Dunloy crowned U21 Champions
31st July 2018
U21 Hurling Championship Final
Dunloy 2-21 Ballycastle 1-12
Brendan McTaggart reports from Fr Healy Park, Loughgiel
A man of the match performance from Keelan Molloy and a ruthless, clinical opening 30 minutes was enough for Dunloy to retain the U21 championship on Monday evening. Just like the 2017 final when the Cuchullains defeated Loughgiel, it was the first half when the match was won and lost. They had 11 points to spare over the Shamrocks in May of last year before recording a 14 point victory and on Monday evening at Fr Healy Park they had 14 points of an advantage over Ballycastle before seeing out the second half and sealing a 12 point margin of victory.
First half goals from Keelan Molloy and Deáglán Smyth gave Dunloy the perfect platform. Molloy would tag on another four points in a scintillating opening 30 minutes by the Dunloy man while Smyth’s major in the 14th minute left Ballycastle with a mountain to climb even at that early stage, opening a 10 point lead. In a first half where they conceded just seven points, the Dunloy defence were watertight. Eamon Smyth dropped deeper and put in an accomplished performance reading the flight of the sliotar to deny countless attacks from Ballycastle. The Dunloy captain swept all before after the opening quarter with the Dunloy full back line in imperious form also.
Ballycastle faired much better in the second half with Dairmuid McShane top scoring for the ‘Town over the hour with 0-6 while the commitment and effort of Tiernan Butler could never be faulted. The double save by ‘keeper Brendan Connor midway through the second half was as good as anything you will see on a hurling pitch. His first effort displayed lightning reflexes to deny Conal Cunning while the bravery shown to thwart Eoin O’Neill a certain major seconds later can’t be taught. Some say you have to be mad to be a goal keeper, I don’t think it’s the defining characteristic to play between the sticks but it certainly helps. Connor’s bravery bordered heroic and deserved to be for a winning cause. Ballycastle scored their goal in the first minute of injury time at the end of the game, Colm Butler with the finish and while they outscored Dunloy in the second half, it did little to take away from a resounding victory for the Cuchullains.
Both sides looked lively from the first whistle with Conal Cunning notching the games opening point after just 15 seconds. The Ballycastle response was swift and could have been perfect but for Ryan Elliott to deny Ben McQuillan while through on goal. Referee Kevin Parke spotted an infringement in the build up though, allowing McShane to open his account and get the Town firing. A Conor McBride point followed moments later and Ballycastle had an early lead after two minutes.
Cunning doubled his tally to restore parity to the score line moments later but the first decisive score of the final came in the sixth minute. Receiving an inch perfect hand pass from Deáglán Smyth, Keelan Molloy found himself through on the Ballycastle goal. His initial shot was hooked and with the sliotar skewing high, Ballycastle ‘keeper Brendan Connor couldn’t clear the danger. Molloy following up his shot and finding the back of the net with the rebound with a smart finish.
Eamon Elliott and Tiernan Butler landed points for Ballycastle either side of Molloy’s first white flag of the final ensured Ballycastle made a positive response to the Dunloy goal but the Cuchullains began to take control. A trio of points from Eoin O’Neill, Seaan Elliott and Molloy before Cunning landed a ’65 in the 12th minute to open a seven point advantage for Dunloy before they scored the second major of the final. Deáglán Smyth collecting a long ball from Anton McGrath before showing his marker a clean pair of heals and applying the emphatic finish.
1-4 without reply for the Cuchullains in the space of six minutes left Ballycastle reeling but a brace of points from McShane (one free) temporarily stopped the rot before Cunning added his second free of the match, taking his tally to four points for the half by the 17thminute.
Dunloy continued to apply pressure with Seaan Elliott and O’Neill firing over two points in as many minutes and while Conal Colgan split the posts for Ballycastle in the 20th minute, it was their last score of the half. The Cuchullains were too hot for Ballycastle to handle in the last ten minutes as they tagged on a further five points – Cunning (free), Molloy (two), O’Neill and Seaan Elliott giving Dunloy a 2-15 to 0-7 lead at the short whistle.
It was an incredibly fluent performance from Dunloy, especially after the opening quarter. The Scoring burst of 1-4 in just six minutes put them in control after what was a close opening that they edged. Ballycastle were going to have to do something different in the second half to get back into the game. The Dunloy half back line were dominating the Ballycastle puck outs while Ciaran Elliott and Anton McGrath were instrumental for the Cuchullains. Tiernan Butler and Eamon Elliott started the second half in midfield and while McShane landed his third free of the match, fourth point in total to open the scoring after just 40 seconds, a brace of points from Ciaran Elliott and Deáglán Smyth extended the Dunloy lead.
Smyth’s point in the 33rd minute however would be Dunloy’s last score for 20 minutes. They didn’t have the same fluency they showed in abundance in the opening 30 minutes and while their intensity levels dropped, they did enough at the other end to keep Ballycastle at bay. In that 20 minute barren spell, the Town only managed two points of their own, Oisin McAuley and McShane (free) while the double save of Brendan Connor kept frustrating the Cuchullains.
Cunning landed a brace of points in the 53rd and 55th minutes to quell any notions of a Ballycastle revival in the closing stages. McShane’s sixth point of the match was answered by Cunning (free) and Molloy’s fifth white flag of the hour before Ballycastle scored their goal. With the clock just entering the 61st minute of the final, Colm Butler gather the sliotar 20 yards from goal and found the bottom right hand corner of Ryan Elliott’s net. Conor Boyd landed a long range point in the time that remained but it did little to take any gloss off an emphatic victory for the Cuchullains.
Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Aaron Crawford, Ryan McGarry, Conor Kinsellan; Ronan Molloy, Eamon Smyth, Callum Scullion; Ciaran Elliott, Anton McGrath; Chrissy McMahon, Keelan Molloy, Eoin O’Neill; Seaan Elliott, Deáglán Smyth, Conal Cunning.
Ballycastle: Brendan Connor; Eoin Hill, Ciaran McKeague, Oran Kearney; Oisin McAuley, Conor Boyd, Conal Colgan; Lorcan Donnelly, Ryan Hill; Eamon Elliott, Colm Butler, Ben McQuillan; Darimuid McShane, Tiernan Butler, Conor McBride.
Scorers for Dunloy: Keelan Molloy 1-5; Conal Cunning 0-8 (5 f’s, 1 ’65); Deáglán Smyth 1-1; Eoin O’Neill 0-3; Seaan Elliott 0-3; Ciaran Elliott 0-1
Scorers for Ballycastle: Dairmuid McShane 0-6 (5 f’s); Colm Butler 1-00; Oisin McAuley 0-1; Conor Boyd 0-1; Eamon Elliott 0-1; Conor McBride 0-1; Tiernan Butler 0-1
Referee: Kevin Parke (Naomh Éanna)