Dunloy, Ballymena

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Cúchullain's Edge Close Encounter

Ruairí Óg Cushendall 0-17 Cúchullain's Dunloy 0-18

Nerves of steel and superb accuracy from Paul Shields late in this evening's game saw the visitors seal the victory in this Bath Shack Antrim SHC Group 1 clash with rivals Ruairí Óg.

When a late free was moved forward for dissent into a scorable position, it looked like this game would end on level terms but Paddy McGill's late free dropped into the welcoming arms of the Dunloy defence and the clearance heralded the final whistle.

Star of the Feis Cup encounter between these sides, Fergus McCambridge, got the scoring underway within seconds of referee Darren McKeown throwing the ball in, before Paul Shields responded with a free in a tit-for-tat fashion that was to prove the story of the match.

Conor McKinley then put the visitors into the lead, collecting a neat handpass from Paudie Shivers and dispatching the sliotar over the Cushendall crossbar, only for Donal McNaughton to reply with a superb overhead catch and finish.

Both teams' puck outs were proving sharp, an essential in today's game, and a Ruairí Óg effort was nicely worked into the hand of Eoghan Campbell, who split the uprights on a run through the centre to regain the lead for the hosts.

Eoin O'Neill then restored parity, latching onto a fine ball from Kevin Molloy and sweeping it over on the run on the left flank before Keelan Molloy once again put the county champions into the lead from a similar position.

Donal McNaughton once again was the man in maroon to bring the sides level again, dropping deep and firing over a monster of a score, only for the lively Eoin O'Neill to collect the ball from Nigel Elliott and raise a white flag to put the Cúchullain's out in front again.

James McKeague (Cúchullain's) and Paddy Burke (Ruairí Óg) with referee Darren McKeown (Naomh Gall) before the match.

Cormac McClafferty had failed to make the most of full-back James McKeague dropping his hurl minutes earlier, but got a second bite at the cherry minutes later, taking full advantage and levelling the match once again from the left flank.

The game was flowing freely and the industrious Paddy McGill traded scores with Keelan Molloy as last year's finalists jabbed at each other before points from McGill and Ryan McCambridge gave the hosts a two-point cushion for the first time in the game.

Another McGill free extended the lead before an uncharacteristic loose puck out from Ryan Elliott was buried over the bar by Donal McNaughton as Ruairí Óg increased their advantage to four.

An immediate Paul Shields response followed, a neat sidestep buying him the space to finish between the posts before Shields dispatched a free awarded for overcarrying from David Kearney.

A beauty of a score from Keelan Molloy wide on the right flank at full speed and another Shields free following a foul on Nicky McKeague saw the visitors rally to go in at half time on level terms with last year's runners-up.

Paddy McGill resumed hostilities with an accurate free before points from Fergus and Ryan McCambridge as he burst into life opened up the three-point gap that Cushendall had enjoyed before Dunloy's recovery, but Nigel Elliott immediately replied to keep the deficit to two.

Referee Darren McKeown then spotted a drag back on Keelan Molloy off the ball, leaving Paul Shields with a relatively simple finish 45 yards out in the centre of the pitch.

A spell of sparring followed as both teams upped the intensity, feeding off the crowd as they became increasingly vocal and midway through the half Paddy McGill landed a further free to leave his side leading by two points.

A trademark Nigel Elliott cut through the heart of the home defence before eventually being ended by Paddy Burke who fouled the flying half-forward. Shields converted the free before landing another minutes later to draw the teams level once again.

Ryan McCambridge then showed his strength, claiming a high ball and brushing off a robust tackle before stepping back and unleashing a huge effort that landed well over the Dunloy crossbar.

From the puckout, the ball broke to Fergus McCambridge, who dipped it and swiftly swung it over the bar to open up a two point lead with the game heading towards the final stages.

With the visitors needing leadership, it arrived from one of their younger stars, Keelan Molloy picking the ball up in midfield and driving past the attentions of the Cushendall defence before finishing nicely between the uprights to settle his team, before centre-back Kevin Molloy fed Paul Shields who levelled the scores with minimum fuss.

The unerring Shields then nudged his side in front, sending over an excellent free wide on the left flank around 45 yards out in front of the Dunloy bench who roared their approval. Shields then repeated the trick from a similar position to extend the Cúchullain lead to two with two minutes remaining.

Eoghan Campbell finished nicely between the posts, again driving through the centre, to set up a nervy few minutes as the game entered stoppage time and there was to be more late drama as Ruairí Óg won a free on their own 45m line.

Dissent from the visitors resulted in McKeown moving the ball forward and Paddy McGill, who had a fine game in maroon, stepped up to the plate. Unfortunately for the home side, his effort dropped into the visiting defence, who cleared the ball and were met with the long whistle and the championship points.

Our Martin Hurls Man of the Match Keelan Molloy with his hurl, generously donated by Martin Hurls.

With both sides still to meet Sarsfields in this group, both will be confident of securing the points they need to reach the semi-finals and both will no doubt be happy to have this tricky fixture behind them without having shown too much of their hand for future outings.

Ruairí Óg Cushendall: Colin Hayden, Joseph McCurry, Patrick Burke, Stephen Walsh, Sean Delargy, Eoghan Campbell (0-02), David Kearney, Paddy McGill (0-02, 0-04f), Francis McCurry, Conor Carson, Fergus McCambridge (0-03), Ryan McCambridge (0-02), Cormac McClafferty (0-01), Donal McNaughton (0-03), Ed McQuillan.

Cúchullain's Dunloy: Ryan Elliott, Phelim Duffin, James McKeague (c), Conor McKinley (0-01), Ronan Molloy, Kevin Molloy, Paudie Shivers, Nicky McKeague, Shane Dooey, Nigel Elliott (0-01), Keelan Molloy (0-04), Paul Shields (0-02, 0-08f), Eoin O'Neill (0-02), Chrissy Brogan, Declan Smyth.

Referee: Darren McKeown (St Gall's)

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