Glens village turns maroon and white as Cushendall prepare for first All-Ireland hurling final
IT will be an exodus never seen before in the village of Cushendall on Thursday as all roads lead to Croke Park.
With more than a dozen buses and countless more cars due to depart from early morning, "the place will be like a ghost town" joked one resident, as the countdown to the All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling final reaches fever pitch.
With the whole village throwing their weight behind Ruairí Óg, Cushendall in their search for All-Ireland glory, shop owner Dominic McAlister said: "It feels like the build-up to Christmas."
The club will walk out onto the Croke Park turf on Thursday to face Na Piarsaigh of Limerick, with both sides hoping to lift the Tommy Moore Cup for the very first time.
Nine times before, Cushendall have fallen at the last hurdle, but this year there is much excitement and hope that the team can achieve hurling success like never before.
A sea of maroon and white can be seen throughout the quaint village with people young and old kitted out in team colours.
From signs adorning the roads leading into the village, to shop window displays in support of the players, there is a great feeling of excitement throughout the area.
St Mary's Primary School, where many of the players' children attend, have also been throwing their weight behind the club with posters and banners made for the team.
Mr McAlister, who owns the corner shop, said there was "unbelievable excitement around the village".
"Quite honestly you can feel the vibe from everyone, people have been coming into the shop and saying they have been counting down the sleeps until St Patrick's Day," he said.
"It feels like the build up to Christmas, it's been fantastic.
"I had completely sold out of anything maroon and white, everybody has been going mad for buying it all. I had to get another delivery in today, everything from hats, bunting, horns.
"I think every shop in the village is closing on Thursday, everybody is heading to Croke Park.
"There's not often many of the shops close, even at Christmas, but the place will be like a ghost town."
Mr McAlister said the team and Cushendall residents had been buoyed by the support of neighbouring villages in the Glens of Antrim.
"We have the support of our neighbours, from Cushendun, Ballycastle to Loughgiel - we are representing Ulster," he said.
"There's so many people from here who have never been to a hurling match before, so to go to this one and for them to win will be unbelievable.
"Both teams have never been in the final before, I know it will be close, but hopefully we will rise to the occasion.
"Then after the match there's a big celebration planned that night, win or lose, it will be big," he said.
"Here's hoping it's the result we want. If the team have the belief to win, they will succeed."