Dunloy, Ballymena

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McMullan Levels Late for Loughgiel

Ciaran McQuillan is the picture of concentration as he bursts on to the field before today's Antrim MHC Final.

Cúchullain's Dunloy 0-14 Loughgiel Shamrocks 1-11

The Dunloy bench were ready to race on to the field to celebrate their fourth title in a row, but a huge equalising score from Odhran McMullan with the last puck of the game left them bereft and secured a replay for his side that looked unlikely after the opening half of this Antrim MHC Final.

In a true captain's display, McFadden had led the early charge for the Shamrocks who took advantage of Dunloy's sluggish start to build a lead, only to see the reigning champions reel them in and gain control by the end of the first half.

The excellent Michael McGarry's goal midway through the second half sparked the Loughgiel revival and set the stage for the game's dramatic climax as both sides threw everything at each other in the final minutes.

Oisín McErlean looked to have given the Cúchullain's the opening score in the third minute, but his effort was ruled out as referee Darren McKeown overruled his umpire's decision, but it took only minutes for Seaan Elliott to register Dunloy's first real score of the game, running directly at the Loughgiel defence and slotting a neat point.

It took over ten minutes for the Shamrocks to raise their first white flag as both teams, Dunloy in particular, proved wasteful in their shooting. Michael McGarry fired over the bar after a looping run on the left hand side of the Cúchullain's defence.

A brace from Odhran McMullan then saw the Shamrocks move two points clear of the champions, the first a 65 and the second a fine score from play. Dunloy were creating chances but the radar was malfunctioning and a further effort from Seaan Elliott took their wide count to five midway through the first half.

Elliott was then in the thick of it as Dunloy got their first sight of Kevin McAuley's goal, his low effort turned away by the Loughgiel netminder, before Rory Mullan closed the gap to one point with a score that fizzed just over McAuley's crossbar.

A Seaan Elliott free then levelled proceedings as the Cúchullain's began to find the target rather than the catch net. Rory Mullan twisted away from his marker to fire between the posts before scores from Pádraig McGilligan and Elliott saw their lead extended to three.

Rían McMullan hit back with his first of the afternoon from a dead ball before Seaan Elliott hit a superb score, over his shoulder facing away from goal under pressure from the tenacious Conor Henry.

On the stroke of half time, Elliott was then handed an easy score as the Loughgiel defence coughed up possession on the way out. The corner-forward couldn't believe his luck as the ball landed in his hand and he stroked it over to leave the champions leading by four at the break.

An early foul on Anthony Smith gave Elliott the opportunity to bring his tally to five with a neat free on the left flank, before Rían McMullan fired over his first from play up the other end as the second half began in earnest.

Breaking from midfield, Anton McGrath split the Loughgiel posts with a fine effort on the right hand side, only for Michael McGarry to pin them back immediately with an excellent catch and score up the other end.

Having threatened to pull away in the second quarter, Dunloy now found a Shamrocks side determined to keep them within reach, and it was McGarry who led the Loughgiel charge, bursting past two defenders and dispatching his shot past Adam Mooney in the Dunloy goal to leave the minimum between the sides.

Having been denied in the opening minutes, Oisín McErlean then did get on the score sheet, taking advantage of a poor Loughgiel clearance to put two between the sides, only for a long-range effort from Odhran McMullan to leave the gap at one again.

With their wide-count still rising, Dunloy needed a score to settle their nerves and it was talisman Seaan Elliott who provided it, firing over a free from 65 yards to ease the pressure with the Shamrocks hunting down everything in green and gold.

A Rían McMullan free wide on the right hand side saw the deficit reduced to a single point before McMullan repeated the trick on the opposite flank to level the game as the large Shamrocks support found their voice.

With six minutes still remaining, Dunloy almost forced a goal as a high Oisín McErlean ball caused chaos in the Loughgiel box, goalkeeper Kevin McAuley eventually fumbling it out for a 65, which Elliott converted to see his side regain the lead.

Loughgiel were clinging firmly to the coattails of the champions though and Rían McMullan slung over an excellent effort, semi-directly after riding a firm tackle from Ryan McGarry to level matters with the game entering stoppage time.

Our Brian Walsh Hurls - Ulster Man of the Match, Loughgiel captain Odhran McMullan who hit the equaliser deep into stoppage time.

Substitute Eoghan McGrath then broke free from his man and split the posts over his shoulder to give Dunloy the lead as the Cúchullain's punched the air all around Ballycastle, before a heroic hook from a Dunloy defender up the other end sent Cathal Hargan's effort spinning harmlessly wide with the Shamrocks in search of an equaliser.

With the Cúchullain's bench on their feet and ready to celebrate their fourth title in a row, it was plucked from under their nose as Michael McGarry won the puck out and fed Odhran McMullan.

McMullan, a full 65 yards from goal, took a quick glance at the posts and unleashed a huge effort, that sailed between the posts as the young Shamrocks captain and his team celebrated wildly.

Seconds later Darren McKeown sounded the final whistle and the teams must meet again. The replay will most likely be played as a curtain-raiser to the Senior Hurling final in a fortnight's time, but this is yet to be confirmed.

Either way, the crowd that witnessed the second half in Ballycastle will be hoping for an equally compelling contest between two determined young teams.

Cúhullain's Dunloy: Adam Mooney, Ciaran McQuillan, Aaron Crawford, Eoin McMullan, Callum Scullion, Ryan McGarry (c), Barry Scott, Anton McGrath (0-01), Oisín McErlean (0-01), Anthony Smith, Ryan McFarlane, Pádraig McGilligan (0-01), Sean O'Neill (Eoghan McGrath, 0-01), Rory Mullan (0-02), Seaan Elliott (0-04, 0-04f).

Loughgiel Shamrocks: Kevin McAuley, Conor Henry, Declan McCloskey, Enda Óg McGarry, Ciaran McKay, Odhrán McMullan (0-02, 0-02f), Tiernan McAlonan, Shane O'Boyle, Paul Boyle, Conor Deery, Cathal Hargan, Michael McGarry (1-02), Rían McMullan (0-01, 0-04f), John Francis Connolly, Odhrán McGrath.

Referee: Darren McKeown (Naomh Gall)

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