Hurling and camogie

Loughgiel hot favourites to retain Ulster Club minor hurling title in final showdown with Carrickmore

Loughgiel's Jack McCloskey and Roan McGarry wheel away to celebrate a goal during the Ulster Minor Hurling Tournament semi-final win over Lavey at Ballinascreen on New Years Eve Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Séamas McAleenan

Leadon Timber Frames Ulster Minor Club Hurling Cup final: Loughgiel (Antrim) v Éire Óg Carrickmore (Tyrone) (Saturday, Ballinascreen, 1pm)

ANTRIM clubs didn’t fare too well during the early years of this competition, introduced by the Ballinascreen club in 1995. Indeed when Éire Óg, Carrickmore wrote their name on the base of the trophy after the 2003 series, there wasn’t an Antrim name above.

Naomh Eoin, Belfast broke the sequence a year later and then added two more titles, Cushendall took two titles and the 2016 version was claimed by a Dunloy which contained many of the players who went on to win the senior event this year, defeating Slaughtneil in the final.

Loughgiel’s only success came in 2019 when they beat Lavey in the semi-final and then Eoghan Rua from Dungannon in a final that was a lot closer than anyone expected, based upon the form of the teams in their semi-final games.

Because of Covid and its impact lasting through to the end of last season, that 2019 competition was the last one run and the Shamrocks have held the trophy since. It should extend its vacation in north Antrim, if last week’s semi-finals are the form-book.

The Éire Óg v Bredagh game was a dogged affair with neither team really able to open the play out and create space for their forward line. In the first half ,Carrickmore’s star man up front, Aidan Woods, was forced to come deeper and deeper to gain possession and his impact in front of the posts was tempered.

He had more influence during the second half as Daithí McIlhatton, Conn Sweeney and Francey Hurson managed to find him on the wings. Carrickmore would have deserved to win in normal time, but were caught with injury time scores that brought the game to extra time. However, Éire Óg imposed themselves on the game a lot more in extra-time and pulled away with Woods eventually finishing with 12 points.

By contrast Loughgiel’s hurling was top class against Lavey, culminating in a 3-18 to 1-6 win. They were able to easily open up the play and find their dangerous inside forward line, where Jack McCloskey was conducting a masterclass on scoring. McCloskey scored all three goals, two of them drawing gasps from the spectators, and added five points.

Further out, when they weren’t looking to play McCloskey or the two McGarrys in on goal, Liam Glackin, Ronan Fitzgerald and Darragh Patterson took some excellent long range points and were a real handful for Lavey.

Codi McGarry’s red card is a set back for the management. He was a physical element to the front row that they could have done with against Carrickmore. However the quality of stick-work and movement that the rest of the Loughgiel forwards possess should still keep Éire Óg under pressure in their own half.

Just as was the case three seasons ago, Loughgiel will go into the final as hot favourites. Eoghan Rua put it up to them in that decider and, no doubt, Éire Óg will do their best in this final. But it is hard to see from where the Tyrone side are going to get enough scores to cause a shock.

Hurling and camogie