Under 21 Hurling Championship
Loughgiel 1-11 Sarsfields 0-12
Loughgiel added another Under 21 Hurling title to their long list of achievements when they beat Sarsfields by 1-11 to 0-12 in an entertaining final which was played in perfect conditions at Casement Park on Saturday evening.
In the end it was the Shamrocks ability to make the most of their chances which saw them home against a highly motivated and fit Sarsfields team who will wonder just how they lost this game. After hitting nine wides in the opening period the Belfast boys trailed by six points at break but they bounced back and totally dominated possession in the second-half. Despite missing chance after chance they slowly but surely edged their way back into the game and when they drew level with nine minutes left to play they appeared to be on course to lift their first ever Under 21 title.
However in the tense final minutes their radar went faulty once again and a couple of glorious chances to take the lead were squandered before Loughgiel sharpshooter Liam McKillop made them pay with two late pointed frees to seal victory and another Under 21 crown.
Sarsfields started well and took the lead with a point from a corner-forward Daniel McKernan in the third minute but Loughgiel hit back and Tony McCloskey had them level by the fifth minute with a point from play before Liam McKillop edged them ahead with a pointed free in the seventh.
Sarsfields excellent midfielder Kevin McKernan (who had a day of mixed emotions, scoring eight points and driving ten wides) brought his team level by the ninth minute and they edged ahead three minutes later when right-half-forward Niall McKenna sent over a real beauty from play from out on the stand sideline.
Loughgiel were struggling to find their rhythm but they slowly began to find their touch and dominated the remainder of the opening half as they hit five unanswered points through Liam McKillop (2), Donal McKinley, Turlough McCarry and Tony McCloskey to pull four clear by the twenty-fifth minute.
Things got even better for the Shamrocks just before the break when Turlough McCarry, despite suffering from a hamstring injury, took full advantage of hesitancy in the Sarsfields defence to sweep the ball past the ‘keeper for the only goal of the game and give his side a seven point advantage.
Sarsfields found a quick response and McKernan sent over two great points, one from play and one from a free, to cut the gap back to five, though McKillop stretched it to six again with a well taken point with the last puck of the first-half.
An early exchange of points just after the restart kept the gap at six and there seemed little to suggest that the pattern of the game would change. However Sarsfields dug deep and slowly but surely they clawed their way back into the game.
Between the thirty-sixth and fifty-third minutes they held Loughgiel scoreless, and despite adding to their ever increasing wides tally, they fought back to level with four points from Kevin McKernan, one from his brother Daniel and the other from Niall McKenna to tie the scores on 0-11 to 1-9.
When McKenna broke clear inside the twenty-metre line five minutes from time he seemed certain to score, but the right-half-forward opted instead to go for the jugular and hand-passed inside to a colleague on the edge of the ‘square’. The pass was intercepted by Loughgiel’s excellent full-back Ronan Gillan who cleared the danger, and buoyed by this let-off the Shamrocks hit back to seal the win with two late Liam McKillop points.
LOUGHGIEL – Chris Quinn, Tiernan Coyle, Ronan Gillan, Ronan McCloskey, Daniel McPeake, Seamus Dobbin, Conor Gillan, Ciaran McKinley, Liam McKillop, Donal McKinley, Turlough McCarry, Dan McCloskey, Kevin Lee Traynor, Tony McCloskey, Aiden Campbell.
SUBS – Conal McMahon, Nicholas McNaughton, Aiden McKinley.
SARSFIELDS – Ryan Willoby, Peter Corr, Conor Willoby, Conor Laverty, Miachael Callahan, Niall McAlea, Ryan O’Neill, Kevin McKernan, Eamon Quinn, Niall McKenna, Caolin Mervyn, Michael Bradely, Daniel McKernan, Daragh McGuinness, Gary Lennon.
REFEREE – Colm Cunning (Dunloy)