CUSHENDALL REACH HISTORIC ALL-IRELAND FINAL

Cushendall's Neil McManus celebrates' �INPHO/Colm O'Neill
Cushendall's Neil McManus celebrates' �INPHO/Colm O'Neill
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Ruairí Óg Cushendall qualified for their first AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Club Championship final with a superb victory at Páirc Tailteann when they defeated Galway champions Sarsfields by 3-12 to 1-06.

The win ended years of semi-final heartbreak as they finally made it through to the St Patrick’s Day final having lost all eight semi-finals they played prior to this.

Cushendall's Se�n McAfee is stopped by Darren Skehill of Sarsfields'  �INPHO/Colm O'Neill

Cushendall's Se�n McAfee is stopped by Darren Skehill of Sarsfields' �INPHO/Colm O'Neill

Sarsfields, the first team to win successive All-Ireland club hurling titles, just had no answer to the sheer strength of the Cushendall side.

Cushendall led by 1-04 to 0-05 at the interval having got off to a brilliant start when Neil McManus fired home a penalty after four minutes after Sean McAfee was hauled down by Darren Skehill.

Niall Morrissey responded with a free for Sarsfields but they struggled to make headway up front where Ryan McCambridge marshalled an excellent Cushendall defence.

Indeed, Sarsfields did not manage a point from play until a minute before the break when Alan Ward scored after Cushendall goalkeeper Eoin Gillan did well to deprive Joseph Cooney.

Cushendall's Neil McManus celebrates' �INPHO/Colm O'Neill

Cushendall's Neil McManus celebrates' �INPHO/Colm O'Neill

Two points from Paddy McGill extended Cushendall’s lead and Conor Carson also got one, with Morrissey responding with three frees.

McManus put a goal between them again with a pointed free, before Ward cut the gap to two at the break with his effort.

Cushendall started the second-half in superb form, with McManus extending their lead with another free before Sean McAfee burst through to blast home a superb goal, with another McManus free putting the Antrim side 2-06 to 0-05 in front.

Sarsfields’ captain Joseph Cooney flicked home a goal to give the Galway champions some hope after 40 minutes when he connected to a 65 from Morrissey.

But Cushendall hit back and two points from placed balls by McManus and one from play by Alec Delargy left the Antrim side 2-09 to 1-05 ahead after 51 minutes.

McGill extended the lead with his third point before Morrissey got Sarsfields’ first point of the second-half ten minutes from time. McManus was back on his own line to save a 20-metre free from Niall Quinn as Sarsfields tried to stage a comeback.

But it was Cushendall who finished in style with McManus, who hit seven sides, six of them from play, tacked on two more points for a personal tally of 1-07.

And Cushendall rounded off the win with a third goal when Karl McKeegan forced the ball home to send them into their first ever All-Ireland final after so many years of semi-final heartbreak.