Antrim SHC: Loughiel have too much for Ballycastle while Cushendall beat St John's
Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Group One: Ballycastle 2-20 Loughgiel 1-27, Naomh Éanna 2-11 Rossa 4-24; Group Two: Cushendall 2-23 St John's 1-16, Tír na nÓg 0-7 Dunloy 4-38
DESPITE an encouraging display by the home side, Ballycastle remain pointless while Loughiel are assured of at least a quarter-final spot following Saturday's hard fought encounter on the north coast.
Ballycastle started the game on the front foot, with two pointed frees from Ciarán Clarke before James McNaughton struck back for the Shamrocks. Corner-forward Clarke (0-3), Conor Boyd and Ciarán Butler were all on target for Ballycastle to keep them 0-7 to 0-6 ahead at the first water break, with McNaughton (0-2), Paul Boyle and Dan McCloskey replying for the visitors.
Things got even better for the home side at the start of the second quarter as Clarke cut through for a great individual goal. However, McNaughton soon responded with three points without reply for Loughgiel and, when he grabbed a goal of his own, the Shamrocks were in front for the first time in the game.
The tide had now turned decisively in Loughgiel's favour and they underlined their dominance with the game's next six points, three of them coming from off the stick of McNaughton, while Christy McGarry, Paul Boyle and Dan McCloskey all chipped in with one apiece. Back came Ballycastle through Clarke, who registered three points in as many minutes to cut the gap to four at the break.
Loughiel were ruthless after the break, with four points in the space of two minutes extending the lead to eight. Again, Ballycastle refused to die and a flourish of points and a Conor Boyd conversion into the Loughiel net from a long free into the box, left the game in the balance.
However, the Shamrocks showed the composure needed in the closing stages to hold Ballycastle at bay and record their second win of the group stages.
In Saturday's other Group One clash, Rossa had too much for Naomh Éanna to cope with at Hightown as they ran out 19-point winners.
Although the hosts took an early lead through a Cormac Jennings free it lasted less than a minute as Gerard Walsh nipped in to intercept and fire over at the other end before Tiernán Murphy opened his account to give the visitors a lead they would hold until the final whistle.
By half-time, Rossa were well in control, leading by 1-13 to 0-7, with their goal coming through Dáíre Murphy, who had been played in by Dominic McEnhill.
There was no respite for the Glengormley men after half-time as Deaglan, Dáire and Tiernán Murphy, along with Dominic McEnhill, helped Rossa outscore their hosts 0-7 to 0-2 in the third quarter. Although Naomh Éanna continued to battle, goals from Stephen Beatty, Deaglan Murphy and Cormac McGettigan before the final whistle underlined the west Belfast side's utter dominance.
In Group Two, Cushendall survived a stirring St John's comeback to take the points from their clash at Páirc Mhuire.
Cushendall were 2-7 to 0-1 in front following a devastating opening quarter, with Neil McManus and Paddy Burke grabbing the goals, and they were still 10 points up going in at the break.
Mick Bradley kick-started the St John's fightback with a goal early in the second-half and fine finishing from himself and Domhnall Nugent left just two in it by the second water break.
However, Cushendall rediscovered their scoring touch in the final quarter and scores from McManus, Eoghan Campbell, Christy McNaughton and Fergus McCambridge guided them to what was ultimately a comfortable victory.
Randalstown were blown away by Dunloy in Group Two's other game, with Gregory O'Kane's men registering no less than 4-33 from open play at Whitehill. Conal Cunning (1-9) and Seán Elliott (2-5) did much of the damage for Cúchullain's.
In the Derry Senior Hurling Championship, Banagher recorded a 0-21 to 0-13 win over Eoghan Rua in Coleraine on Saturday.