Some champagne hurling in the rain sees Rossa clinch quarter-final berth
Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Group One: McQuillan’s, Ballycastle 1-15 O’Donovan Rossa, Belfast 4-14
SOMEBODY forgot to pack the valium for the O’Donovan Rossa management team ahead of yesterday’s make-or-break trip to Ballycastle – even though they ended up clinching their quarter-final place in this season’s fascinating Antrim Senior Hurling Championship with relative ease.
From the opening seconds of this Group One showdown you sensed just how much reaching the knock-out stages meant to the west Belfast men.
Amid the sheeting rain at McQuillan Park, ’Rossa manager Colly Murphy and his backroom team lived this encounter like it was their last.
Every contested ball, every hook and block, every strike, every puck-out, every selfless stride and lost cause that was chased down, every single thing the Rossa players did for 60-odd minutes yesterday mattered.
There is no doubting Rossa’s incredible desire was fundamental to their success – but so too was the quality of their hurling.
Despite the wet sod and rain, a lot of their play was bordering on the sumptuous.
After two brilliant performances against St John’s and Dunloy that yielded just one point, fortune finally sided with the men in blue and yellow.
When Michael Armstrong’s long range effort came off the Ballycastle post in the opening seconds, the rebound fell kindly to poacher supreme Deaghlan Murphy who lashed the ball home from close range to give the visitors the perfect start.
But, in truth, they were never reliant on lady luck. They let their hurling do the talking.
And while there was more than a touch of mania about the Rossa sideline, they were still able to make some cool-headed tactical decisions that ensured victory.
The highly-rated Thomas Morgan was sprung from the bench for the injured Conall Shannon just before half-time and the speedy forward bagged a decisive 2-1 from play in the second half.
Substitutes Dominic McEnhill and Dara Rocks also grabbed second-half scores to ram home their side’s advantage, Deaghlan Murphy and Michael Armstrong swapped sweeper and full-forward roles in each half, while Stephen Beatty and returning centre-forward Aodhan O’Brien were the architects of so much of Rossa’s fine attacking play.
Prior to yesterday’s ultimate Group One clash, Ballycastle had held both St John’s and Dunloy and had high hopes of pinching third spot - but they simply couldn’t contain a rampant Rossa side.
Cushendall native ‘Skinner’ McAlister almost turned water into wine at Ballycastle this season, after taking over a team that seemed on a downward trajectory just three months ago.
Having been put on the back foot by Rossa’s early three-pointer, county ace Ciaran Clarke looked like breaking free of Rossa’s shackles a couple of times but the corner-forward had to content himself with conversions from placed balls for most of the afternoon.
Wearing number 13, Diarmaid McShane received an early confidence-booster by finding his range from a tight angle and although he’d split Rossa’s posts twice more, the Ballycastle forward unit never looked like causing the Rossa defence enough problems to win.
And even when the home side did get a sight of goal, Rossa ‘keeper Donal Armstrong was always alive to the danger.
The visitors raced into a 2-4 to 0-5 lead after Gerard Walsh converted a penalty and they still held a five-point advantage [2-6 to 0-7] at the break thanks to back-to-back scores from Beatty and Chris McGuinness in first-half stoppage-time.
Never let it be said Rossa don’t finish strongly. After letting victory slip from their grasp two weeks running against St John’s and Dunloy, they blitzed Ballycastle in the second half with further goals.
Morgan and James Connolly hit lovely scores early in the second period before Morgan capitalised on some defensive indecision to race clear and plant the ball confidently in Ballycastle’s net on 43 minutes to give Rossa a commanding 3-10 to 0-10 lead.
Eleven minutes later, Rossa grabbed their fourth major of the day and it was the pick of the bunch.
O’Brien fed Tiarnan Murphy in the middle of the field who off-loaded to Beatty.
Another penetrating run from the dual ace opened up the Ballycastle defence and his simple lobbed pass found Morgan who was never going to pass up the opportunity of raising another green flag.
Despite Ballycastle substitute Cailin O’Connor barging his way through to ripple Rossa’s net seconds later to reduce the arrears to 4-10 to 1-13, Rossa finished with a flourish to ease to a fully deserved eight-point win.
A quarter-final shoot-out with Cushendall next weekend promises to be some game.
McQuillan’s, Ballycastle: B Connor; O Kearney, M Donnelly, J McLister; S Kelly, C Boyd, E Elliott; R McCurry, C Connor; C Butler (0-1), J McShane (0-1), TT Butler; D McShane (0-3), N McAuley, C Clarke (0-8, 0-6 frees, 0-1 ’65) Subs: S McAuley (0-2) for E Elliott (h/t), R McCooke for J McLister (39), E Kinney (1-0) for J McShane (45)
Yellow cards: N McAuley (48)
O’Donovan Rossa: D Armstrong; C Orchin, N Crossan, A Orchin; G Walsh (1-0, pen), C McGuinness (0-1), Stephen Shannon (0-1); S Beatty (0-1), J Connolly (0-5, 0-2 frees, 0-1 ’65); Seaghan Shannon (0-1), A O’Brien (0-1), D Murphy (1-0); C Shannon, M Armstrong, T Murphy (0-1) Subs: T Morgan (2-1) for C Shannon (29 inj), D McEnhill (0-1) for C Orchin (48) M McGreevey for J Connolly (58), D Rocks (0-1) for T Murphy (55) D Murphy for A O’Brien (61)
Yellow cards: G Walsh (24)
Referee: E Hassan