Hurling and camogie

Cushendall get Antrim title defence underway

Eoghan Campbell 
Anthony Gunning

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship

THE Antrim Senior Hurling Championship kicks into gear this weekend with four intriguing quarter-finals. All-Ireland finalists, Cushendall begin the defence of their title as the three-in-a-row chasing Ruairi Ogs take on Creggan at Ballymena this evening (6.30pm).

Philip Campbell is at the helm this year and his side has started to hit top form, posting some impressive scores in the league as they prepare to face last year’s intermediate champions who have struggled in Division Two this year.

“Many people might be expecting us to win but we know Creggan have some really good hurlers so we are expecting a tough test,” said Campbell.

“If we go into this game with the right attitude, then we can compete. It’s all about attitude and work-rate.”

Cushendall will be without three key players with Arron Graffin, Neil McManus and Shane McNaughton either in Australia or the United States, but the All-Ireland finalists still have plenty of quality with Ryan McCambridge, Eoghan Campbell, Sean McAfee and Christy McNaughton all stepping up after their run to Croke Park in March.

“We are really starting to see the benefits of that AllIreland campaign now,” added Campbell.

“We are starting to get a bit of depth in the squad and we won the U21 and reserve championships this year.

“But I don’t believe in favourites.

“Matches aren’t won in a bookies or a pub. You can judge form, but you can’t judge how a fella sleeps the night before or if he wakes up and the legs are a bit heavy. We’ll just go out and give it our best and see where that takes us on the day.”

Creggan do possess some fine hurlers, with Conor McCann, Thomas McCann and Conor Small all well capable of making inroads, but Cushendall are taken to advance. In the first part of today’s doubleheader at Ballymena, Loughgiel face St Gall’s in a repeat of last year’s quarterfinal meeting between the sides (throw in 4.30pm).

Loughgiel will enter the game as favourites, but then 12 months ago they were strongly fancied and found themselves four points adrift at the break before finally putting the west Belfast men away.

Johnny Campbell will have plenty of seasoned campaigners to call upon including county players Odhran McFadden and Eddie McCloskey, but they will be without rising star James McNaughton who misses out with an ankle injury.

St Gall’s do possess real quality with Jackson McGreevy, Tomás Ó Ciaran and Kieran McGourty on song and could well push Loughgiel close once again, but the Shamrocks should edge through. Tomorrow at Hannahstown (2pm) is the meeting of city rivals, Rossa and St John’s.

Last year the Johnnies were minutes away from defeating Cushendall in the quarter-finals before a late rally saw them pipped, but they have fallen away badly this year, suffering relegation from Division One.

They will be without Ciaran and Conor Johnston who are travelling, but can call upon Simon McCrory, Michael Bradley and Michael Dudley for inspiration.

Rossa have scored two big wins over their rivals this season and seem to be a team on the rise, but Jim Close will sweat on the fitness of Christopher McGuinness and Conor McClelland.

However, they have looked a team on the rise this year with Stephen Beatty, Michael Armstrong, Deaghlan Murphy and Stephen Shannon all on form and they are taken to reach the last four.

The final game of the weekend takes place in Dunloy tomorrow evening (6.30pm) with the meeting of Dunloy and Ballycastle.

McQuillan’s are the only side in the last eight to have played a Championship game so far this year when defeating Clooney Gaels 2-19 to 2-7 in the preliminary round.

Last year’s beaten finalists will be hoping the talents of Ciaran Clarke, Saul McCaughan, Neal McAuley and Stephen McAfee will be enough to see them past a Dunloy side who will be quietly confident going in.

Cuchullain’s will look to Conor McKinley and Nigel Elliott to lead the way in a game expected to go down to the wire.

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Hurling and camogie