Talisman McManus to miss out as Cushendall aim to end Loughgiel's dominance
THE current contrasting fortunes of two of Ulster's most prolific forwards could have a major impact on the outcome of tomorrow's Antrim senior hurling championship final between Loughgiel and Cushendall at Casement Park (3pm).
While defending champions Loughgiel have been handed a major boost now that the normally free-scoring Liam Watson is available again following suspension, Cushendall have been rocked by a medial ligament injury which threatens the involvement of the mercurial Neil McManus, who has been Antrim's best forwards in recent times.
McManus is understood to have no chance of playing any part in the match and that would certainly lessen his team's chances of upsetting the status quo.
Cushendall may well be able to call on the defensive nous of Aaron Graffin and Sean Delargey while Shane McNaughton can give them a presence in midfield, but the absence of McManus would be a major drawback.
Not only is he accurate from all angles and distances from play, he is also one of the best free-takers in the entire country and shouldered a huge responsibility in the Antrim attack this year.
Watson on the other hand, while not assured of a place in the Loughgiel starting line-up, will certainly get game time and indeed if given the opportunity he could still wield a major influence on the proceedings, particularly as he is hungry to sample action again.
Johnny Campbell and Martin Scullion - the latter's brother Joey is also a key player - will help prop up a Loughgiel defence which can look to former Antrim custodian DD Quinn to keep a blank sheet while Barney McAuley, who has captained Antrim in the recent past, will also be a key figure at the back.
Campbell, a regular in the Antrim colours for many years now, was injured in the earlier part of the year, but he has been imposing himself in the Loughgiel side of late while McAuley's ability to read a game is proving a useful defensive tool.
Loughgiel have achieved a level of consistency lately that they had not been able to reach for some time and this could stand to them if the heat is turned up today.