Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship, Group One
St John's v Dunloy Cuchullains (2pm, Sunday)
IN the most open and unpredictable of Championship groups, the only thing for certain ahead of their clash with Dunloy on Sunday is that St John’s will be involved in the knock-out stages.
Whether that is the quarter-finals or the semi-finals remains to be seen and just who joins them from Group One is also up in the air.
Ballycastle host Rossa in the other Group One game with both teams still in the running to progress following last weekend’s remarkable draw double.
St John’s played out a high-scoring thriller at Ballycastle with the sides finishing level (1-18 to 2-15).
With Dunloy snatching a remarkable 1-15 to 0-18 share of the spoils at Rossa deep into injury-time, the group is finely posed going into the final two games on Sunday.
A win would see St John’s top the group while a draw would see them into the semi-finals in the event of Rossa beating Ballycastle.
For Dunloy, a draw would secure a quarter-final berth if Rossa lose while they could take top spot and a semi-final place with a win at Corrigan Park.
In the event that two teams finish level on points and the head-to-head was a draw and the scoring difference is the same, the teams who has the greatest points tally will progress.
Should that still not be enough to separate the teams, then a play-off will be required. In what has been a fascinating group so far, such a scenario cannot be ruled out.
For St John’s defender Simon McCrory, being in control of their own fate is the ideal position to be in ahead of Sunday’s meeting with the current county champions.
“We looked at the group at the start and you have four quality teams, including ourselves, and when you look at each team, you have a lot of current and former county players on every side,” said McCrory.
“We’d have definitely taken the position we find ourselves in going into the final group game at the start.
“We are looking forward to the weekend. We are in a good place and we are slowly picking up a bit of form.
“Dunloy will take a lot of confidence from their draw (against Rossa) at the weekend. They have some serious players in their team, the likes of ‘Shorty’ (Paul Shiels), Keelan Molloy, ‘Coby’ (Conal Cunning).
“It is an exciting Championship and it has got people taking and you’ve four teams with something to play for going into the final games.”
Although the Johnnies are in a strong position to top the group, McCrory added that having to play an extra game in the quarter-final wouldn’t be a bad thing given the lack of hurling so far in 2020.
“We have spoken about it and, like Dunloy, we’ll be going out to win the game on Sunday. Worse-case scenario, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we end up playing a quarter-final,” added the former Antrim skipper.
“Our lads haven’t had a lot of time with a hurl in their hands, especially with the dual commitments. Another game probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world and would probably help us to get some players more time on the pitch.
“In an ideal world, you’d still like to go straight into the semi-finals because, on the flip side, you have a week off to rest and prepare for a semi-final.”
While things are still up in the air regarding the fate of Group One, things are a little clearer in Group Two with Loughgiel already through to the last four as group winners.
They’ll be joined in the knock-out stages by Cushendall and St Gall’s, who will contest the quarter-finals.
Given their recent tussles with Cushendall, the Johnnies could be forgiven for wanting to avoid a rematch with the Ruairí Ógs, but McCrory said that, if they’ve aspirations of lifting the Volunteer Cup, they’ll have to beat the best in the county.
“We haven’t a preference for who we play,” said the Johnnies defender.
“Our record against Cushendall isn’t the best. We’ve ambitions to push on. It doesn’t matter who you get – if you want to go on and win a county Championship, you are going to have to play the top teams to get there.
“Regardless of who we play in a semi-final or quarter-final, it will be tough as we’ve had good battles with all three of those teams over the years.
“Loughgiel and Cushendall are traditionally among the top teams in the county, but St Gall’s have given us plenty of problems in the league and Championship down through the years. We’d have to be seriously on our game to beat any of those teams.”