Dunloy, Ballymena

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Neeson Fires All Saints to the Final


Canice Mooney prepares to send a sideline into the All Saints' defence.

All Saints Ballymena 2-12 Davitt's Belfast 1-09


Seven points from full-forward Ciarán Neeson were enough to see All Saints through to meet St Agnes' in the final of the Antrim Junior B Hurling Championship after they defeated Davitt's in Randalstown on Saturday evening.


Despite the Ballymena men recording a comfortable league victory when the sides met back in May, only one league point separated the teams going into tonight's fixture.


The roars from the changing rooms were an indicator that both sides were focused on the task ahead and the opening exchanges were rife with the passion expected in the white heat of championship battle, with Davitt's making the early running.



Stephen McGivern and Canice Mooney shot opening scores for the Belfast men, with Conor Matthews buzzing busily around the Ballymena half-back line causing them some early difficulty.


Ciarán Neeson sent over this first of the evening to half the Davitt's lead, before a glittering mix of industry and skill from Liam Cassley sparked the game into life.


Having lost the initial battle on the puck out, Cassley chased his man down and executed a textbook hook, before roll-lifting the ball into space and slotting the ball between the posts from 65 yards to level the scores.


Cassley was again involved minutes later, a determined run through the heart of the Davitt's defence drawing a foul.


Neeson opted to go low with the free and it was easily saved by Sean McIlhatton in the Davitt's goalmouth, only for Cassley to tidy up proceedings and slip a handpass to Neeson, the full foward making up for his earlier error in judgement by firing over to send All Saints into the lead.



The Belfast men were back on terms almost immediately, great defensive work from Conor Matthews drawing a free from Darren McGinty and the impressive Stephen McGivern made no mistake wide on the Davitt's left.


An opportunistic Damian Gillan point and a further free from Ciarán Neeson sailed over the bar as the Ballymena men responded to open a two-point lead before Niall McGarry netted the game's first goal.


A high ball into the Davitt's defence was not dealt with by goalkeeper Sean McIlhatton, who elected to bat the ball out as it dropped dangerously towards the crossbar. McGarry was on hand to volley home the resulting parry from the edge of the six-yard box.


McIlhatton was then forced off injured, Gearóid Cosgrove volunteering between the sticks as Liam McHugh was introduced for Davitt's. Neeson waited patiently for the change to take place before dispatching a free over the crossbar to leave All Saints six up.


The barrage of scores was well-answered by Davitt's, Conor Matthews breaking free of his man and firing over on the run, before two Stephen McGivern frees had the Belfast side back within three of Saints before Liam Cassley ensured the Ballymena men went in at the break four up, pointing well in space on the left flank.


Referee Mark McDonald (St Gall's) with the team captains before the throw-in.

McGivern and Neeson spent the opening minutes of the second half swapping scores from placed balls, notching a brace apiece before Damian Gillan repeated his first half trick, grasping a loose sliotar and hurling it between the uprights to open up a five-point gap.


Minutes later the gap became eight, Niall McGarry again in the right place at the right time, a high ball wreaking havoc in the Davitt's six-yard box before falling to McGarry, who steered it home from point-blank range.


The next few minutes were punctuated by fouls and loose pulls as hurling took a back foot, culminating in the double sending-off of Anthony Rowntree and Ballymena substitute Terence Diamond for an off-the-ball incident.


As the game entered injury time, Ciarán Neeson ended a thirteen-minute scoreless period, landing a long-range free to steady the ship and open a nine-point gap on Davitt's.


Man of the Match Ciarán Neeson, who hit 0-07 of his team's 2-12 total.

The Belfast men did land a late consolation, a loose ball in the Ballymena defence hammered home with a ferocious ground pull, but it was too little, too late for Davitt's and referee Mark McDonald blew his whistle on the resulting puck out to signal an All Saints' victory and set up a final meeting with St Agnes' in the Junior B Hurling Championship Final.


All Saints' Ballymena: Daire Hasson, Darren McGinty, Christopher McAfee, Francis Casey, Ryan McGarry, Colum Neeson, Brendan McDonnell, Luke O'Rawe, Ciaran McGarry, Damian Gillan, Liam Cassley, Vincent Esler, Niall McGarry, Ciarán Neeson, Pádhraig Magill.


Davitt's Belfast: Sean McIlhatton, Eugene Gallagher, Thomas Óg Toland, Gearóid Cosgrove, Nathan Maginn, Thomas Maguire, Jason Close, Anthony Rowntree, Michael Óg Rowntree, Conor Matthews, Colm McKee, Canice Mooney, Christopher Gallagher, Stephen McGivern, Rory McEvoy.


Referee: Mark McDonald (St Gall's)


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