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Cushendall fight back to beat Ballycastle for 13th Antrim senior title

Cushendall 2-16 Ballycastle 1-15

By Declan Bogue

It was a case of lucky 13 for Ruairi Óg, Cushendall in Dunloy as they tore up the fairytale script for Ballycastle McQuillans, in their first Antrim hurling final in 14 years.

Nine points had separated the sides at half-time, but there was no panic inside the walls of the Ruairi Óg dressing room, according to manager John McKillop, delighted to land the club's 13th Antrim senior title.

"At half-time we were nine points down but in the changing rooms you would have thought they were winning. Everybody was up for it. The fight was unreal," he said.

Not everyone in the ground would have shared his optimism. With the game in injury time there was nothing between the sides but momentum. With two points in it, Ciaran Clarke fizzed a shot towards goal that Cushendall netminder Eoin Gillan parried, only for Shane Jennings to steam in and tap the rebound.

It hit the crossbar and, within seconds, was over the Ballycastle crossbar through the magnificent Conor Carson.

It was the kind of game that came down to an inch, not mere inches.

"Totally and utterly gutted as you can imagine," was Ballycastle manager Ronan Donnelly's reaction.

"I don't know how we lost it. If there was any luck going about we got none of it. If you tried 100 times you couldn't hit that crossbar. We're absolutely gutted.

"People think we ran out of steam in the second half. We just lost our way in the second half. But credit Cushendall, they've proved they're a Championship team."

McKillop admitted to the fear gripping hold at that point.

"My heart, I don't think it's there," he said. "But I thought that was our day when that happened. Thought, 'Right, things are going our way.'"

Although Ballycastle were aided by a stiff breeze in the opening half, they showed absolutely zero nerves. Four of their attackers - Ciaran Clarke, Stephen McGarry, Stephen McAfee and Shane Jennings - helping themselves to a brace of points each.

A number of goal chances also went astray. Clarke went through in the sixth minute but Gillan advanced bravely to smother the chance. Two minutes later Clarke had another sight on goal but was hooked brilliantly by Martin Burke.

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