North Antrim rivals McQuillans Ballycastle and Loughgiel Shamrocks go head to head in Sunday’s early Antrim ACHL Division 1 throw-in with both sides eager to take home the points.
Traditionally one of Antrim hurling’s ‘Big Four’, tomorrow’s hosts have struggled in recent years to shake off the impression of being a ‘yo-yo’ team between Division 1 and 2. Comfortable winners of the latter last season, the young side have made an encouraging start to life in the top flight.
The free-taking abilities of Ciaran Clarke and Diarmuid McShane were crucial to the Town as they secured an opening-day draw at a blustery Ballygalget and the North Coast side followed that up with a bright display, albeit in defeat, against Antrim and Ulster champions Ruairí Óg.
Clarke and McShane were again to the fore and Owen Kinney, a new arrival from Armoy, also wrote his name onto the scoresheet and into the reckoning in black and amber.
The Shamrocks had James McNaughton largely to thank for their initial win over Ruairí Óg in a repeat of last year’s SHC Final. The precocious half-forward raised the white flag no less than sixteen times, contributing to all but 0-03 of his team’s 0-19 total as they signed on with a comfortable win.
In their second game however, the trip to Portaferry proved a trickier challenge and it was the Down men who finished on the better end of a 0-17 to 0-10 win, meaning the Shamrocks will travel to Páirc Mhic Uilín tomorrow in chastised mood.
McNaughton sparkled in this arena in last season’s championship and if the hosts are to prevail here, he will need to be closely marked. Conor Boyd may be the man tasked with tracking the Loughgiel man.
The Town have sharp forwards of their own who will need special consideration. Any forward line containing TT Butler, Owen Kinney and Diarmuid McShane, along with the in-form Ciaran Clarke is one to be reckoned with.
Both these sides will feel the points are there for the taking and this should yield a competitive encounter. There is a feeling that if the hosts can bury the threat of McNaughton, there will be a sense of celebratory resurrection around The Town this Easter Weekend.