McManus' haul helps hungrier Cushendall to seal final spot
Cushendall (Antrim) 3-12 Sarsfields (Galway) 1-6
The Green Glens of Antrim rung out at Pairc Tailteann, Navan, as magnificent Ruairi Og of Cushendall defied the odds to book a St Patrick's Day date in the All-Ireland Club SHC final.
John McKillop's men banished the ghosts of eight previous semi-final defeats following a superb display to see off the challenge of the hot favourites.
Cushendall hurled with the determination and made a dream start when Neil McManus netted from the penalty spot following a foul on Sean McAfee within four minutes. McManus ended with a personal of 1-7.
The sharper, hungrier and more focused Cushendall dominated the opening half, but their 1-4 to 0-5 interval lead was scant reward for that dominance.
The game was almost 29 minutes old before the Galway champions managed a score from play, from Alan Ward, their only point from play for the entire game. All of their previous four points came from placed balls by Niall Morrissey.
Paddy McGill and Conor Carson shared the scoring honours with McManus in that opening half for the Antrim men.
Sarsfields' expected revival never materialised in the second half as Cushendall continued where they left off in the first.
McManus stretched their lead from a free and the second half was only three minutes' old when McAfee raced clear from his marker Darren Skehill and finished into the net.
The Galway champions were thrown a brief lifeline when Joseph Cooney flicked a Niall Morrissey '65 into the net to leave it 2-6 to 1-5 after 40 minutes.
But Cushendall responded superbly with points from McManus (two) and Alec Delargy. McManus (free) and McGill added more scores to leave it at double scores, 2-10 to 1-5.
There was no way back for the two-time All-Ireland champions after that and all they could manage was a pointed free from Morrissey.
They tried hard for goals in the closing stages, but were repelled by some heroic defending, with Ryan McCambridge in particular outstanding. Cushendall finished in style as McManus added to his haul and the game was in added time when substitute Karl McKeegan scrambled in a third goal.
SCORERS - Cushendall: N McManus 1-7 (4fs, 1 '65), P McGill 0-3, S McAfee, K McKeegan 1-0 each, C Carson, A Delargy 0-1 each. Sarsfields: N Morrissey 0-5 (5f), J Cooney 1-0, A Ward 0-1.
CUSHENDALL - E Gillan; D Kearney, M Burke, R McCambridge; A Griffin, E Campbell, S Delargy; S McNaughton, A Delargy; C Carson, N McManus, P McGill; D McNaughton, S Afee, C McNaughton. Subs: K McKeegan for C McNaughton (43), C McAllister for D McNaughton (60).
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 (43), J Burke for Wade (49), S Kelly for Morrissey (52), E Spellman for K Cooney (60).
Ref - P O'Dwyer (Carlow).