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Johnnies and Cushendall set for semi-final rematch

Two late goals denied St John’s in Ballycastle last year and the teams return to the same venue this weekend Two late goals denied St John’s in Ballycastle last year and the teams return to the same venue this weekend
By David Mohan

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final
Cushendall v St John’s (Sunday, Ballycastle, 2pm)

ONE year on from their semi-final heartbreak against Cushendall, the hurlers of St John’s are preparing to face the same opposition at the same stage of the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship on Sunday with the hope they can finally get the better of Ruairi Og.

It took a last-gasp rally in a replay at Ballycastle for the North Antrim outfit to finally get past the Corrigan Park club and the teams lock horns back at the same venue once again as part of a double header.

Despite the far from ideal situation of 12 of their players having to take part in a Senior Football Championship replay defeat to Portglenone on Wednesday, come Sunday at 2pm, the St John’s team will be ready to get tore into a semi-final they fully believe they can win.

It was small margins that decided last year’s semi-final with Ciaran Johnston landing a late free in difficult conditions to force a replay in the first meeting in Dunloy – a game the Johnnies felt they had in the bag until a late Cushendall rally sparked by the introduction of Donal McNaughton.

Again in the replay, they went ahead late in the second half, but McNulty’s son, Ryan suffered a concussion having taken a heavy knock to the head and his absence allowed the towing presence of Carson in for those goals that swung the game Cushendall’s way.

The North Antrim side was far from impressive against Rossa two weeks ago, but they still managed to get the job done despite the reliance on Neil McManus.

They will need a better spread of scores this Sunday so it will be interesting to see if Donal McNaughton or indeed, Shane McNaughton play some part with the latter on the bench the last day having spent much of the past three years pursuing an acting career in New York.

St John’s will have to try and figure out how to get some space for their attackers including the ever-impressive Michael Bradley and Conor Johnston to play and get into scoring position as Cushendall will swarm the middle third.

It could well be a bit of a war of attrition and while the Corrigan Park side will not go in with an inferiority complex, they are well aware they must not take their foot off the gas or they will be punished.

“We don’t fear anybody,” stressed St John’s manager, Tony McNulty.

“For a long time nobody was worried about playing us, but we have a good nucleus of players and feel like we’re as good as anyone in the county. This is a one-off game so we hope to do better than last year.

“We know from last year that Cushendall will play for the 60 or 65 minutes. We thought we had them last year and thought we had them three years ago, but they are never beaten until the end so this is our fourth go to try and get over the line against them.

“They have some super players, so we have to be at our best, but hopefully it works out against us this time and we are injury-free going into it.”

The second semi-final also takes place in Ballycastle on Sunday in another repeat of last year’s semi-final when Loughgiel take on Dunloy at 3.30pm.

There is never any love lost between these local rivals and anyone who was at the subsequent fixture last year and witnessed ‘dugout-gate’ when a dispute over a dugout led to a mass brawl 20 minutes before throw-in will testify to this.

Dunloy cantered to the league title this year, but Loughgiel have hit form at the right time of the year and a tight game can be expected, but Dunloy perhaps may just have the edge.

Meanwhile, the semi-finals of the Intermediate Hurling Championship take place today (Saturday).

At St Paul’s with a 12.30pm throw-in is the meeting of Division Two winners, Naomh Éanna against Glenariffe, while next door at Rossa Park is the second semi-final between Sarsfield’s and Carey (throw-in 2pm).

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