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AIB Ulster Club SHC: Cushendall win thriller

Matthew Conlan, Portaferry, and Neil McManus, Cushendall, pictured with referee Tarlach Conway. Photo by Ulster GAA

Matthew Conlan, Portaferry, and Neil McManus, Cushendall, pictured with referee Tarlach Conway. Photo by Ulster GAA

AIB Ulster Club SHC Semi-Final

Ruairí Óg, Cushendall 4-28 Portaferry 3-19

By David Mohan at BOX-IT Athletic Grounds

It took until extra-time for Cushendall to hit their stride at the Box-It Athletic Grounds on Sunday, but they did just that to put Portaferry away to move into the Ulster Club Senior Hurling decider.

It seemed we were on course for a major shock in normal time as Portaferry led by three deep in stoppage time, but Neil McManus - who let the way with 1-14 - hit the net from a free to force the additional period.

Until then, Portaferry had performed superbly in what turned out to be a thrilling conclusion, but they couldn't see it out and ultimately were made to pay as Joe McLaughlin bagged two goals in extra-time with Alex Delargy adding another to kill it off.

Portaferry were quicker to get to the pitch of the game and they were rewarded with Paudy Doran pointing a free and Caolan Taggart thumping over from play.

Neil McManus got Cushendall on the board with a 65 seven minutes in after Taggart had prevented Joe McLaughlin from finding the net and although Daithi Sands found his range at the other end, McManus and McLaughlin would bring the Antrim champions level.

Indeed, Cushendall will have been disappointed with the amount of chances they passed up in the opening period with nine wides, one of those coming when Alex Delargy overcooked a pass into Sean McAfee who couldn't control when stretching high to gather.

Portaferry would made the most of a goal chance of their own on 12 minutes as an exquisite reverse pass from Daithi Sands into his brother Eoghan put him in and although he was fouled, Niall Milligan followed in to divert to the net.

Cushendall responded well and began to get on top, but it was McManus carrying the fight with two excellent points either side of another from Fred McCurry to level and level it would be at the break, 1-6 to 0-9.

McManus and Doran traded early frees in the second period, but it seemed a different Cushendall team as they upped it a gear and rattled off three quick scores.

However, the game would turn again with Milligan getting his second goal when he woke a long ball out to Tom McGarttan's who pulled and his shot was stopped, but broke to the big full-forward to bundle home.

The sides would go score for score but then with Portaferry one up, a third goal arrived as Eoghan Sands' dropping shot was miscontrolled by Cushendall goalkeeper Conor McAlister and it ended up in the net.

It seemed the shock was on as the Down men kept the gap, pushing it out to five at one stage, but there was just no quit in Cushendall as McManus kept them within striking distance, landing a point in stoppage tie to leave goal in it.

Fergus McCambridge had the chance to level but his shot on the left was blocked by Pearse Smyth, while at the other end, Milligan got his foot to a dropping ball that McAlister did well to react and clear.

But five minutes into added time came that moment with McManus fouled just outside the 20-metre line. A goal was required and he stepped up, sending it low to beat the defenders on the line to level and send the game into extra-time.

Points from Matthew Conlan and Finn Turpin gave Portaferry the early advantage, but the game would flip again with Joe McLaughlin getting onto a break and he cracked low to the net.

It spared a good run for the Glensmen with McLaughlin and McManus landing some superb scores to help their team into a 2-25 to 3-18 advantage at the change of ends.

There was no looking back now and McLaughlin would turn provider for Alex Delargy to hit the net before he rose to bury his second of the day to put a final gloss on the game for Cuahendall who now have a meeting with Slaughtneil to look forward to in two weeks in the final.

Scorers for Cushendall: N McManus 1-14 (1-6 frees, 1 65), J McLaughlin 2-5, F McCambridge 0-2, E McQuillan 0-2, P Burke 0-1, E Campbell 0-1, F McCurry 0-1, Scott Walsh 0-1, R McAteer 0-1.

Scorers for Portaferry: N Milligan 2-0, E Sands 1-2, T McGrattan 0-5 (4 frees), D Sands 0-4, P Doran 0-3 (all frees), F Turpin 0-2, C Tagggart 0-1, M Conlan 0-1, N Fitzsimmons 0-1.

Cushendall: Conor McAlister; Paddy Burke, Liam Gillan, Martin Burke; Scott Walsh, Eoghan Campbell, Aidan McNaughton; Fred McCurry, Ryan McCambridge; Ronan McAteer, Neil McManus, Fergus McCambridge; Alex Delargy, Sean McAfee, Joe McLaughlin.

Subs: Ed McQuillan for R McAteer (46), Christy McNaughton for S McAfee (53), Ruairi McCollam for A McNaughton, Paddy McGill for F McCurry (59), Cormac McClafferty for R McCambridge (60+3); Stephen Walsh for E Campbell (ET 16), RyanMcCambridge for Scott Walsh (ET 17), Fred McCurry for N McManus (ET 19).

Portaferry: Pearce Smyth; Darragh Mallon, Tom Murray, Ronan Smyth; Barry Trainor, Caolan Taggart, Ciaran Savage; Matthew Conlan, Shane Conlan; Paudy Doran, Finn Turpin, Eoghan Sands; Tom McGrattan, Niall Milligan, Daithi Sands.

Subs: Niall Fitzsimmons for P Doran (37), Conor Fay for S Conlan (57), Conor O'Prey for E Sands (60+3); Eoghan Sands for M Conlan (ET 1), Conor O'Neill for E Sands (ET 12), Shane Conlan for B Trainor (ET 12).

Referee: Tarlach Conway (Derry).