Dunloy break Cushendall's resistance to claim county championship title
Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship final: Cuchullain’s Dunloy 3-16 Ruairi Og, Cushendall 2-15
IT took them a long time to break Cushendall’s renowned resistance – but when they did there was no argument about the outcome. It’s the second time in three years Cuchullain’s Dunloy have had their name etched onto the coveted Volunteer Cup at the expense of defending champions Cushendall.
Dunloy trailed the Ruairi Ogs at half-time in the 2017 final and they did so again yesterday – but Gregory O’Kane’s fabulous attacking unit produced the goods when it mattered.
Two late goals in the 58th and 60th minutes from substitute Seaan Elliott finally slayed the champions even though Christy McNaughton replied with a major in the dying seconds.
Everywhere you looked in the Dunloy attack there was a flying machine.
The Cushendall defence did well to contain them for so long but when the game opened up in the second half, Dunloy mined their scores a little easier.
Thrust into yesterday’s absorbing decider in the 40th minute, Elliott left Cushendall’s Fred McCurry in his wake before bearing down the centre of the pitch and slamming the ball past the impressive Conor McAllister in goal to put Dunloy 2-15 to 1-14 ahead.
Neil McManus, who produced another brilliant performance in the maroon jersey, responded with a free a minute later to reduce the deficit to three points but seconds later Elliott flicked home his second three-pointer at the second attempt.
The Dunloy supporters went wild. Not even Cushendall’s legendary powers of recovery could countenance coming back from six points down as the game slipped into stoppage-time.
There were a couple of turning points for Dunloy yesterday.
With the very real prospect of going in at the break four points down, Nigel Elliott fired low into Cushendall’s net in first-half stoppage-time to leave the scores at 1-9 to 1-8.
And just after the restart Ryan Elliott made a super reflex save to deny Cushendall’s full-forward Paddy McGill.
This fine piece of goalkeeping went some way in compensating for his uncharacteristic error that gifted Cushendall a goal after just 16 minutes.
Fergus McCambridge aimed for a point off his left but his effort landed short, but Elliott fumbled the ball and the Ruairi Ogs found themselves in an unlikely 1-3 to 0-4 lead.
McManus kept turning the screw in the opening half, hitting five points (0-4 frees) while Dunloy saw their wide tally climb to nine before the interval.
But Conal ‘Koby’ Cunning settled the Cuchullian’s with three converted frees in the opening five minutes of the second half before midfielder and former county ace Paul Shiels sent over a wonderful score to tie the game 1-12 apiece on 41 minutes.
Cushendall’s problem all season has been their over-reliance on Neil McManus for winning balls and getting scores.
Paddy McGill and Alex Delargy had good moments in the Cushendall attack yesterday and hit a point apiece, but they were generally tied up well by the Dunloy full-back line.
Fergus McCambridge and Niall McCormick chipped in with scores but at the other end of the field Dunloy just had a bit more magic dust about them.
Cunning may have missed the target three times in the first half but his radar was exceptional in the second half.
Keelan Molloy, another fleet-footed forward in the Dunloy mould, finished his afternoon with three points from open play. Nigel Elliott posted 1-1 and was a thorn in Cushendall’s side all afternoon while Eoin O’Neill was lively throughout.
Cushendall continued to be dogged until Dunloy broke for home in the closing stages.
Arron Graffin defied his season-long injury woes to offer great leadership to the Ruairi Og backline as did Eoghan Campbell and Martin and Paddy Burke – but there were just too many holes to plug in the second half.
Dunloy weren’t going to be denied in the second half when Keelan Molloy equalised to make it 1-14 to 1-14 with 10 minutes remaining.
And just when the Cushendall defence was showing signs of fatigue Seaan Elliott finished the defending champions off with two fine goal finishes.
Dunloy are the kings of the Glens again. No-one can mount a serious argument to the contrary.
Ulster is up next, where they will face Down champions Ballycran, but it's a competition they seem better equipped than 2017.
Cuchullains Dunloy: R Elliott; P Duffin, C McKinley, A Crawford; E Smyth, K McKeague, R McGarry; P Shields (0-1), R Molloy; K Molloy (0-3), C Brogan, N Elliott (1-1); E O’Neill (0-1), C Cunning (0-9, 0-7 frees) , N McKeague (0-1) Subs: C Kinsella for A Crawford (34), S Elliott (2-0) for N McKeague (40), S Dooey for C Brogan (53), G McTaggart for R Molloy (56)
Yellow card: C Kinsella (39)
Ruairi Og, Cushendall: C McAllister; M Burke, P Burke, S Delargy; F McCurry, E Campbell (0-1), S Walsh; N McCormick (0-1), S Walsh; N McManus (0-10, 0-7 frees), F McCambridge (1-1), R McCambridge; A Graffin, P McGill (0-1), A Delargy (0-1) Subs: D McNaughton for Scott Walsh (42), C McNaughton (1-0) for S Delargy (49), E McKillop for A Graffin (57), D Delargy for F McCambridge (59)
Yellow card: N McManus (47), P McGill (63)
Referee: C McDonald