Dunloy, Ballymena

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Ballycran to Relish Cushendall Challenge

League action between the sides at McKenna Park. Pic: John McIlwaine.

"We won today, we'll celebrate tonight. Then we'll go back to the drawing board and we'll look at Ballycran."

Donal McNaughton was suitably coy when asked about the prospect of a final meeting with Ballycran that few would have predicted on that Sunday morning a fortnight ago.

As Buff Egan bounced around the Lurig Inn later that evening, over on the Ards Peninsula the men of St Joseph's were no doubt in similarly buoyant mood, having seen off Ulster kingpins Slaughtneil in a shock result at Corrigan Park.

Finishing just outside the relegation places in Antrim's ACHL Division 1, the table doesn't tell the entirety of the story for St Joseph's, who competed well in the division, managing to secure a point at home to county finalists Loughgiel Shamrocks back in July.

Conor Carson's two goals saw his side dispense with Naomh Eoin at the second attempt.

Indeed, Ballycran will feel that if they can keep Cushendall's goal-scoring forwards at bay they have every chance of success. Two goals early in the second half at McKenna Park helped Ruairí Óg seal a 3-16 to 0-16 victory, while at Páirc Mhuire, Conor Carson and Cormac McClafferty netted to see their side home on a score line of 2-17 to 0-15. When these two meet, goals win games.

If it is to be goals that win games, then the Cushendall men are well-positioned leading into this game, having found the net in all but one of their championship matches to date. Conor Carson is a major goal threat, having hit three in his last two games.

The big forward has recently begun a cadetship with Aer Lingus, and the radar may come into good use trying to keep track of where his team-mates are, such is the constant movement of the Cushendall men.

Pic: John McIlwaine.

Ruairí Óg's team is coming down with talent. Neil McManus will hope to build on his outstanding performance in the Antrim final, while Paddy Burke will no doubt be spurred on by his taste for goal in the same game. Eoghan Campbell swept superbly against Loughgiel, while Arron Graffin was tigerish on the electric James McNaughton.

Man of the Match from the Antrim Final, Paddy Burke.

Ballycran, with Gary Savage at the helm, will be more than hopeful of causing an upset. Comprehensive in their defeat of Slaughtneil, their confidence will no doubt be sky-high coming into this game.

Conor Woods rippled the net to break Portaferry hearts four minutes into injury time in the Down final, and is a forward who oozes class whenever he steps onto a pitch. He will no doubt earn the attentions of the tenacious Graffin, but Cushendall will also need to be aware of Cormac McAllister, who netted the first in that county final.

Colm McManus is a reliable free-taker, while at the back Sean Ennis adds a wealth of experience to add to the dangerous Scott Nicholson in midfield.

Ballycran will need to bring the intensity that saw them home against Slaughtneil and further up the ante against a very talented Ruairí Óg side who will be looking to repeat their All-Ireland campaign of 2016, despite McNaughton's well-polished diplomacy.

Should Ballycran ride the momentous wave of the underdog all the way to victory on Sunday, it would rank higher than their victory over Slaughtneil on the upset scale. Cushendall go in as firm favourites, but this St Joseph's side have the uncanny knack of never knowing when they are beaten.

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