All County Under 21 Hurling Championship semi-finals
Ballycastle 1-12 Loughgiel 1-07
Ballycastle qualified for the final of the Under 21 Hurling Championship when they beat holders Loughgiel in Saturday evening’s semi-final in Pearse Park, Dunloy.
Twenty-three minutes into the game Loughgiel seemed to have put themselves into a strong position when they went 1-5 to 0-4 clear following a four-minute spell of dominance which yielded a goal and three points. However the Shamrocks only managed two further points in the thirty-seven minutes of normal time, plus five of injury, which remained and Ballycastle hit back to win by five and book a place in next weekend’s final against Cushendall.
The early exchanges were evenly matched as both sides struggled to produce anything of note and two points from Shamrocks full-forward Dan McCloskey were cancelled out by one each from Ciaran Clarke and Stephen McAfee. Clarke edged Ballycastle ahead with a point from a free and Conor McGarry put them two clear but Loughgiel hit back with their best spell of the game as Dan McCloskey (2) and Seamus Dobbin tapped over points before left-half-forward Declan Gillan ghosted in behind the Castle defence to blast the ball to the net.
Four points adrift with half-time fast approaching Ballycastle appeared to be in trouble, but they produced a strong finish to the half.
After Clarke sent over two points from placed balls corner-forward Saul McCaughan rose brilliantly to catch a high ball on the edge of the ‘square’ and while his kicked effort for goal was saved by the Loughgiel keeper Conor McGarry raced in to pull the rebound to the net.
With wind advantage to come in the second-half Loughgiel still looked favourites when play resumed but Ballycastle began to open up a lead thanks mainly to the free taking of Ciaran Clarke.
Ballycastle had edged three ahead by the forty-ninth minute when they had their centre forward sent off and suddenly their backs were again against the wall.
However Loughgiel failed to take advantage with a series of bad wides from both play and frees. Their hopes were raised in the fifty-fourth minute when they were awarded a twenty-metre free but Niall McFadden’s attempt at goal rose over the bar and Ballycastle remained in the driving seat.
Clarke increased the Castle lead to four when he sent over another free, but the Shamrocks continued to press and it took a fantastic save by Ballycastle goalkeeper Aiden McAlinden to deny midfielder Seamus Dobbin a goal. Loughgiel hit the resultant ‘65’ short but they drove another bad wide from close range and Clarke sealed victory for the Castle with a late free to earn his side a five point win.
BALLYCASTLE – Aiden McAlinden, Paul McLernon (capt), Dermot Donnelly, John McLister, James McShane, Matthew Donnelly, Fergus Donnelly, Stephen McAfee (0-1), Eoin McAlonan, Ciaran Clarke (0-9), Conal Browne, Conor McCurdy, Conor McGarry (1-1), James McLister, Saul McCaughan (0-1).
LOUGHGIEL – C McGarry, Tiernan Coyle, Ronan Gillan, Aaron Carey, Niall McFadden (0-1), Daniel McPeake, Ronan McCloksey (capt), Seamus Dobbin (0-1), Aiden McKinley, Mel Connolly, Donal McKinley, Declan Gillan (1-0), Shane McKee, Dan McCloskey (0-5), Nicholas McNaughton.
Referee – Brendan McSparran (Cushendun)