Neil McManus impresses as Cushendall shock Sarsfields to progress to club final

Antrim ace Neil McManus was the hero with an impressive 1-7 as Ruairi Og, Cushendall pulled off a shock AIB All-Ireland club hurling semi-final win in Navan.

Neil McManus impresses as Cushendall shock Sarsfields to progress to club final

By Paul Keane

Ruairi Og, Cushendall (Antrim) 3-12 Sarsfields (Galway) 1-6

Antrim ace Neil McManus was the hero with an impressive 1-7 as Ruairi Og, Cushendall pulled off a shock AIB All-Ireland club hurling semi-final win in Navan.

The Antrim and Ulster champions were long odds outsiders to reach the March 17 All-Ireland decider at Croke Park but dominated their opponents throughout.

McManus gave them the perfect start with an early goal and they hit the net twice in the second-half through the excellent Sean McAfee and veteran substitute Karl McKeegan.

Ryan McCambridge was their key man in defence though it was a terrific all round display in difficult conditions at Pairc Tailteann.

Cushendall came to the contest seeking to arrest a dismal semi-final record which read; played eight, lost eight.

They were considerable outsiders as a result but showed no signs of an inferiority complex and edged the first-half, taking a two-point lead into the interval, 1-4 to 0-5.

In a low scoring game, played in windy and rain sodden conditions, it was a significant advantage though, in truth, Cushendall should have been further ahead.

Their will to win overwhelmed Sarsfields at times and full-forward McAfee got through a tonne of good work early on for the northerners.

The powerful attacker won the fourth minute penalty that county ace Neil McManus dispatched to open up an early three-point lead.

Paddy McGill helped himself to a brace of points also while McManus took his tally for the half to 1-1 with a converted free.

At the other end, Cushendall corner-back McCambridge cleared lots of ball and Sarsfields were held to just one point from open play in the entire first-half.

The rest of Sars' tally came from placed balls with Niall Morrissey splitting the posts four times.

Cushendall kicked themselves that they didn't make more of their early advantage though, drilling five wides in the first 15 minutes.

Pic: Sportsfile
Pic: Sportsfile

They weren't made to pay for the profligacy though and stretched their lead with a thrilling start to the second-half.

McManus drilled over two more frees either side of an excellent 32nd minute goal from McAfee when he shrugged off a clutch of defenders before firing past the advancing 'keeper.

Sars went for goals in the final 20 minutes and Joseph Cooney pulled one back when he flicked in from a 65 in the 41st minute.

But they only managed one more point, from a Morrissey free, after that and against side in Cushendall's form it wasn't going to be enough.

The northerners continued to ram home their advantage with timely points and McKeegan poked home their third goal in injury-time from close range.

-----

Ruairi Og, Cushendall scorers: N McManus 1-7 (1-0 pen, 0-5f), S McAfee 1-0, K McKeegan 1-0, P McGill 0-3, C Carson 0-1, A Delargy 0-1.

Sarsfields scorers: N Morrissey 0-5 (0-5f), J Cooney 1-0, A Ward 0-1.

Ruairi Og, Cushendall: E Gillan; R McCambridge, M Burke, A Graffin; D Kearney, E Campbell, S Delargy; S McNaughton, A Delargy; C Carson, N McManus, S McAfee; P McGill, D McNaughton, C McNaughton.

Subs: K McKeegan for C McNaughton (44), C McAllister for D McNaughton (59).

Sarsfields: C Dolan; E Cleary, D Skehill, C Murray; N Quinn, K Hynes, R Quinn; J Cooney, I Fox; A Ward, K Wade, N Morrissey; I Skehill, N Kelly, K Cooney.

Subs: I Kenny for I Skehill (45), J Burke for Wade (50), S Kelly for Morrissey (52), E Spellman for K Cooney (60).

Referee: P O'Dwyer (Carlow).

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