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Na Fianna go down fighting against Cushendall

Ruairí Óg's Neil McManus tangles with Tiernan Nevin of Middletown during Sunday's Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship semi-final match at Owenbeg Picture: Margaret McLaughlin 
Anthony Gillen in Owenbeg

AIB Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Ruairí Óg, Cushendall (Antrim) 1-17 Na Fianna, Middletown (Armagh) 1-9

IN THE end Cushendall did as expected and moved into the final of the Ulster Club SHC with an eight point win over Middletown at Owenbeg on Sunday, but they were really pushed for long stages by the Armagh champions.

Indeed, this game swung one way and the other inside a 60-second spell towards the end of the first half when Mark Maguire found a net for Middletown to make it a one-point game, but was then issued a straight red card by referee Eamonn Hasson for grabbing the faceguard of  Arron Graffin’s helmet.

Yes, the Orchardmen went on to take the lead and stayed there at the break, but when Cushendall moved in front again on 39 minutes with a Donal McNaughton goal the Antrim side pushed on with Middletown perhaps just running out of steam due to their numerical disadvantage.

“[The sending off] just seemed to kill us at that time although we did get a couple of scores after and had our chance,” said MIddletown assistant manager Declan McBride.

“But you have to give Cushendall the credit they are due. They’re a great team.”

The game opened with Neil McManus and Ryan Gaffney trading early scores, but Cushendall were in the ascendency in the opening stages as they moved 0--6 to 0-2 ahead at the end of the opening quarter. That lead could have been more but for some poor shooting as they drove eight balls wide in the first half.

Middletown were growing into the game with Gaffney and Cathal Carville providing the scores, while Cushendall kept them at arm’s length as the in-form Shane McNaughton and Paddy McGill kept the scoreboard ticking over. However, the outsiders roared into proceedings when Maguire caught a long delivery, shrugged off a challenge and blasted to the net to leave it 0-9 to 1-5.

However, he was to get his marching orders in the next phase of play although initially this had little impact for the Armagh outfit as two from Gaffney and another from Cathal Carville in reply to a Shane McNaughton point left Middletown 1-8 to 0-10 ahead at the half.

The nip-and-tuck theme continued after the break as McManus and Donal McNaughton pointed to nudge Cushendall ahead once again, but the game was tied with a Gaffney free.

It appeared the game could go to the wire, but the pivotal moment arrived straight after as Paddy McGill controlled a long ball and whipped on it, forcing a great save from Dean Gaffney, who made several big stops throughout the game. However, he was unfortunate this time as the ball squirmed free and dropped to Donal McNaughton who kicked home to make it 1-12 to 1-9 with 39 minutes gone.

From this point, Cushendall didn’t look back with substitute Karl McKeegan clipping over two scores, while Christy McNaughton was also on target. The Antrim champions had a great chance for a second goal on 49 when awarded a penalty after Sean McAfee was dragged down by Odhran Curry, but Neil McManus didn’t get hold of his shot and Gaffney made an easy save.

This wouldn’t have any impact however, as late scores from Ryan McCambridge and Christy McNaughton sealed Cushendall’s victory.

“Job done, but it was tough,” said Cushendall manager John McKillop.

“It was always going to be tough because they are a big, physical team. The boys stuck at it and dug deep when they needed to. It certainly wasn’t easy, but we pulled away at the end so I’m happy enough.”

Middletown can take a lot from this game and their assistant manager McBride said they will regroup and look to come back stronger.

“We are bitterly disappointed,” he said.

“We trained hard all year with this in mind, but it just didn’t happen for us on the day. We are working away at underage so we will go back and get ready to go again.”

 

MATCH STATS
Cushendall:
E Gillan; D Kearney, M Burke, A Graffin; E Campbell, R McCambridge (0-1), S Delargy; S McNaughton (0-4), P McGill (0-2); A McNaughton, N McManus (0-2), D McNaughton (1-3); C McAllister, S McAfee, C McNaughton (0-3); Subs: K McKeegan (0-2) for McAllister, E Laverty for D McNaughton, E McManus for McGill, R Delargy for McAfee, D Kinney for C McNaughton.
Middletown: D Gaffney; L Woods, P Hughes, O Curry; S Gaffney, N Curry, P Lappin; P McBride (0-1), K McKernan; M Maguire (1-0), C Carville (0-2), R Gaffney (0-6); A Toal, D Carville, T Nevin; Subs: M Moan for Toal, T Hegarty for Lappin, JJ Hughes for Hegarty, J McKernan for D Carville.
Referee: E Hassan (Derry)
Attendance: 1171

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