Dunloy, Ballymena

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Carson Brace Seals the Victory

The teams warm up at Páirc Mhic Uilín.

Naomh Eoin 3-11 Ruairí Óg Cushendall 2-16

A second-half brace from Conor Carson was enough to see Ruairí Óg into their sixth Bath Shack Antrim SHC Final in a row after they twice pegged back an impressive St John's side at Ballycastle on Sunday afternoon.

Both sides named changes from their drawn encounter for the replay, with the Whiterock men losing Donal Carson to emigration and Cushendall missing Eoin Campbell due to a hand injury.

After impressing in the last game, Donal McNaughton was handed a starting berth, alongside Alex Delargy who netted their goal in the initial encounter. Gerard Cunningham and Simon McCrory came into the St John's line up and they engaged in a reshuffle, with Ciaran Johnston dropping to centre back and captain Colm McFall dropping to the bench.

It looked like the changes may have unsettled the Belfast side, with Ruairí Óg making a blistering start to the match, hitting 0-06 without reply in the first seven minutes.

Points from Ryan and Fergus McCambridge and Cormac McClafferty, alongside a trio from Neil McManus were finally answered by Barry McFall, who collected a short pass from Peter McCallin and slotted between the uprights.

Conor Johnston then fired over his first free of the day to reduce the gap to four after a foul on Barry McFall, who was proving to be the biggest thorn in the side of the Cushendall defence.

Neil McManus, operating in midfield, sent over a long-range effort to re-establish a five-point gap, before Johnston again replied after a foul on Peter McCallin. Michail Dudley then followed up with a neat score before Fergus McCambridge capitalised on loose marking to put four between the sides.

Cushendall's early pressure had shocked the Belfast men, but gradually they were beginning to grow into the game and their determination was paying dividends.

A further Conor Johnston free saw them creep closer to last year's finalists, before a spell of pressure saw them almost rattle the net, Barry McFall doubling on a high ball only to see his effort fizz wide of Eoin Gillan's goal.

Johnston added another score from a 65 before St John's ended the half encouragingly, Stephen Tierney breaking free from defence and slipping a neat hand pass to Michail Dudley, who raced clear of his man and pointed from the right flank to see his side in touch at the break, two behind.

Cushendall would have been looking to start the second half with a statement, and they got it through Donal McNaughton, eventually sending over after the St John's defence had done everything humanly possible to prevent a score through sheer doggedness. Neil McManus followed up with a free and suddenly the gap had opened to four.

Conor Johnston refused to let his side panic and calmly slotted two tricky frees to see the half-time deficit restored before Barry McFall lit up the North Coast with a goal of absolute quality.

St John's worked the ball backwards and forwards across the goal with short, sharp passing, eventually ending in the hand of Peter McCallin. McCallin beat his man and floated a hand pass towards the unmarked McFall in the middle. Without breaking stride, McFall simply drew his hurl and volleyed the ball sweetly into the top corner of Gillan's net to give Naomh Eoin the lead.

Their ascendancy was short-lived however, and Paddy McGill collected a Donal McNaughton pass to level proceedings immediately, before Neil McManus tapped over a 21 yard free to give his side the lead once again.

Conor Johnston then ploughed a lonely furrow on the left flank, beating his man three times before floating over a lovely score to once again restore parity as the balance of the game swung unpredictably.

A further low free from McManus saw him edge Ruairí Óg in front once more, before Conor Carson signalled a warning of what was to come, plucking a sliotar from the air under serious pressure and feeding Neil McManus, whose effort was superbly saved by Simon Doherty.

A neat touch and point from McManus in the centre of the pitch then saw Cushendall extend their lead to two points, only for a moment of magic from Peter McCallin to delight the Whiterock crowd. Winning the ball wide on the left, he powered past his man and buried the ball past Gillan to raise a green flag and leave St John's leading once again.

Just as the St John's side were starting to believe, they were immediately pegged back by a Cushendall goal, Conor Carson leaping highest to turn a high Neil McManus ball into the back of Simon Doherty's net.

Indecision in the St John's defence then allowed Carson to net his second. As the defenders struggled to clear, they eventually coughed up possession to Donal McNaughton, who slipped the pass to Carson who made no mistake to open up a six-point lead.

Brian Walsh Hurleys - Ulster Man of the Match Conor Carson.

With only minutes remaining, the Belfast men went in search of scores and Michael Bradley hit a fine reply from his own half to reduce the gap to five, before Conor Johnston turned the heads of those leaving the ground as he raced past the Cushendall defence and hammered the sliotar home to leave only one between them.

As the seconds ticked away, Cushendall won the puck out and were awarded a free, much to the frustration of the St John's crowd who let Mark O'Neill know how they felt. Substitute Emmett Laverty sent over the free and the puck out heralded the final whistle as Ruairí Óg go through to meet Loughgiel in two weeks' time.

Naomh Eoin: Simon Doherty, Conall Morgan, Ryan McNulty (Colm McFall), Aidan McMahon (CJ McKenna), Stephen Tierney, Ciaran Johnston (0-01f), Gerard Cunningham, Simon McCrory, Jim Peoples, Barry McFall (Niall McCallin) (1-01), Peter McCallin (1-00), Shea Shannon, Michail Dudley (0-02), Michael Bradley (0-01), Conor Johnston (1-02, 0-04f) .

Ruairí Óg: Eoin Gillan, Arron Graffin, Paddy Burke, Martin Burke, Sean Delargy, David Kearney, Francis McCurry, Ryan McCambridge (0-02), Neil McManus (0-03, 0-06f), Conor Carson (2-00), Paddy McGill (0-01) (Emmett Laverty, 0-01f), Donal McNaughton, Fergus McCambridge (0-02) (Sean McAfee), Alex Delargy (Niall McCormick), Cormac McClafferty (0-01) (Eunan McKillop).

Referee: Mark O'Neill (Glen Rovers Armoy)

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