Dunloy, Ballymena

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The Business End Begins in Antrim


The four teams that will contest today's games.

With two county finals down for decision this weekend and two huge Senior Semi-Finals to be contested, the Antrim Hurling Championships are building to a crescendo as the leaves begin to brown.


Today the respective stages are set on Hannahstown Hill and at Pearse Park.


Intermediate Hurling Championship Final

Naomh Gall v Kickham's Creggan

Lámh Dhearg

1:45pm

Mark O'Neill


Both these sides have tasted glory at this level in relatively recent years, with the Belfast side claiming the title in 2009. A sprinkling of players from that side still remain, with CJ and Kieran McGourty still very much to the fore in the St Gall's forward line this season.


Manager Mickey Culbert will be content enough with his team's season, recovering after a poor start in the league to clinch promotion, before embarking on a championship run that saw them shrug off numerical advantage to defeat Gort na Móna in the opening round.


Under lights in Ballymena, a Sean McAreavey blitz helped them ease their way past Oisín Glenariffe, before hitting form against fellow Division 2 promotion contenders Naomh Éanna to reach today's decider.


The Kickham's side last won the title in 2013 and began their campaign in Dunloy as they saw off South West rivals St Mary's Rasharkin in the Quarter-Final before coming in under the radar to defeat a much-fancied Carey Faughs side in the last four, a final haul of 0-13 for star forward Conor McCann helping them to a comfortable victory.


Both teams boast talented players in all areas. Mark Napier has a keen eye for goal, and is ably assisted by the wily Karl Stewart in the full-forward line, while in the half forwards the two McGourtys provide constant danger. Tomás Ó Ciaráin is very accurate on frees and will punish any Kickham's indiscipline.


The scoring burden for Creggan falls on Conor McCann, who is more than able for the task. Donal Carey adds solidity to their defence, while Thomas McCann is experienced enough to perform at both ends of the pitch. The physicality of half forwards Kevin Rice and Oran McCann combined with their midfield engine will springboard much of their play.


There will be a clash of styles at Páirc Lámh Dhearg this afternoon as Naomh Gall's neat, sharp passing meets Creggan's direct play into their mobile forward unit. The wide expanses of Hannahstown might just suit the Staffordstown Road men that little bit better, but St Gall's know this turf well and will be confident that their experience in a higher division will see them over the line.


Bath Shack SHC Semi-Final

Naomh Eoin v Ruairí Óg Cushendall

Pearse Park, Dunloy

4:30pm

Colum Cunning


Last year's runners-up Ruairí Óg make the short journey to Dunloy to take on St John's in the second game of the day.


This will be the Whiterock Road men's fifth championship encounter of the season, compared to the two games that Ruairí Óg have under their belt. Naomh Eoin comfortably accounted for Mac Uilín Ballycastle in a two-legged affair, with twenty-two aggregate points between them.


After running Loughgiel Shamrocks close in the Group Stage, they saw off local rivals Rossa in the final game. In their encounters with Ballycastle and Rossa, they have shown a knack for finding a higher gear and pulling away from teams as they drew close to them that suggests they have much more to give.


Ruairí Óg began their campaign with a defeat to 2017 champions Dunloy at Páirc Mhuire. Without talisman Neil McManus and Arron Graffin, they would have been content to run Cúchullain's to a point in a bout of shadow boxing. Sarsfields offered little resistance in their final group game, only memorable for a moment of brilliance from McManus to slip Fergus McCambridge in for a goal.


McCambridge himself has been having a fine season at centre-forward for Cushendall, who of course have star performers all over the pitch. As well as the triumvirate of McManus, McGill and Graffin, they are backboned by Sean Delargy in the defence, with Paddy Burke and Eoghan Campbell driving them forward.


St John's are also a side to be reckoned with. Conor Johnston has posted impressive totals in every match so far, with the livewire Donal Carson terrorising defences alongside Mícheál Dudley in the full-forward line. Michael Bradley has the potential to create chaos when he runs at a defence, while Ryan McNulty marshals the defence superbly.


The Belfast men have championship momentum on their side, and if they can get a bright start, have every chance of springing the upset that a lot of Antrim Hurling followers know is very much on the cards. Ruairí Óg will be hoping their season is building to peak at this stage and have all the pedigree and experience to make their sixth final appearance in a row.


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