Hurling and camogie

Loughgiel edge across the line at the death to see off St John's in thriller

St John's forward Domhnall Nugent, who scored 3-3 in yesterday's Antrim SHC semi-final defeat to Loughgiel, tries to get past Damon McMullan. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran in Dunsilly

Bathshack Antrim SHC semi-final: Loughgiel Shamrocks 2-31 St John’s 5-18

DUNSILLY can’t have seen too many days of drama like this. For cheeks puffed out, breaths exhaled, expletives uttered and heads shaken, this was off the Richter scale – and that was only among those lucky enough to have secured golden tickets for a front row seat to an unforgettable Antrim semi-final day.

Echoes of the high-octane finish to Dunloy’s late, late show against Rossa were still carrying in the wind when Loughgiel and St John’s took to the field late in the afternoon, the second city-country clash somehow contriving to serve up more thrills and spills than the last.

After over 100 minutes of frenzied action, laced with super scores, super-subs and sub-plots galore – from Liam Watson’s return after retirement to three-goal hero Domhnall Nugent raising hell with one arm – it was the Shamrocks who emerged to set up a mouth-watering final against Dunloy in Ballycastle on Sunday.

There’s talk of RTE cameras coming to capture the action; they could do much, much worse. The only shame yesterday was that many more of the people who would have loved to have been there to witness it first hand had to make do with the county’s brilliant streaming service.

It will be a bitter pill to St John’s to swallow; their players and management must be waking up this morning wondering just what they have to do to reach an Antrim final. In the two previous years they have pushed Cushendall to the pins of their collars, only to finish up on the wrong end of the result.

And when a free from the superb Michael Bradley pushed them into a three-point lead with five minutes left, Mickey Johnston’s men – who were without injured forward Shea Shannon - looked to be on the way to ending that hoodoo.

Yet, by the 11th minute of added time, they needed a score from sub Oisin Donnelly to send the game into extra-time after Loughgiel, inspired by the evergreen Eddie McCloskey, Tiarnan Coyle and Donal McKinley, dragged the Shamrocks back into contention.

The Johnnies were understandably sore about referee Michael Hardy’s decision not to award a penalty four minutes into added time after Domhnall Nugent was wrestled to the ground inside the square. A goal at that stage would have given the Belfast club a four point lead.

However, when it went to extra-time, Loughgiel’s experience told – even though they passed up several opportunities to put the game well beyond doubt as the St John’s walking wounded battled on bravely.

Benny McCarry, one of the survivors from the 2012 All-Ireland success, finished with 1-3 to his name after coming off the bench towards the end of normal time, while young Ryan McKee and Ronan McCloskey brought pace and impetus at a time when it was badly needed.

It was Loughgiel who had settled quickest at the very start of the game, which felt like weeks rather than hours earlier by the time the long whistle sounded, edging into a 0-6 to 0-3 lead at the quarter hour mark.

And St Johns’ hopes looked to have suffered a body blow when Domhnall Nugent was left clutching his arm and screaming in pain after diving to block a shot at the posts. Spectators feared the worst but he re-emerged after the water break, and played the rest of the game with a dislocated elbow.

If one man didn’t deserve to end up on the losing side yesterday, it was him.

St John’s reeled off three points in-a-row to tie it up, Nugent rattling the Loughgiel net to send them into the lead. When Peter McCallin lashed home two minutes later, followed by a monster score from the excellent Conall Bohill – whose battle with Eddie McCloskey was a joy to behold – the Johnnies led by six, 2-7 to 0-8.

James McNaughton uncharacteristically missed five frees yesterday but he converted them when it counted as the fightback began, and after half-time the Shamrocks began to take control.

In the 45th minute a McNaughton free edged Loughgiel into a two point lead as the Johnnies appeared to be running out of steam. But back they came, sub Aaron Bradley with a classy low finish to the net, only for Watson – who had been kept relatively quiet – to make his mark with a goal that kept Shamrocks noses in front.

When Nugent bagged his second goal of the day with seven minutes left the momentum shifted again, only for Loughgiel to seize control once more. In extra-time, they came into their own.

Nugent scored his third goal deep into added time in extra-time, but veteran McCarry sealed the deal with two late points to bring a day of incredible drama to an end.

Loughgiel: C O’Connell; T Coyle, S Dobbin, T McCloskey; O McFadden, D McMullan, Declan McCloskey; Dan McCloskey (0-1), D McKinley (0-2); J McNaughton (0-12, 0-10 frees), C McKendry (0-1), E McCloskey (0-5); S Casey (0-1), L Watson (1-3, 0-1 free), S McGrath (0-2). Subs: R McKee (0-1) for Casey (43), R McCloskey for T McCloskey (48), B McCarry (1-3) for McKendry (48), S Casey for McGrath (75, ET), McKendry for McKinley (77, ET)

Yellow cards: None

Red cards: None

St John’s: D Cregan; S Wilson, Ciaran Johnston, C Carson; C Bohill (0-2), S McCrory, C Morgan; J Peoples, A McMahon; P Nugent (0-1, free), D Nugent (3-3), A McGowan; Conor Johnston (0-2), M Bradley (0-6, 0-4 frees), P McCallin (1-0). Subs: J Bohill for Wilson (HT), O Donnelly (0-3) for McGowan (HT), A Bradley (1-1) for P Nugent (35), R McNulty for Peoples (60+5), D McKernan for McCallin (60+5), P McBride for Conor Johnston (60, ET), S Tierney for McKernan (70, ET)

Yellow cards: None

Red cards: None

Referee: M Hardy (Rasharkin)

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Hurling and camogie