Hurling & Camogie

Hughes happy Middletown kept their cool to book Ulster final spot

  Middletown manager Kevin Hughes     Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Middletown manager Kevin Hughes Picture: Seamus Loughran.

SIX points behind with 10 minutes to play, Middletown manager Kevin ‘Kizzy’ Hughes was the calmest man in the Athletic Grounds.

The trust he placed in a focused group of hurlers would be fully justified as they came from behind to force a thrilling Ulster Club IHC semi-final to extra-time.

And they hit top gear down the final stretch to break Carrickmore hearts with a 3-19 to 2-20 victory.

“It wasn’t a case of being worried, for that team always likes coming from behind, for some reason, they like giving us a heart attack on the sideline,” said Hughes.

“When they slide behind by a couple of points, they always dig deep and they come out the right side at the end of it, thankfully.”

An experienced core led the way for the Armagh champions, making all the right decisions at crucial stages as they turned the game around when all seemed lost.

“The likes of big Ryan Gaffney, he’s hard to handle, and those boys, the experience they have, they’re well used to it by now, with Cahal (Carvill) and Nathan (Curry), it’s a big plus on our behalf to have boys like that,” said Hughes.

Now Na Fianna are set to challenge for a third provincial title when they meet Down champions Liatroim in the final on Sunday December 4.

“Liatroim have a couple of men in the Down squad, they’ll be very hard to talk to. It will be down to the wire again,” Hughes predicted.

Eire Og selector Stephen McElroy shared in the devastation felt by the entire Eire Og group, but insisted that the players must feel proud of their contribution.

“We can’t ask any more of the players, they left it all out on the field. They did everything that we asked of them all year, and this was no different,” he said.

“Sometimes you just get those days, where things just don’t go your way at crucial stages.”

A first appearance in the provincial final since 2015 was within touching distance, with the Tyrone champions holding the lead at key moments of a memorable encounter.

But the Armagh men were able to strike for crucial scores at critical times, dragging themselves back from the brink and into a winning position.

McElroy said the players will re-group and go again, and they will get there in the end.

“The boys have been around for a while, and they have been knocking on the door, and some of these years we’ll take that final step and get ourselves over the line.”

With Dungannon failing to make it to the Tyrone Championship final this season, Eire Og went into the Ulster series short of serious match practice, but got themselves to the pitch of the games, defeating Lisbellaw of Fermanagh and coming close to getting the better of Armagh’s best.

“Naomh Colum Cille are a good strong club, but in the county final, we just knew we had a job to do and we couldn’t afford to slip up,” McElroy said.

“I suppose it wasn’t the best preparation going into the Lisbellaw game, but Lisbellaw is no different, they don’t have a county championship, so they’re in the same boat.

“It’s great to get competitive games, it’s just a shame that we have to wait until the depths of winter to get them.”