Dunloy, Ballymena

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St John's Join The Group Stage

Conor Johnston brings the ball forward on his way to notching 1-09 in this Bath Shack SHC clash.

Naomh Eoin 2-21 (27) Mac Uilín Ballycastle 2-13 (19)

(Naomh Eoin win 7-38 (59) to 3-28 (37) on aggregate)

St John's eased their way through to meet Loughgiel and Rossa in the Group Stage of the Bath Shack Antrim SHC as they had twenty-two aggregate points to spare over their opponent's Mac Uilín Ballycastle in Corrigan Park on Sunday evening.

Both teams made changes to their line-ups from the first leg, with Ciarán Butler stepping back into nets in place of the suspended Ryan McGarry for the away side. Sean Kelly came into the side in defence while Shane Staunton and Aaron Mooney took their place in a reshuffled attack.

For the hosts, Peter McCallin started the game with Michael Bradley dropping into midfield with Ciaran Johnston making way, while in defence Domhnall Moran replaced Stephen Tierney.

Man of the Match from the first leg, Mícheál Dudley, opened the scoring seconds into the game, winning a ball into the forward line and turning to point, before Diarmaid McShane resumed his clinical dead-ball display, rattling over a free from the right flank to equalise almost immediately.

Ballycastle showed some fight early in the match, with Ronan McCarry giving them the lead before McShane landed another free as the visitors flirted with the idea of an epic comeback.

As if stung by the audacity of the visitors to open up a lead, the hosts fired home their first goal of the game, a strong run from Dudley cutting the Mac Uilín defence open, before a smart hand pass found Michael Bradley and left him with a simple finish past Butler in the goal.

Matthew Donnelly (Mac Uilín) and Colm McFall (Naomh Eoin) with Fionntán McCotter (Sarsfields) before the match.

Peter McCallin hit his first score of the game with the next play, swinging the sliotar over as he fell to the ground, before points from Donal Carson and Conor Johnston saw the Whiterock men lead by four.

Diarmaid McShane then added his first score from play, dipping a breaking ball in front of the St John's posts and raising a white flag before the lively Dudley won a free up the other end for Conor Johnston to convert.

The visitors were then thrown a lifeline in the tie when a speculative Ronan McCarry ball in deceived Simon Doherty in the home goal and dropped into the net, but points from captain Colm McFall and Conor Johnston settled the hosts once again.

Ballycastle began to hit a run of form, Tiarnan Butler kicking things off, firing over from the right flank, before a further two Diarmaid McShane frees had the sides level at 1-07 apiece.

The breakout of parity didn't last long, however, and Donal Carson converted a crossfield ball from Mícheál Dudley before frees from Conor Johnston and Michael Bradley had the hosts three ahead once again.

McShane continued to lead the visitors' line, racing out to the right flank to make an excellent catch and win a free, which he then slotted himself before Carson cancelled it out, skipping away from his marker to hammer an effort low over the crossbar.

Unmarked in the middle, Connor Boyd was found with a neat stick pass and he made no mistake from 45 yards, before Tiarnan Butler reduced the deficit to a point with a superb run and point from the left wing.

As the North Coast men drew close to St John's the hosts pulled away again, this time through a penalty on the stroke of half time, when a driving run from corner-forward Donal Carson was illegally ended inside the Ballycastle penalty area as he was dragged down unceremoniously.

Conor Johnston stepped up and sent Butler the wrong way as the home side went in at the short whistle leading by four and barely out of second gear.

Mícheál Dudley opened the second half with a neat sidestep and finish from 50 yards before the visitors lost Tiarnan Butler to injury, with Oisín McAuley his replacement.

The irrepressible Diarmaid McShane then got the away side back within two points on the evening as he buried a close-range free past the masses of St John's defenders on the goal line to leave his side trailing by 2-10 to 2-12, before Kevin Barry McShane made it a one-point game, cutting in from the right flank and firing between the uprights.

Just as the Castle got close to St John's, the home side put the foot down and nudged ahead again, hitting 0-06 without reply, Johnston hitting four of them, with Dudley and Peter McCallin converting the others before Connor Boyd ended the siege with a long-range effort as the game entered the last nine minutes.

With the intensity levels significantly lower than usual, two Conor Johnston scores either side of a Kevin Barry McShane response was all that was left to add to the game and the final whistle saw the home side prevail with twenty-two points to spare on aggregate to seal their passage to the Group Stage.

Naomh Eoin: Simon Doherty, Sean Wilson, Conal Morgan, Aidan McMahon, Barry McFall, Ryan McNulty, Domhnall Moran, Michael Bradley(1-00, 0-03f), Jim Peoples, Conor Johnston (0-05, 1-04f), Colm McFall (c) (0-01), Peter McCallin (0-02), Donal Carson (0-03), Mícheál Dudley (0-03), Shea Shannon.

Mac Uilín Ballycastle: Ciaran Butler, Oran Kearney, James McLister, Sean Kelly, Conor Donnelly, Matthew Donnelly (c), Shane McCarry, Connor Boyd (0-02), Ronan McCarry (1-01), Eamonn Elliott, Shane Staunton, Kevin Barry McShane (0-02), Aaron Mooney, Tiarnan Butler (0-02), Diarmaid McShane (0-01, 1-05f).

Referee: Fionntan McCotter (Sarsfields)

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