Dunloy, Ballymena

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Late Rafter Free Breaks Cushendun Hearts

Robert Emmett's line up before this afternoon's game.

Robert Emmett's 0-16 Castleblayney Hurling Club 1-14

Fergal Rafter raised the roof in Armagh with a last-minute free to clinch the Ulster JHC for Monaghan champions Castleblayney after a stirring second-half comeback.

Cushendun had controlled the first half to lead by four at the break, with their customary spread of six different scorers, but a goal from Mark Treanor mid-way through the second half sparked the Farney revival, with Rafter ultimately punishing late misses from Conor McHugh and Conleth McNeill to see his side home.

Cushendun opened the scoring within seconds of the throw-in, James Morgan bursting forward with purpose to split the Castleblayney posts, before a free under the stand from Fergal Rafter got the Farney men off the mark.

Morgan followed up with his second of the game, eventually dipping the ball in a ruck and floating over, before opening scores from David Kilgore and Dominic McQuillan turned the screw for the Emmett's side.

A determined score from Castleblayney's Mark Treanor lifted the siege briefly, the full forward striking the ball over mid-stumble to get his side's second point, but the Antrim champions pulled further clear with a Conor McHugh 65 and scores from Pierce Bannon and Eugene Duffin.

A deep Conleth McNeill free left Cushendun leading by six, before Castleblayney began to find their rhythm and three Rafter points, two from placed balls saw them cut the deficit to three, but a Conor McHugh 65 on the stroke of half time ensured his side went in at the half time whistle with a four-point lead.

A point from David Kilgore opened the second half scoring for the Antrim champions, but Castleblayney replied instantly through a Rafter free and a Mark Treanor effort to see the gap cut to three.

Dominic McQuillan and Rafter again traded scores before two Conor McHugh frees saw the Glens men open up a somewhat comfortable five-point lead, but in Mark Treanor the Monaghan men had a man who posed a consistent threat and it was the full forward who landed the meaningful blow.

Cushendun thought they had cleared the danger as a Rafter 65 dropped short, but the Farney men regained possession and found Treanor, who unleashed a rasping shot low past Eoin Magee from 20 yards out.

Conleth McNeill provided an immediate response for Cushendun, but with Rafter now in unerring form, frees from McNeill and McHugh just couldn't get them clear of their opponents as the Castleblayney marksman responded in kind.

With three minutes of normal time remaining, yet another Rafter free from inside his own half brought a roar from the travelling Castleblayney support as he left a point between them, and the din reached fever pitch minutes later when Fintan Finnegan gave them the lead, emerging from a ruck with the sliotar and floating it over the bar.

Emmett's had not one but two chances to win the game in stoppage time and watched agonisingly as first McNeill and then McHugh pulled their efforts wide of the posts, before a foul on Hugh Byrne wide on the right flank gave Castleblayney the golden opportunity to win the game.

Rafter rifled it between the uprights and when Paddy Finnegan ended a late run from Conor McHugh with a fine hook, referee Tarlach Conway sounded the end of the game and the Monaghan men took the title.

Robert Emmett's: Eoin Magee, Sean Hamilton, Aidan Corbett, Jack McKay, Mark Scally, Donal O'Hara, Tom Scally, Matthew McCartin, Conor McHugh (0-03f), Pierce Bannon (0-01) (Niall McAuley 40), Eugene Duffin (0-01) (Eoin McQuillan 35), Dominic McQuillan (0-02), James Morgan (0-02) (RJ McQuillan 56), Conleth McNeill (0-04f), David Kilgore (0-03).

Castleblayney Hurling Club: Paddy Collins, Colin Merrick, Eoin Leonard, Cormac McNally, Bernard Connor, Peter Treanor, Jim McHugh, Brian Flanagan, Paddy Finnegan, Hugh Byrne, Fergal Rafter (0-01, 0-10f), Fintan Finnegan (0-01), Craig Callan (Aaron Kenny 40), Mark Treanor (1-02), Brian McGuigan.

Referee: Tarlach Conway (St Colm's Ballinascreen)

The Training Hub Cloughmills Man of the Match: Fergal Rafter (Castleblayney Hurling Club)

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