Latharna Óg 2-12 All Saints’ Ballymena 2-10
A stirring comeback in the final five minutes of this Antrim Junior B Hurling Final secured a historic title for Latharna Óg as they defeated shell-shocked holders All Saints’ at Fr McGuigan Park, Ahoghill.
Trailing by eight in the 55th minute, quickfire goals from Anthony O’Neill and Seamus McNeill reduced the gap to two before Conor Matthews and Niall McGoldrick levelled matters.
Ballymena had chances to quell the uprising, but first Damian Gillan and then Ciaran Neeson shot wide from placed balls, allowing late points from Michael Lismore and Brian Quinn to share the spoils.
It was the Slemish-siders who began the game sharply, Ciaran Neeson opening the scoring in the first minute before Damian Gillan settled himself with an early free.
Phil Craig responded for the Seasiders but they looked to be feeling the nerves of their first championship match in four years as the more experienced Saints took control, with scores from Gillan, Neeson and Gary Miskella opening a four-point lead.
Neeson then danced through the Larne defence to net his sixth goal of the campaign before Conor Matthews shot a response for the challengers. Neeson was then involved in Ballymena’s second goal, his short pass working through the hands of Liam Cassley to Kieran Butler, who finished neatly to leave nine points between the sides after 26 minutes.
Phil Craig was looking lively for Latharna Óg and notched a score on the run in the 27th minute, shot a wide in the 29th minute and was duly red carded for a wild pull on the stroke of half time. Liam Cassley also earned himself a dismissal for his retaliation.
A bruising first half gave way to an equally intense second, but Larne’s early nerves appeared to have evaporated and Conor Matthews rattled the bar with the opening action of the second period. The clearance fell to Larne corner back Conor Barkley who, from his own half, launched over a huge score that gave his side a lift.
Michael Lismore and Damian Gillan traded pointed frees before further points from Mattthews and Lismore reduced the gap to five points, but Gillan’s accuracy from placed balls restored the six-point gap almost immediately.
Two more Gillan frees either side of a long-range Niall McGoldrick point followed before Cormac Magill plucked Luke O’Rawe’s sideline from the floodlit Ahoghill air and fired over on the turn to give Ballymena a double-score lead on 50 minutes.
The game momentarily fell flat as Ballymena appeared to have done enough, but a high ball towards the Larne full forward line sparked the Craigyhill Terrors back to life. Taking the sliotar down with an outstretched hurl, Anthony O’Neill collected ahead of Patrick O’Kane and kept his composure to fire past Daire Hasson.
Before the cheers had settled Latharna Óg had the ball in the Ballymena net again, this time Seamus McNeill burrowing his way past two defenders and slotting home from the edge of the six yard box.
With All Saints’ visibly shocked, Conor Matthews blocked down a Luke O’Rawe clearance and fired over before another massive Niall McGoldrick free levelled the game. The lead had gone from eight to zero in four minutes.
The momentum appeared to swing to the holders once again as Larne’s Darren Martin was dismissed for a second yellow card, but wides from Gillan and Neeson only energised the Brustin Braes side.
Michael Lismore proved the hero, chasing a wayward pass into the full forward line and slipping it between the posts from a tight angle, before Brian Quinn nailed the insurance point on 63 minutes.
The final whistle was greeted with scenes of pure joy as Latharna Óg celebrated a victory that had looked unlikely as recently as ten minutes previous. The All Saints men were a picture of disbelieving devastation as they watched their title be snatched from under their noses.
After the celebrations subside, Larne will turn their attention to the Junior Hurling Championship and the prospect of a quarter-final meeting with St Mary’s Rasharkin at the end of the month.
Latharna Óg: Chris Keenan, Niall McGoldrick (0-02f), Barry Pettricew, Conor Barkley (0-01), Darren Martin, Ryan O’Donnell, Thomas Carson, Caolan Shields, Phil McKendry, Phil Craig (0-01f), Brian Quinn (0-01), Michael Lismore (0-01, 0-03f), Seamus McNeill (1-00), Anthony O’Neill (1-00), Conor Matthews (0-03).
All Saints’ GAC: Daire Hasson, Patrick O’Kane, Chris McAfee, Terence Diamond, Sean O’Rawe, Colum Neeson, Padhraig Magill, Damian Gillan (0-05f), Vincent Elser, Cormac Magill (0-01), Gary Miskella (0-01f), Luke O’Rawe, Ciaran Neeson (0-02, 0-01f), Kieran Butler (1-00), Liam Cassley.
Sub: Ciaran Cassley for Kieran Butler 46’
Referee: Paul O’Neill (Kickham’s Creggan)
Man of the Match: Michael Lismore (Latharna Óg)