Cúchullain's Dunloy 0-10 Kevin Lynch HC 1-16
A personal haul of 1-05 from full-forward Tiarnan McHugh on Sunday afternoon in Ballinascreen saw a hungry and determined Kevin Lynch's side claim back-to-back Ulster Minor Hurling titles at the expense of four-in-a-row Antrim champions Cúhullain's Dunloy.
Manager Kevin Hinphey was understandably happy with his side's performance.
"We could have been out of sight at half time. We weren't quite clicking but we were working really hard and tackling well, and then in the second half the boys showed what they were about."
Despite being out-muscled and out-hurled for most of the opening period, Dunloy went in at the break only four behind after a scrappy first half in which Richie Mullan's frees were the difference, but a more fluid and clinical second half from Lynch's saw them coast home comfortably to their second title in a row.
In a straight swap for the suspended Callum Scullion, Seaan Elliott returned to the side at midfield with Anton McGrath taking up a starting berth in the half-forward line, tasked with going toe-to-toe with Richie Mullan.
Kevin Lynch's lined out with three players who started the SHC Semi-Final against Slaughtneil making up the spine of a very physical and confident side, Richie Mullan, Sean Kelly and Tiarnan McHugh adding senior experience to the team.
In a throwback to the replayed county final, Dunloy went behind to a goal in the opening seconds. Tiarnan McHugh fielded a long ball in his direction, and despite the close attentions of Aaron Crawford, rounded Adam Mooney and poked the sliotar to the net, before Thomas McClarey reacted fastest to a Ryan McGarry block on Eoin Cassidy and fired over to see the holders open an immediate four-point lead.
Ryan McFarlane landed Dunloy's first score moments later as the Antrim champions looked to respond, but the Derry side were first to every ball and winning all the physical battles in the early stages.
Up from the back in a trot he would make several times throughout the game, Richie Mullan slotted a close-range free with the Dunloy defence bouncing in readiness on the line in case he attempted his Senior heroics in the same net.
After Anthony Smith shipped a big hit and shook off the ferocious tackling of the Lynch's defenders, he delivered the sliotar back to the waiting Anton McGrath who fired over Dunloy's second point of the afternoon, but a brace of Mullan frees saw the North Derry side pull themselves five points ahead.
A Pádraig McGilligan free closed the gap to four but the Lynch's response was immediate, Mullan again the tormentor as he fired over from the Dunloy 45m line after James Connors had moved the ball forward for dissent.
Adam Mooney then had to be alert to deny McHugh as he raced clear of Crawford, the Cúchullain's goalkeeper saving low to his left hand side as the full-forward attempted to beat him at the near post.
Mullan missed the resulting 65, but made amends moments later as he converted a second 65 earned by Eoin Cassidy's strong running, before Dunloy half-back Barry Scott took control of the sliotar amidst a ruck of bodies and swept it over the bar to reduce the gap to five once again.
With the first half entering injury time, an unusually quiet Seaan Elliott notched his first of the game, having assumed free-taking duties from McGilligan, to leave the Antrim champions trailing by four at the break.
A flurry of Dunloy intensity marked the start of the second half, during which Eoghan McGrath received a yellow card for a high tackle on Richie Mullan, but it was the Derry side who drew first blood, Richie Mullan slotting a free after a foul on Tiarnan McHugh.
McHugh was very much in the mood and added another moments later, peeling off his man to collect a hand pass and fire between the posts, before Sean Kelly opened his account for the day with a fine run and finish over his shoulder.
Another score on the move from McHugh saw Kevin Lynch's suddenly double their half-time lead and it was left to Sean O'Neill to fire over from the left flank to attempt to stem the Derry side's momentum.
Kevin Lynch's were dealt a blow when Cahir Higgins was dismissed for a strike in front of the Dunloy dug out and Seaan Elliott landed the resulting free to leave six between the sides, but an immediate response from Darragh McGilligan restored the seven-point gap.
Cúchullain's then lost their recently-gained numerical advantage, captain Ryan McGarry shown a straight red car for a kick out at Tiarnan McHugh as they both lay on the ground following a tussle in the Lynch's full forward line and Richie Mullan slotted the free to see them lead by seven.
Elliott then traded scores firstly with Mullan and then Tiarnan McHugh as the Cúchullain's momentarily found a bit of rhythm and began to launch searching balls into the Lynch's defence, but McHugh once agaìn raced out in front of the Dunloy full back line to raise his fifth white flag and leave his side eight points in front.
The big full-forward then turned architect, strong running drawing a foul from the beleaguered Aaron Crawford, which Mullan fired home to leave the holders leading by double scores in the 53rd minute.
A foul on Daire McKeever then allowed Mullan to notch his eighth free of the afternoon, leaving the gap at ten points, before Kevin Lynch's sat back for the remaining five minutes, soaking up attack after attack from Dunloy, the tenacious defence repelling any attempts to get near Niall McGonigle's goal.
Seaan Elliott tried in vain to net a goal that would no doubt prove no more than a consolation, but his two low frees were comfortably saved by a combination of McGonigle and his defence on the goal line, Elliott eventually settling for a point from play to reduce the winning margin to single figures.
Kevin Lynch's retain their title and the integration of their underage prospects into the senior team was no doubt a factor in their success. Hinphey is already looking forward to next season and seeing more of his charges push on and help the senior team in the quest to knock Slaughtneil off their perch.
"Class players, they really are. Some of the best hurlers we've ever produced at underage. The future's bright, we'll get a few more through over the next couple of years and start competing at senior level."
For now though they'll enjoy their Minor success and the feeling of being back-to-back Ulster champions.
Cúchullain's: Adam Mooney, Ciaran McQuillan, Aaron Crawford, Eoin McMullan, Rory Mullan, Ryan McGarry, Barry Scott (0-01), Seaan Elliott (0-02, 0-03f), Pádraig McGilligan (0-01f), Oisín McErlane, Anton McGrath (0-01), Ryan McFarlane (0-01), Sean O'Neill (0-01), Anthony Smith, Eoghan McGrath.
Subs: Conal Kelly for Oisín McErlane 45', Aaron McGuckian for Anthony Smith 56'.
Kevin Lynch HC: Niall McGonigle, Thomas Doran, Niall McNicholl, Cahir Hasson, Connor McKelvey, Richie Mullan (0-08f), Pádraig O'Kane, Eoin Cassidy, Darragh McGilligan (0-01), Cahir Higgins, Seán Kelly (0-01), Daire McKeever, Eoin McKeever, Tiarnan McHugh (1-05), Thomas McClarey (0-01).
Referee: James Connors (Dún na nGall)
Man of the Match: Tiarnán McHugh (Kevin Lynch's)