Dunloy, Ballymena

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The Battle of Ballycastle?


Today's competing clubs.

Two of the fiercest rivals in the entirety of the GAA will lock horns today in Ballycastle in the Bath Shack Antrim SHC, while in the curtain-raiser, two sides will battle to put final disappointment in two previous season behind them.


Antrim JHC Final

Robert Emmet's Cushendun v Shane O'Neill's Glenarm

2pm

Vincent Boyle


Runners-up from the 2016 and 2017 JHC finals will face each other today, with at least one of them guaranteed to exorcise the ghosts of those final losses to Lámh Dhearg and Gort na Móna respectively.


The two sides come into the game on the back of convincing Semi-Final victories, Shane O'Neill's seeing off St Teresa's under lights in Ballymena, while a youthful Emmet's side overcame St Paul's to book their place.


Their league campaigns, however, have been starkly different. A five-minute salvo in the dying embers of their match at St Mary's Rasharkin saw the Cushendun men book a place in the top six, while absenteeism saw Glenarm struggle at times to even field a full fifteen. Indeed, their place in next season's Division 3 is still insecure and they face a winner-takes-all clash with Carryduff to confirm it.


Their performance against St Teresa's in the last round was very efficient. When the Glen Road men threatened to pull away, they hit back quickly and Shane O'Neill's went on to dominate the final quarter of the match.


Cushendun were untroubled in their Semi-Final, their recent experience facing better teams in the top 6 standing them in good stead as they comfortably accounted for St Paul's, having seen off Junior B Champions All Saints Ballymena in the previous round, where they were made to battle by their local rivals.


Former county star Darren Hamill continues to lead Glenarm from centre-back, while Daniel Black and Dylan McLaughlin are a handful for any defence. Cushendun will look to their key forwards to do the damage, Conor McHugh and David Kilgore in particular, the pair hitting an impressive total of 1-09 between them in the last four.


Like all this weekend's games, it's a tough call. Glenarm have shown some good recent form towards the end of the league and through the championship, but the Emmet's side have been steadily building all year, and their mix of youth and experience should be enough to see them home.


Bath Shack Antrim SHC

Loughgiel Shamrocks v Cúchullain's Dunloy

3:30pm

Darren McKeown


Antrim hurling fans have been starved of this major rivalry at championship level for six years. The two have not met in the competition since the final of 2012, the last final played at Casement Park with the novel aspect of taking place under floodlights.


Just as no one would have believed we'd still be waiting on Casement being rebuilt, it would have seemed incredible at the time that these two wouldn't meet in championship action for the next six seasons.


In the intervening period, Dunloy have undergone a transition, culminating in their title win last season, while Loughgiel have added two titles to their roll of honour. These two will be itching to get at each other.


Both sides are unbeaten in 2018 championship action, with Dunloy seeing off Cushendall and Sarsfields while Loughgiel accounted for Rossa and St John's. In their head-to-head meetings this season, Dunloy recorded a league double over their rivals on their way to lifting the title while the Shamrocks ended their campaign in second place.


Both sides are of course brimming with talent. Dunloy's young guns Keelan Molloy, Eoin O'Neill and Conal Cunning have a full season of senior hurling under their belts, while the experience of Paul Shields and Kevin Molloy adds to the explosive pace and power of Nigel Elliott.


Loughgiel will look to the prodigious James McNaughton to lead their line, while Daniel McCloskey is having a fine season in the full-forward line. Eddie McCloskey is back soldering with the Shamrocks, to whom Damon McMullan and the evergreen DD Quinn provide solidity at the back.


There is a school of thought among some in the county that Dunloy will not be happy with a championship victory unless it involves a victory over Loughgiel. This has all the ingredients required for a belter of a match. The two respect and loathe each other in equal measure and the six-year famine will leave them salivating like ravenous dogs for the challenge.


I cannot call this game.


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