Cushendall's Eunan McKillop hoping to finish his career on a high
EUNAN McKillop is adamant this will be his last season wearing the famous Ruairi Og, Cushendall jersey.
The highly-decorated hurler says time has finally beaten him – but he hopes to leave the stage with an All-Ireland winner's medal in 2019.
Now 35, McKillop has been playing senior hurling for 18 years. He made his league debut in 2000 and had to wait a further three years before making his championship bow.
He has two young kids, he works as a development officer for the housing association and has also devised an App – called 'B Express'.
“I'm 100 per cent certain this is my last year,” said the veteran.
“I decided last year that I was retiring but over the winter I mellowed and I decided to give it another year.
“Time-wise, it's fairly difficult. I'd be up at six o'clock most mornings and it would be close to one o'clock in the morning by the time you're getting to bed. It's not been easy but hurling is something I enjoy doing and am passionate about.”
But, before we talk about trying to take down Galway champions St Thomas's in February's All-Ireland semi-final, a bit about his App invention.
The ‘B' is short for bottle. The idea is simple and original.
The App is designed to skip the queues in bars and nightclubs. The idea has been germinating in McKillop's head as far back as 2013 at a Bruce Springsteen concert in the King's Hall, Belfast.
“We had a few drinks before and after the concert but not during it because the queues were too long to get a drink. I just thought: ‘Why don't they have a bottle-only bar here where you can just pick them up?'
The idea resurfaced at a friend's wedding last year. Same issue. Long queues at the bar. Enough was enough.
So McKillop decided to do something about it and patented the 'B Express' App where you can pre-pay for your bottles of beer and pick them up, hassle-free.
“The bottles are sitting waiting for you,” he says.
“You're not waiting on cocktails being mixed or spirits being poured. You're up and away again. There are other Apps across the world that are doing drinks but there are queues at all those App areas because they offer everything.”
The four-times Antrim and Ulster Club winner has rolled out ‘B Express' in a couple of nightclubs in Belfast and is hoping his queue-avoiding idea will start to take root.
When he's not thinking about where to try his 'B Express' App next, he's trying to help Cushendall to their second All-Ireland final in three years.
In 2016, Limerick and Munster champions Na Piarsaigh wiped the floor with the Antrim men in a painfully one-sided All-Ireland decider.
And while St Thomas's have some high-class operators in their ranks – including inter-county star Conor Cooney – McKillop insists the experience of 2016 will stand to Eamonn Gillan's side.
“We'll go into the All-Ireland semi-final with no nerves because we know we're capable and we have a solid, all-round panel,” said McKillop.
“St Thomas's have a few unbelievable players – Conor Cooney is phenomenal, David Burke, Shane Cooney – but we are very composed unit this year. That filters down from the management.”
Cushendall reclaimed the Antrim title at the end of October after overcoming arch rivals Loughgiel Shamrocks in the decider.
Under Gillan, the Ruairi Ogs are playing a more direct style of hurling and it seems to be suiting them.
“This year we have Conor Carson and Sean McAfee in at full-forward,” McKillop said.
“It may not be nice ball into them but it's quick ball and they're both capable of winning the 50-50s. Other years we were playing the ball up but it's been slow and it allows the opposition to crowd our forwards out, but what we're doing this year seems to suit us better.”