Antrim's country big guns contest hurling semi-finals
Ballycastle v Dunloy (Saturday, Cushendall, 5pm)
IN recent years, McQuillan’s have held the upper hand over Cuchullian’s in championship hurling, winning a semi-final in 2015 before repeating the trick at the quarter-final stage last year, but things have changed somewhat this year.
Having lost a number of players for a variety of reasons including work and travel, ‘The Town’ were somewhat understrength and this reflected in their league position as they struggled and despite a late revival, were ultimately relegated.
Their fate was sealed when losing to Rossa, but they would run into the west Belfast side two weeks later in Dunloy in a Championship quarter-final.
In what was a low-scoring, war-of-attrition type of game, a wasteful Rossa literally paid the penalty when Ciaran Butler was adjudged to have been pulled down and Ciaran Clarke netted the resultant penalty to the net to help Gabriel Crawford’s side snatch a win.
In an interesting twist to this game, Crawford is a Dunloy native and will be hoping to plot the downfall of his former club and will be hoping that win over Rossa will inject belief into his side who can prove a handful with Clarke, Matthew Donnelly and Neal McAuley all providing vast experience, but there will be no Saul McCaughan who is no longer part of the panel.
Dunloy will enter this game in a different mindset than in previous years given the progress they have made.
Gregory O’Kane’s side enjoyed a good league campaign, finishing just one point behind champions, Loughgiel and seem to be carrying an added dimension to their game this term.
They enjoyed a couple of victories over today’s opponents in the league and have had the benefit of a good test in their quarter-final against St John’s. The city club asked questions of Cuchullian’s two weeks ago, but they found an answer with goals from Conal Cunning and Eoin O’Neill helping them pull away in the later stages.
Both players are pivotal in the forward line as-well-as the vastly talented Keelan Molloy, while the experience and class of Paul Shiels and Conor McKinley helps backbone the team.
That extra bit of quality should see them get over the line.
Loughgiel v Cushendall (Sunday, Ballycastle, 3.30pm)
THE attention moves to Ballycastle tomorrow at 3.30pm (switched from Dunloy due to a bereavement) with a repeat of last year’s final.
It has been the proverbial tug-of-war for dominance between these two in recent times.
Ruairi Og were aiming for their third title in-a-row last year, but Loughgiel had other ideas, winning the final on a wet day by three to claim the bragging rights once more.
This year, it has been Johnny Campbell’s Shamrocks who have held the slight upper hand over their fierce rivals, taking the league title thanks to a wafer-thin head-to-head record while they also won this year’s Feis at the expense of the Ruairis.
All that will matter little come throw-in tomorrow, however, as both sides will be fully expecting another epic tussle that will most likely go to the wire.
Both had routine quarter-final wins. Loughgiel made light work of Creggan and apart from Cathal McMullan and long-term absentee, James Campbell, the Shamrocks have a full hand to choose from.
That includes the returning Maol Connolly who is one of a number of the fresher faces of the squad that still has plenty of the old guard who brought them All-Ireland glory back in 2012 – including Eddie McCloskey and captain, Shay Casey.
DD Quinn’s restarts have been a huge platform for them to build over the years as he can put his side on the offensive with one of his deadly accurate puck-outs.
Cushendall will have their homework done on how to combat this, however, and they will look to get their match-ups right to take the sting out of the Loughgiel attack.
Arron Graffin’s name on their teamsheet automatically gives Phillip Campbell’s side a boost, but he has plenty of support in the back through Paddy Burke and Ryan McCambridge.
In attack, the man of the moment is Cormac McClafferty, who bagged an incredible 5-4 in their quarter-final win over Cloughmills, while Neil McManus will punish any frees Loughgiel cough up.
There is no love lost between these teams, but with such fine margins, whoever keeps their discipline could be the team that heads to the final.