Loughgiel Shamrocks 0-15 Ruairí Óg Cushendall 2-12
"We showed good determination throughout both St John's games and in the final today and we were happy getting that momentum."
Half forward Donal 'Natty' McNaughton's assessment as goals from Paddy Burke and Conor Carson ultimately proved decisive for Ruairí Óg who defeated rivals Loughgiel Shamrocks in the Bath Shack Antrim SHC Final at Páirc Mhic Uilín on Sunday.
Cushendall made only one change from the team that defeated St John's at the same venue a fortnight ago, Eoghan Campbell returning from injury to take his place in the starting fifteen, while captain Shay Casey returned to the Shamrocks line up after dropping to the bench against Cúchullain's Dunloy.
In bright, crisp conditions in Ballycastle, the opening minutes were cautiously greeted by the large crowd, and the game took four minutes to yield the first score, James McNaughton tapping over the bar after Eoin Gillan elected to bat down a high ball rather than catch it as it dropped in on his goal.
Donal McNaughton responded with a score wide on the right hand side, before Tiernan Coyle attempted to lift the crowd with Loughgiel's second point from 25 yards. McNaughton again fired Ruairí Óg level, but Joey Scullion showed great determination to win a loose ball and put his side back into the lead.
The Shamrocks had settled slightly better, and doubled their lead as McNaughton floated over his first free of the day following a foul on Joey Scullion by Sean Delargy, before a Neil McManus free flew narrowly over the bar from 20 yards to cut the deficit to one.
Cushendall then fired a warning shot at their opponents when Conor Carson beat Neil McGarry to the ball and squared for an unmarked Fergus McCambridge. Rather than take control of the ball, McCambridge opted to bat towards goal with the ball squirming wide of goal, but it was an furrow Ruairí Óg would plough to good effect later in the game.
Conor Carson then levelled proceedings with another big score wide on the right hand side, only for Tiernan Coyle to nudge the Shamrocks back into the lead with a neat run and finish. The ever-consistent Neil McManus then fired Ruairí Óg level from a free in front of the posts, before a brace of scores from James McNaughton saw them open up a two-point lead.
The Cushendall men then cut open the Loughgiel defence, Paddy Burke the unlikely benefactor as he collected a Conor Carson hand pass, powered away from the Loughgiel defenders and finished low into DD Quinn's net to give Ruairí Óg the lead.
An immediate reply from Dan McCloskey was quickly countered by Ryan McCambridge, before McCloskey again split the posts as the both teams began to find their rhythm. Paddy McGill fired over another for Cushendall from wide on the right hand side before Donal McNaughton ensured that his side took a two-point lead into the break with an excellent finish on the run from the right touchline.
The second half again saw a nervy start, with wides on both sides before McManus eventually struck from a free to put the 2015 champions into a three-point lead, only for his counterpart James McNaughton to respond for the Shamrocks.
Eoghan Campbell, playing through the pain this afternoon, then notched a fine point, running clear on the right hand side to finish neatly, but a score from Dan McCloskey and another McNaughton free saw the Shamrocks reduce the gap to the minimum.
It was as close as Loughgiel were to get, as in the next attack, Cushendall worked the ball left and right to find space inside for Conor Carson. Carson collected substitute Eunan McKillop's pass calmly but hit his shot straight at DD Quinn, the sliotar careering off his hurl and into the Loughgiel net, a rare mistake from what some on the balcony had seconds before justifiably described as the 'calmest goalkeeper in the county'.
McNaughton responded with a free to leave the gap sitting at three but McManus immediately cancelled it out wide on the right hand side, before Paddy McGill landed a dead ball to extend the Ruairí Óg lead to five points.
James McNaughton was in determined mood and after firing over another free, he further cut the deficit to three as he danced through the Cushendall defence, evading fouls and defenders before slotting his effort between the posts for arguably the score of the afternoon.
Loughgiel continued to push but their high balls into the box were cleared effectively by Arron Graffin and the hard-working Neil McManus as the Cushendall defence repelled the danger. Colum Cunning's whistle finally ended the red siege, allowing Paddy Burke to climb the steps to the Pavilion and lift the Volunteer Cup.
Donal McNaughton was keen to point out the importance of today's victory for the club:
"Well we were on for three in a row and once you start building up those years and keep losing finals, it can get to you, so we felt we had to prove a point today."
With their point proven, they'll celebrate tonight and move onto the Ulster series, where they will meet Ballycran, who shocked Slaughtneil in Belfast this afternoon. McNaughton insists they haven't looked past the Antrim final.
"We look one game at a time. We won today, we'll celebrate tonight, we'll go back to the drawing board and we'll look at Ballycran."
Loughgiel Shamrocks: DD Quinn, Paul Gillan (Shan McGrath 51), Neil McGarry, Ronan McCloskey, Tony McCloskey, Damon McMullan, Odhran McFadden (Maol Connolly 48), Mark McFadden, Tiernan Coyle (0-02), Joey Scullion (0-01), James McNaughton (0-03, 0-06f), Donal McKinley, Daniel McCloskey (0-03), Eddie McCloskey, Shay Casey.
Ruairí Óg Cushendall: Eoin Gillan, David Kearney, Martin Burke, Paddy Burke (1-00), Eoghan Campbell (0-01), Sean Delargy, Arron Graffin, Francis McCurry (Stephen Walsh 52), Neil McManus (0-01, 0-03f), Alex Delargy, Ryan McCambridge (0-01) (Niall McCormick 59), Fergus McCambridge (Eunan McKillop 48), Donal McNaughton (0-03), Conor Carson (1-01) (Sean McAfee 62), Paddy McGill (0-01, 0-01f).
Referee: Colum Cunning (Cúchullain's Dunloy)