Joyous scenes as Cushendall secure All Ireland final spot
Ruairi Og, Cushendall 3-12 Sarsfields 1-6
A rousing rendition of the Green Glens of Antrim by the Cushendall supporters at half-time was the prelude to a night of celebration as years of frustrating defeats were finally banished.
Ruairi Og had lost all eight previous All-Ireland semi-finals and knew they would need something special to oust a Sarsfields side with a serious pedigree at this level, having become the first side to retain the club hurling title when they won it in 1993 and ’94.
But Cushendall showed scant regard for reputations yesterday and they held the upperhand from start to finish in Navan yesterday to deservedly advance to their first All-Ireland final.
Man of the Match Neil McManus said it was a special day for the club as they finally put their semi-final nightmares behind them.
“But we won’t settle for this. It’s a great win, a great day for the club given all we have been through. We’re now in the final, that’s where we wanted to be, in Croke Park, but we now need to push on and win it. We know we can,” said McManus, whose busy day included a haul of 1-7, seven wides, six of them from play, and a goal-line save from a 20m free as Sarsfields rallied in the second-half.
The groundwork for the overdue semi-final win was laid in the opening half when Sarsfields had whatever advantage accrued from the diagonal wind.
Ryan McCambridge manned a superb Cushendall defence and while McManus was a threat throughout, so too was Sean McAfee and Paddy McGill.
Sarsfields just didn’t have any men on top like that and the Galway champions, who bridged an 18-year gap when they won the county title before Christmas, were chasing the game from the early stages when Cushendall struck for the opening goal after just four minutes.
A massive clearance from McCambridge was taken by McAfee and when he was hauled down by Sarsfields full-back Darren Skehill, McManus stepped up and drilled the penalty along the ground to the net.
Sarsfields managed just one point from play in the opening half, with four frees from Niall Morrissey all they had to show before Alan Ward pointed just before the break to leave them trailing 1-4 to 0-5.
Cushendall went for the jugular straight after the restart.
McManus fired over two more points and, in between, McAfee collected a long delivery and had the strength and pace to get away from Skehill and shoot to the net, extending their lead by 2-6 to 0-5.
Sarsfields got a glimmer of hope when their captain Joseph Cooney, with the dexterity that was reminiscent of his father Joe, superbly connected to a
Morrissey 65 to flick it powerfully to the net.
But that was one of just two scores which Sarsfields managed in the second half, with Morrissey getting another free.
They had no choice but to try for goals to rescue their hopes, but the Cushendall defence was superb and with McGill getting his third point and McManus tacking on the points, the Ulster side kept pulling away and they sealed a deserved win when Karl McKeegan forced home their third goal in the closing stages.
“We can have no complaints, the better team on the day won,” admitted Sarsfields selector Francis Madden afterwards.
“We’re very disappointed but we hope Cushendall go and win it out now.”
Scorers: N McManus 1-7 (1-5f), P McGill 0-3, S McAfee 1-0, K McKeegan 1-0, C Carson 0-1, A Delargy 0-1. Sarsfields:
N Morrissey 0-5 (0-5f), J Cooney 1-0, A Ward 0-1.
Cushendall: E Gillan; D Kearney, M Burke, R McCambridge; A Graffin, E Campbell, S Delargy; S McNaughton, A Delargy; C Carson, N McManus, P McGill; D McNaughton, S McAfee, C McNaughton. Subs: K McKeegan C McNaughton (48 mins), C McAllister for D McNaughton (59 mins).
Sarsfields: C Dolan; E Cleary, D Skehill, C Murray; N Quinn,
K Hynes, R Quinn; J Cooney, I Fox; A Ward, K Wade,
N Morrissey; I Skehill, N Kelly, K Cooney. Subs: I Kenny for I Skehill (49 mins), J Burke for Wade (50 mins), S Kelly for Morrissey (52 mins), E Spellman for K Cooney (60 mins).
Referee: P O’Dwyer (Carlow).