Cushendall back in the warmth of that winning feeling

Neil McManus brings the trophy back to his Cushendall team-mates.
Neil McManus brings the trophy back to his Cushendall team-mates. Neil McManus brings the trophy back to his Cushendall team-mates.

AIB Ulster Senior Club Hurling Championship final: Cushendall 0-20 Slaughtneil 2-10 

AMIDST the warm cocoon of his community and with babe-in-arms, Neil McManus’s icy breath fills the sky as he gleefully ignores the impatient calls to come and collect the trophy. 

At the fifth attempt a steward drags him away but just as he reaches the stand, he turns and heads back in to retake possession of wee Aoibhin, taking his daughter up the steps with him. 

The piece of tin waiting for him is so utterly unimportant. 

It is about that irreplaceable feeling that cannot be copied, and on which winning owns a worldwide patent. 

It is about being wrapped in the warmth of those congratulatory hugs, to give your own people the smiles and have them given back to you. 

Nothing matches it. 

When he took possession of the microphone, the Cushendall captain gave the kind of speech that makes post-match speeches worth keeping. Every word, from praising Slaughtneil as the team they’ve chased to dedicating their victory once more to the late wee John McKillop, was just utterly genuine. 

That word, genuine, kind of summed up this game. 

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Almost completely devoid of any form of histrionics, it was unflinchingly raw and honest. 

Even though they were far from at their best, Slaughtneil still managed to take the Antrim champions to the wire. 

They’ve redrawn the traditional borders of Ulster hurling in the last decade and in doing so, they’d turned up every day bar the one where Ballycran battered them in Corrigan. 

This was the second such day. They were just off, the slickness of their short game missing, and Cushendall punished it. 

There can be no question over the merits of Brian Delargy’s side’s victory. 

For 15 minutes in the middle of the first half, they wobbled. They had been 0-4 to 0-1 up but Eamon Cassidy’s brilliantly-taken goal left them 1-5 to 0-4 behind. 

Slaughtneil had rained ball down on Eoghan Campbell’s land in the first quarter but when they got him dragged out of it, Brendan Rogers looked like he might take the rare scalp of Paddy Burke. 

Then Burke got booked and out of necessity, started to step more sure-footed on the tightrope. 

Ryan McCambridge seemed to have a body double, such was his early involvement. Neil McManus was struggling to shake off Chrissy McKaigue but the longer the game went on, the more that battle tipped definitively in McManus’ favour. 

Those are the stars with which we’re all familiar but both clubs showed that a big part of the reason they were here is because they’ve unearthed some new ones. 

Ed McQuillan was given the man of the match award ahead of a clutch of contenders. Ronan McAteer notched two fine points and a handful of other big plays. 

In all truth, is there a more talented schoolboy hurler in Ireland than Joe McLaughlin? 

The Garron Tower student had to earn his corn off Paul McNeill. It took him time to settle too but the composure with which he robbed Ruairi Ó Mianáin and nonchalantly sealed the win in stoppage time was a mark of how at home he came to look. 

When the teams went in separated by a single point at half-time, 0-10 to 1-6, the talk was of settling in for the long haul. 

But Cushendall’s third quarter was so dominant, so emphatic, so energetic that they pulled away. Two, three, four, five, six up they went with Slaughtneil failing to score until the 46th minute. 

In the unquantifiables of victory, is there something in it that so much of the action seemed to happen right in front of the packed main stand? 

Little moments like forcing Meehaul McGrath out over the sideline right between the two dugouts. McGrath was Slaughtneil’s best player and so that became a psychological victory.  

The Cushendall crowd went wild with it, pouring the energy into their players’ tanks.  

0-15 to 1-6, fifteen scores to seven, came to reflect how the game had panned out. 

The eleven weeks since their Derry final win, able to just one challenge game five weeks ago in between, came to show on the Emmet’s. 

When they played short in defence, they began to play themselves into trouble. The Cushendall forwards were spritely in their chasing and disrupted the delivery, allowing Eoghan Campbell to pick off so much of the supply. 

Gerald Bradley starting inside felt like a compliment to Cushendall’s full-back line, as though Slaughtneil had to throw a big hitter in there to try and hurt them. Bradley was the one ended up hurt though, forced off after 22 minutes after going down in his own goalmouth.  

It was his replacement, Shea Cassidy, whose brilliant solo goal five minutes from time acted as a lifejacket. 

He danced in off the left wing, looking for the pass having already taken the ball in his hand twice, but when it didn’t come, he took the shot off the hurl and beat Conor McAllister down low. 

Slaughtneil struggled all day to get decent possession from a forward line that looked sparsely populated, their deep-lying half-forward division a ploy to create space inside only to see it filled by a line of maroon jerseys. 

got the gap down to three and they started to come in waves. Sean Cassidy took it upon himself to start charging up the middle. Brendan Rogers began chasing causes no matter how lost they seemed. 

But it was all too late. Cushendall had enough command of it to get by.

McManus won frees and took the sting out of spells for them, firing one fine score from play when he dummied on to his left. Scott Walsh off his left, Ed McQuillan when a goal looked on, Fergus McCambridge from right in front of the stand again, they always had enough. 

They get just two weeks before they have to face O’Loughlin Gaels. Ulster will be toasted but fairly quickly and quietly, for they have designs on more. 


Cushendall: C McAllister; L Gillan, P Burke, M Burke; S Walsh (0-1), E Campbell (0-1), R McCollam; F McCurry, R McCambridge; R McAteer (0-2), N McManus (0-8, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65), F McCambridge (0-1); E McQuillan (0-4), N McCormack, J McLaughlin (0-3) 

Subs: A Delargy for N McCormack (48) 

Slaughtneil: O O’Doherty; P McNeill, S Cassidy; K McKaigue; Shane McGuigan (0-2), R Ó Mianáin, C McKaigue, M McGrath; J Cassidy, E Cassidy (1-0); M McGuigan (0-1), C O’Doherty (0-4 frees), Sé McGuigan (0-1); G Bradley, B Rogers (0-1) 

Subs: Shea Cassidy (1-0) for G Bradley (22), J McGuigan for E Cassidy (41), P McCullagh (0-1) for M McGuigan (48) 

Referee: J Clarke (Cavan)