BALLYCASTLE won their second Under 21 Hurling Championship title in four years when they recovered from a shaky start to beat Loughgiel by 1-14 to 1-9 in Sunday evening’s final at Armoy.
In a game that was always entertaining the young McQuillan’s fell 0-3 to 0-1 behind as Liam McKillop, James Campbell and Conal Dobbin all sent over points in reply to one from the Castle’s Mattie Donnelly.
Loughgiel were unlucky not to have gone further ahead at this stage when an angled ground shot by one of their forwards rebounded off the post, but Ballycastle took full advantage when they cleared the ball upfield for Ciaran Clarke to close the gap with a pointed free.
Ballycastle were slowly gaining the upper hand and following a James McLister point full-forward Shane Jennings really got them going when he received an excellent pass from Paul McLernon before rounding his man and firing in a superb goal. Clarke added a point to pull them four clear but they were pegged back again when a shot from forty metres by Loughgiel corner-forward Dan McCloskey went all the way to the net to cut the gap to a single point.
Ballycastle responded well and were on top for the remainder of the opening half as points from Shane Jennings, Ciaran Clarke, ‘Stoogie’ McAfee and Gerard Laverty saw them take a five point lead into half-time. (1-9 to 1-4)
Loughgiel burst from the traps at the start of the second-half and three quick points from Liam McKillop, Seamus Dobbin and team captain Conal Dobbin left them just two in arrears.
Ballycastle were rocked - and the loss of star forward Peter Dallat through injury added to their woes - but well taken points from substitute Eoin McAlonan, Ciaran Clarke and Gerard Laverty steadied the ship and pulled them four clear again by the forty-ninth minute.
A well worked move by Loughgiel ended with Liam McKillop pointing to cut the gap back to three again, and indeed they could have closed even further had it not been for some wayward shooting from their forwards.
Ballycastle were once again a little unsure looking, but a great catch and clearance from defence by team captain Cormac ‘Hippy’ Donnelly proved inspirational and they pushed for home in the seven minutes injury-time added to a stop-start second-half, and a cracking point by left-half back Mickey Dallat sealed the win.
BALLYCASTLE – Aiden McAlinden, Owen Turner, Cormac Donnelly, Dermot Donnelly, Paul McLernon, Matthew Donnelly, Michael Dallat, James McLister, Gerard Laverty, James McShane, Peter Dallat, Conor Duncan, Stephen McAfee, Shane Jennings, Ciaran Clarke.
Subs – Eoin McAlonan for Peter Dallat (inj)
LOUGHGIEL – Aiden Campbell, Ronan McCloskey, Ronan Gillan, Tiernan Coyle, Ronan McFadden, Daniel McPeake, Conal Dobbin, Ciaran McKinely, Liam McKillop, Seamus Dobbin, James Campbell, Donal McKinley, Chris Quinn, Paudie McFadden, Dan McCloskey.
REFEREE – Garrett Duffy (St Gall’s)