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Johnnies looking to finally clear semi-final hurdle and book spot in Antrim decider

'To be the best you have to beat the best' says St John's star Domhnall as the west Belfast side prepare to face county champions Dunloy in Sunday's Antrim SHC semi-final
BY PADDY TIERNEY

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Dunloy Cuchullain's v St John’s (Dunsilly, Sunday, 4.30pm, live on Pairc TV)

IT is the defeats which make the victories taste even sweeter and St John’s certainly relished their win over Loughgiel in the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship quarter-final.

Now, the challenge is even greater as they must dethrone defending champions Dunloy in tomorrow’s semi-final at Dunsilly if they are to reach their first county final since 1994’s defeat to the Cuchullain's.

In recent times, the semi-final stages have not been kind to the Whiterock side.

Cushendall had their number in the last four in the last four and even extra-time and replays failed to yield a change of fortune for St John’s.

Loughgiel ended their interest at the semi-final stage of last year’s competition. Such was their hunger and desire to get over the line, Domhnall Nugent played on into extra-time with a dislocated elbow. But, alas, the outcome was no difference to previous years as the Shamrocks claimed a 2-31 to 5-18 win in a remarkable semi-final.

The relief following their 2-21 to 1-22 win over Loughgiel at Kelly Park in Portglenone earlier this month was evident as goals in either half from Ciaran and Conor Johnston sealed a landmark victory.

Nugent says the importance of that result cannot be understated ahead of Sunday’s clash with Dunloy.

“It is nearly like having the weight of the world off our shoulders now to be honest,” said Nugent.

“Even though we’ve been knocking on the door over the last four or five years in semi-finals, we could never beat one of the big North Antrim teams.

“That was a huge win for us. We didn’t really speak about it, but it was in the back of our minds.

“The fact that we’ve got over that hurdle was great and there is a good buzz about the club now.”

Dunloy progressed straight through to the semi-final by virtue of finishing top of Group Two on scoring difference from Cushendall while St John’s were in third place.

Gregory O’Kane side scored a 2-30 to 1-26 win over the Johnnies at Corrigan Park in their final group game at the start of the month.

Nugent knows exactly what to expect in tomorrow’s rematch with both teams have a large representation on the Antrim hurling panel, but he insists St John’s won’t be fazed by the size of their task.

“To be the best you have to beat the best,” stated Nugent.

“We are happy to be playing Dunloy and are grateful to be playing in another semi-final. It is great to give people from St John’s another day out. They enjoyed the game against Loughgiel and, after the year we’ve had, it is nice to put smiles on people’s faces again. Hopefully, we can do the same again on Sunday.

“We have plenty of respect for Dunloy. At county level, we’re friends with a lot of them.

“They have maybe eight or nine players in the county panel and we’ve six or seven. We know each other well enough.

“We played each earlier this month and it was a good enough game. We’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain. There is a place in the county final at stake and we haven’t been in a county final in a while.”

Both sides are expected to be close to full strength for tomorrow’s semi-final with former Antrim star Paul Shiels likely to be included from the start having only featured as a late substitute in the game at Corrigan Park.

Dunloy aren’t exactly lacking for firepower with Eoin O’Neill, Conal Cunning and Seaan Elliott in their attack while midfielder Keelan Molloy will chip in with scores as well.

Brian McFall’s side won’t lack in that department either, but they’ll need all the breaks to go in their favour if they are to avoid yet another semi-final loss.

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