Tain Ulster Hurling League Division 1 Final, Sunday 29th of April 2012,
Casement Park Belfast
Ruairi Og (Antrim) V Ballycran (Down)
Ruairi Og lifted the inaugural Tain Ulster League title but they were made to fight all the way by a slick and determined Ballycran side, writes Colum Thompson.
The Down men started brightly and hit three points without reply in the opening exchanges, two from Michael Ennis and a free from James Coyle.
Shane McNaughton got Cushendall on the board in the 9th minute when he converted a free which had been won by Neil Mc Manus. Paddy McNaughton gathered possession around mid-field and his delivery was well gathered by Neil McManus who beat two players before burying the ball in the roof of the Ballycran net.
However, Ballycran replied instantly as James Coyle thundered a 21-yard free beyond Ronan Kearney to restore the Down side’s lead.
Both sides were hurling well and Shane McNaughton and Paddy McGill pointed for Cushendall but Sean Ennis hit back with a point for Ballycran.
Conor Carson and James Coyle exchanged points before Neil McManus set off on one of his electricifying solo runs which ended when he was unceremoniously upended on the 21 yard line. McManus dusted himself off and fired the resulting free high and beyond Stephen Keith for Cushendall’s second goal of the afternoon. Again Ballycran answered back with a point from Michael Ennis.
Cushendall’s corner forwards then made their mark; first Francis McAuley and then Eoin Laverty pointed to push Cushendall two points ahead with half-time fast approaching.
However Ballycran were really fighting for each ball, Simon Wilson, on as a first half substitute lofted over a super score from distance and with almost the final puc of the half James Coyle fired to the net to leave the score after a barnstorming first half, Ballycran 2-8 Ruairi Og 2-6.
Ballycran began the second half in the same fashion as they finished the first, James Coyle converted a free and minutes later full forward Martin Braniff fired a shot low past Ronan Kearney for a goal to put Ballycran six points ahead and at this stage they were looking comfortable.
Conor Carson got his second point of the game but that man Coyle converted a long range free for Ballycran. In the thirteenth minute Cushendall finally sprung to life, Karl McKeegan moved to full forward and he won a penalty which Neil McManus blazed over the bar.
In the next move Neil McManus beat Conor Woods under a high ball and headed for goal and he finished to the net to drag Cushendall back into the game.
Eoin Laverty collected a pass from Paddy McGill and dissected the uprights from 50 yards.
Braniff stopped the rot with a point for Ballycran but Ruairi Og were now really firing on all cylinders.
McManus pointed a 65’ and then he set up Shane McNaughton who made no mistake from the right wing. Again McManus gathered possession, beat several defenders and fed Eoin Laverty who, from an acute angle, fired a rocket past the hapless Stephen Keith for a goal.
The next score was to be the final nail in Ballycran’s coffin. Shane McNaughton’s free from the middle of the park deceived everyone and nestled in the corner of the Ballycran net.
James Coyle converted a free but Cushendall were now dominant, McManus, McNaughton and McGill all pointed in the final exchanges to leave the score at the final whistle Ruairi Og 5-14 Ballycran 3-13.
How they played:
Both teams deserve great credit, they served up a highly entertaining game of hurling that was played in the best of spirit. Cushendall were under pressure for much of the game but their spirit and never-say-die attitude saw them through.
At the back Aaron Graffin was colossal at full back and he was well supported by Donal McNaughton and Marty Burke, further forward Conor Carson again played well and Eoin Laverty registered some fine scores but my man of the match goes to Neil Mc Manus who gave a sublime performance for Cushendall.
Not only did he register a sensational 3-4, he was also involved in the build up to several other scores When Cushendall needed someone to stand up and be counted Neil was there.
Team: 1. R Kearney 2. A Mc Naughton 3. A Graffin 4. S Delargy 5. M Burke 6. D Mc Naughton 7. S Mc Killop 8. K Mc Keegan 9. P Mc Naughton 10. C Carson(0-2) 11. N Mc Manus(3-4) 12. P Mc Gill(0-2) 13. F Mc Auley(0-1) 14. S Mc Naughton(0-3) 15. E Laverty(1-2)
Subs used: E Campbell, A Delargy, B Delargy