ANTRIM champions Loughgiel retained their Ulster title with relative ease against Ballycran at Casement Park on Sunday.The Shamrocks held a three point advantage at the break but wiped out the Ardsmen with a scoring onslaught in the second half to ensure they progress to meet the Munster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The game was played in horrible conditions with a strong wind and driving rain making life tough for both teams but Loughgiel still managed to hit 2-18 over the hour, which was an impressive tally in the circumstances.
The first half was nip and tuck for long stretches and a Scott Nicholson point put Ballycran on the board after 30 seconds with a free but this was cancelled out at the other end when Dan McCloskey pointed a placed ball.
The sides swapped scores before James Campbell gave Loughgiel their first lead of the afternoon, but ten minutes elapsed until Simon Wilson raised the next white flag when he converted a ’65.
With the sides tied at 0-3 after 17 minutes it appeared we were in for a close contest but the North Antrim men were gradually getting into their stride.
A fine display at half-back and midfield gave them the platform to launch attacks and despite playing into the strong wind they were the side with the greater scoring threat.
Points from Declan Laverty and Eddie McCloskey nudged them ahead but Ballycran were staying in touch with Nicholson and James Coyle on target.
Mark McFadden and Dan McCloskey hit scores at the end of the half to send Loughgiel 0-8 to 0-5 ahead at the half but with the wind advantage in the second period it seemed they were well on course for victory.
Ballycran needed a good start to the second half but disaster struck early when Eddie McCloskey’s shot for a point dipped low and was missed by Stephen Keith who could only watch as the ball ended up in the net.
While James Coyle responded with a point at the other end this was merely token resistance as Loughgiel hit the next six scores through Joey Scullion (two), Declan Laverty (two), Benny McCarry and the ever-impressive Barney McAuley to open an 11-point gap entering the final quarter.
A Simon Wilson free stemmed the tide but points from Dan McCloskey and Damian Laverty followed before McCarry was played in by Eddie McCloskey to solo through on goal and blast to the net with two minutes to play.
This was the icing on the cake for Loughgiel as they ran out 16 point winners and ensured they retained their grip on The Four Seasons Cup.
Loughgiel: DD Quinn, P Gillan (T McCloskey 54 mins), N McGarry, R McCloskey, James Campbell (0-2), M Scullion, Johnny Campbell (0-1,1f), B McAuley (0-3) (D McPeake 54 mins), M McFadden (0-1), S Casey, Declan Laverty (0-3, 1f), E McCloskey (1-1), B McCarry (1-1) (L Watson 58 mins), J Scullion (0-2) Damian Laverty (53 mins), D McCloskey (0-3, 3f) (O McFadden 53)
Ballycran: S Keith, M Hughes, S Ennis, P Brennan, A Bell, M Ennis, P Hughes, C Flynn N Torney (52 mins), C Woods, C Dorrian (P Keith ht), P Flynn (J Fowler 44 mins), S Nicholson (0-2, 1f), J Coyle (0-2), S Wilson (0-3, 1f, 1’65), A Clarke (0-1) (C McManus 40 mins)
Referee: Eamonn Hasson (Derry)