Classy Loughgiel stay on course to lift crown
Loughgiel 1 - 16 Ballygalget 1 - 9
Loughgiel have set standards in hurling in Ulster that no-one has been able to match for quite some time.
So even when they are not quite at their best, they are still usually better than everybody else and so it proved yesterday, as they ran out comfortable winners in the Ulster club hurling semi-final in Owenbeg.
Loughgiel are now hot favourites to land a fourth Ulster title in a row against Derry champions Slaughtneil in the decider on October 27.
Down champions Ballygalget pushed the Antrim kingpins hard in the second-half yesterday, and gave them a tougher battle than they're expected to face in the final.
But Loughgiel were not flattered by the seven-point winning margin.
"Sometimes it's about the result, not the performance, and we're just happy to get through to another Ulster final," said Loughgiel boss PJ O'Mullan.
"It was exactly the kind of tough test we needed. There were no trophies handed out today.
"It was scrappy, but the aim was to get to an Ulster final and give ourselves a chance of getting this four in a row, and that objective was achieved.
"Sometimes you have to grind out – and today we grinded it out."
Loughgiel, the 2012 All-Ireland club hurling champions, seized the early initiative through a goal from man of the match Benny McCarry after eight minutes.
Liam Watson lobbed a 20m free short to McCarry and, with the Ballygalget defence napping, he drilled a low shot past Graham Clarke.
Loughgiel did not hit the heights of their sparkling county final win over Cushendall two weeks ago, but they did enough, and the goal gave them a cushion they never relinquished.
Shay Casey scored twice from play in the first half with Liam Watson hitting 0-4, three from frees, to stretch their lead.
They still felt hard done by, however, with Derry referee Eamonn Hasson making a number of questionable calls against the favourites.
Ballygalget had a poor first half and trailed by 1-8 to 0-4 at the interval.
The Down champions were much livelier in the second-half and Gareth 'Magic' Johnson, the star of Down's Christy Ring Cup success this year, grabbed a goal back after 37 minutes.
Quinn also made two fine saves to deny Johnson, who was much more dangerous when moved from wing-forward to full-forward after the break.
After a quiet first half, Down star Danny Toner came alive and hit 0-4 in the second period, including three from play.
But a five-point deficit was the closest they got and Loughgiel were always comfortable, with seven different players on the scoresheet compared to Ballygalget's four.
Benny McCarry caught the eye with some superb scores from difficult angles and distances and two of his three second-half points from play were of real quality.
He made a superb catch in the air and then converted the first point from an acute angle and hit another well-taken score when under serious pressure from two defenders.
Substitute Barney McAuley sent over the last point for Loughgiel, who will be without the injured Joey Scullion and ex-skipper Johnny Campbell for the final in two weeks' time.
LOUGHGIEL: D Quinn; P Gillan, N McGarry, R McCloskey; T Coyle, M Scullion, O McFadden; M McFadden, T McCloskey; M Connolly, D Laverty (0-1), E McCloskey (0-1); B McCarry (1-4), S Casey (0-2), L Watson (0-6, 4f). Subs: D McKinley (0-1) for Connolly (HT), B McAuley (0-1) for T McCloskey (50), D McCloskey for E McCloskey (53), S Dobbin for Laverty (58)
BALLYGALGET: G Clarke; S Clarke, S Johnson, P McManus; S Bailie, J McGrath, B Toner; E Clarke, G Clarke; J McManus, D McManus, C Bailie (0-2, 1f); G Dynes (0-1), G Johnson (1-1, 1f), D Toner (0-5, 2f). Subs: J Smyth for S Johnson (30), A Smyth for D McManus (45), K McGreevy for Dynes (50)
Referee: Eamonn Hasson (Derry).