Goals in either half from Christy McNaughton and one in the first 30 minutes from Eoin Laverty proved to be decisive as the Ruairi’s held off a late comeback from the Shamrocks.
When McNaughton bagged his second major, Cushendall took a six point lead and while the home side looked more fluent in their play, Cushendall had that knack of getting important scores at vital times. The Shamrocks could have won this one at the death however when they were awarded a penalty with the game ebbing deep into injury time. Odhran McMullan, brilliant throughout stood over the sliotar but blasted his effort just over the bar. Dominic Delargy added the finishing touches with a fine score with the last poc of the game but such was the Loughgiel dominance in the final quarter, it was the eventual winners first score for over 15 minutes but the Ruairi’s did enough to book their place in the next round.
With the rain not taking time to tare down, the conditions didn’t favour fancy hurling but credit to both teams made little of the horrendous conditions in the opening exchanges. After the opening ten minutes, the sides were tied on three points each with Michael McGarry landing three of his seven points for the match for the Shamrocks, Eoin ‘Frein’ Laverty (two) and Cormac McClafferty in reply for the Ruairi’s.
The first goal of the contest came in the 16th minute from Christy McNaughton but it was a brilliant piece of ingenuity and quick thinking that caught the Loughgiel defence on the hop. Frein stood over a free 30 yards from goal and with an easy point the expected outcome, McNaughton made a run with his team mate laying the sliotar into his path. Taking a touch, McNaughton drilled the sliotar into a back of the net while the Loughgiel defence were on their heels. A piece of quick thinking from the Ruairi’s but Loughgiel responded superbly with McGarry (free) and Aodhan McFadden raising the white flag to leave the minimum between the sides with ten minutes of the first half remaining.
Ed McQuillan and Paul Boyle traded points before Frein Laverty and Odhran Laverty swapped frees in the 23rd minute. With neither side really gaining much momentum, Cushendall landed another body blow with Frein Laverty bagging their second goal. Receiving a pass from Cormac McClafferty on his knees, Laverty pulled first day to send the sliotar high into the back of Conor Gillan’s net.
Loughgiel finished the half on top however with another huge score from Paul Boyle and a brace of frees from Odhran Laverty in response to a solitary ’65 from Frein Laverty left the Ruairi’s two points ahead at the short whistle.
Cushendall opened the scoring after the interval with Frein Laverty taking his tally to 1-4 for the match with a tidy score from an acute angle but the momentum of the game swung heavily in Cushendall’s favour in the space of barely 60 seconds in the 33rd minute. Michael McGarry had engineered a goal scoring opportunity but the angle was against him. His effort was drilled with venom but into the side netting while Cushendall broke upfield and scored their third. Christy McNaughton with the finish that turned a potential tied game into a six point lead for the Ruairi’s.
Loughgiel continued to press however and in McGarry they have an undoubted talent. His assuredness from placed ball and ability to round a defender at close quarter meant he was a constant threat and the introduction of Shan McGrath up front gave the Shamrocks another threat. Both lads contributed to three of Loughgiel’s next four points, Nicholas McNaughton with the other while Cushendall raised the white flag from Francis McCurry and Niall McCormick (two) to leave five between the sides going into the final quarter. McCormick’s second point was the Ruairi’s last for over fifteen minutes however as Loughgiel began to chip into the Cushendall lead.
A brace of frees from McGarry and Odhran McMullan along with a ’65 from Odhran Laverty brought Loughgiel to within two points going into the closing stages. As they bombarded the Cushendall defence looking for the goal that would turn the tie on its head, they were given a life line. Shan McGrath was felled inside the box and referee Paul O’Neill awarded a penalty as the game entered the second minute of time added on at the end of the hour. Odhran McMullan stood over the sliotar and while he made a sweet connection, his effort drilled over the bar much to the relief of the Ruairi’s.
Dominic Delargy scored a wonderful point from wide on the left with what proved to be the last touch of the game as Cushendall progressed to a quarter-final meeting with St Galls.
Loughgiel: Conor Gillan; Cormac Watt, Ronan Gillan, Caolan Blair; Ciaran McKay, Odhran Laverty, Conall Kerr; Paul Boyle, Declan Gillan; Odhran McMullan, Nicholas McNaughton, Ryan McKee; Michael McGarry, Cormac McFadden, Aodhan McFadden.
Scorers: Michael McGarry 0-7 (5 f’s); Odhran Laverty 0-4 (3 f’s, 1 ’65); Paul Boyle 0-2; Odhran McMullan 0-2 (1f, 1pen); Nicholas McNaughton 0-1; Aodhan McFadden 0-1; Shan McGrath 0-1.
Cushendall: Conor McAllister; Ruairi McCollam, Liam Gillan, Joseph McCurry; Francis McCurry, Stephen Walsh, Patrick Sharpe; Scott Walsh, Niall McCormick; Emmett Laverty, Dominic Delargy, Cormac McClafferty; Eoin Laverty, Christy McNaughton, Ed McQuillan.