Cushendall 1-15 Ballycran 0-10
Cushendall won their 11th Ulster Hurling Club Championship when they did just enough to edge past a misfiring Ballycran.
Played in front of 3,742 supporters at Armagh’s Athletic Grounds, it was a great first half spectacle but the second half turned into more of a scrap and that suited the Antrim men as they held an eight-point lead at the break.
Cushendall had raced into a 0-04 to 0-01 lead within the first ten minutes as Neil McManus gave an exhibition of scoring and big Donal McNaughton pointed from his side-line cut.
Converted frees from Colm McManus and Conor Woods closed the gap but Sean Delagry swooped in with a fine point to keep the Antrim side ahead on the front foot.
Ballycran’s Scott Nicholson and Conor Woods were pivotal figures in the opening half but they faded out of the game in the second half and Woods was forced to leave the pitch in injury-time after picking up his second yellow card.
A brilliant brace from Woods was greeted by even more impressive points from Cushendall’s star man McManus, who finished the game with nine points.
Sean McAfee’s goal on 24 minutes put some daylight between the teams and they stretched their lead to 1-11 to 0-06 at half-time.
The question at the break was would eight points be enough of a lead given the strength of the wind? And it shouldn’t have been because had Ballycran converted a half of their nine second half scoring opportunities it could have been them lifting the Four Seasons Hotel Cup.
Ballycran upped the tempo in the second half and substitute Christopher Egan impressed but while they held Cushendall scoreless for the opening 13 minutes of the half they only managed to add two further points in the period they dominated and they paid the price.
Scott Nicholson, Colum McManus and Woods all squandered scoreable frees and when Donal McNaughton stroked over his second point on 43 minutes, Cushendall knew they had the game in the bag.
There was 12 minutes additional time played as Cushendall’s Arron Griffin picked up a nasty knee injury, which will rule him out of the All-Ireland semi-final.
Ballycran pushed for a goal but had little joy as captain Paddy Burke and David Kearney defended diligently and, at the other end, McManus and Eoghan Campbell found the range again to push Cushendall over the line for a hard grafted victory.
Ballycran: S Keith, M Hughes, P Hughes, S Ennis, M Taylor, P Flynn, B Nicholson, S Nicholson (0-02), P Savage, C McAllister, C Woods (0-03, 0-01f), L Savage, N Breen (0-01), C McManus (0-03, all frees), J Coyle (0-01).
Subs used: C Egan for C McAllister (ht’), G Hughes for N Breen (ht’), A Bell for M Taylor (60+8’)
Cushendall: E Gillan, D Kearney, M Burke, P Burke (0-01), S Delargy (0-1), A Graffin, S Walsh, E Campbell (0-1), N McManus (0-09, 0-07f, 0-01 65’), S McAfee (1-00), F McCambridge (0-01), R McCambridge, A Delargy, D McNaughton (0-02), P McGill.
Subs used: F McCurry for Graffin (51’), N McCormack for Afee (60+3’), E Laverty for McNaughton (60 + 12’).
Referee: J Connors (Donegal).