Hurling & Camogie

Loughgiel far too slick and accurate for St John's and set up Dunloy clash

Dan McCloskey (10) netted an early goal for Loughgiel, who went on to thrash St John's in the Antrim SHC quarter-final.
Dan McCloskey (10) netted an early goal for Loughgiel, who went on to thrash St John's in the Antrim SHC quarter-final. Dan McCloskey (10) netted an early goal for Loughgiel, who went on to thrash St John's in the Antrim SHC quarter-final.

Bathshack Antrim SHC quarter-final

St John’s 0-16 Loughgiel 3-25

WHEN Ciaran Johnston stood over a free in added time and went for goal, anyone just tuning in at that point might have guessed that St John’s were aiming to win or at least save this match.

Instead, the centre back’s shot – blocked by Loughgiel defenders – was merely an effort at saving some face in a game which the Shamrocks won far more comfortably than most would have expected.

  • Doherty: Johnnies in a better place
  • Ballycastle pip Rossa to set up Antrim SHC semi-final with Cushendall

Loughgiel led almost from first throw-in to last whistle, only pegged level at one point apiece, after which Dan McCloskey lashed in the opening goal in the third minute and the men in red romped to victory.

Further goals followed, from Shan McGrath and fellow inside-forward Paul Boyle, the latter ending up as ‘man of the match’ and top scorer on the day with a dominant display.

The Shamrocks’ rather dubious reward is a semi-final showdown against reigning Ulster champions Dunloy, with plenty of Cuchullain’s clubmen watching closely at their home ground.

The semi-final will be the first senior Championship meeting between the two clubs since the 2020 Antrim Final, when Dunloy retained the Volunteer Cup, and they’ve gone to win the next two, so Loughgiel will be taking on the current kingpins of hurling in the Saffron county.

Still, Loughgiel manager Hugh McCann was especially pleased to see off the Belfast men, pointing out that they’d been a bogey team for the Shamrocks in recent seasons:

“Delighted with that, the lads turned up. The last two years St John’s have beaten us in group stages and knockout. They’re not an easy team to beat so we were well-prepared for today – the lads proved that, they were really strong.

“We had done our homework on St John’s, we’d been watching them. I couldn’t tell you who they were missing – big Domhnall [Nugent], after that I’m not really sure – we were thinking about ourselves.

“I don’t know what the final score was, to be honest, but I knew it was comfortable enough, and I’m delighted with that.”

On this occasion, Loughgiel did make St John’s look easy to beat. The Shamrocks built on that early goal, opening up a seven-point lead inside nine minutes, although the men from the Whiterock Road battled back into the game after shooting several wides.

Loughgiel then reeled off five consecutive scores, with some excellent long passes out from their half-back line towards their lively attackers, but the accurate free-taking of Oisin McManus kept the Blues in contention, trailing by 1-13 to 0-9 at the interval.

However, the Shamrocks had been playing against the wind and they blew away any hopes St John’s had of making a real game of this with a blast of 1-3 after the teams turned around.

Ryan McKee launched a line ball forward, Christy McGarry got his hurl to it, and then he and McGrath harried and pressed the defenders before the latter finished to the net.

With McManus substituted, Aaron Bradley took over free-taking duties for the Johnnies, and his accuracy brought some balance to the scoring, but Loughgiel then pulled further clear, with big Boyle to the fore.

The Shamrocks full-forward notched his fifth point from play, then caught a long cross-field delivery from Caolan Blair, turned, and dispatched the sliotar low into the Johnnies’ net to make it 3-20 to 0-14.

He added two more points from play, and three more team-mates scored too, while all St John’s could offer in response were two more frees from Bradley.

Indeed Loughgiel, with Rory McCloskey and Damon McMullan sweeping effectively at different stages of proceedings, restricted their opponents to only five points from play. Their experienced goalkeeper O’Connell also saved smartly from Conor Johnston and Conol Bohill to keep a clean sheet.

Going in the other direction, the Shamrocks registered only five wides, although they did drop some balls short in the closing stages, although tiredness and the outcome being beyond doubt were surely factors in that.

Victors by 18 points, boss McCann said with a laugh, “It doesn’t feel like that on the side-line, but it was very good.

“You could get complacent at half-time when you have that situation, thinking that the breeze is going to do it for you, so we had to re-focus. In fairness the lads came out in the second half and did exactly what we wanted them to. Their performance was brilliant.”

It’ll have to be even better next time out, he knows,

“It’s a huge challenge. There’s a fair amount of youth in our team but there’s also a fair amount of experience. These lads have trained since last November and this is where they want to be – playing Dunloy in the semi-final of the championship.

“We’ll do everything in our power to try and beat Dunloy and see where that takes us.”

St John’s S Doherty; D McGuinness, J Bohill, M McMartin; C Morgan, Ciaran Johnston, S Wilson; S Shannon (0-1), Conor Johnston (0-1); R McNulty, C Bohill, D McKeogh; O Donnelly, O McManus (0-6 frees), A Bradley (0-8, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘65’).

Subs C McKenna for Donnelly (18, inj.); L Heenan for McManus (37); R Galbraith for McGuinness (37); M Darragh for Wilson (51); J McAllister for McKeogh (51)

Loughgiel C O’Connell; T Coyle, R McCloskey, R McCormick (0-1); Declan McCloskey (0-1), D McMullan, C Blair; E Og McGarry, R McKee (0-1); Dan McCloskey (1-3), J McNaughton (0-5, 0-3 frees), R McMullan (0-4); S McGrath (1-2, 0-1 free), P Boyle (1-7), C McGarry.

Subs B McGarry for D McMullan (44); S Dobbin for Blair (51); C Hargan (0-1) for McNaughton (57); O McFadden for McCormick (60); D McKinley for C McGarry (60).

Referee: Colum Cunning (Dunloy)