Cloughmills hoping to follow neighbours' lead by making mark on All-Ireland stage
AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championship quarter-final: Robert Emmett’s (Britain) v St Brigid’s, Cloughmills (Antrim) (today, 1pm, Greenford)
WATCHING from close quarters as neighbours Dunloy and Loughgiel blazed a trail through Antrim and Ulster hurling, Geoffrey Laverty always dreamed that one day Cloughmills could follow in their footsteps.
Captaining the 1997 team to the club’s first-ever Antrim junior championship was as good as it got during Laverty’s own playing days, but it is his involvement with the class of 2016/17 that has given him and the hurling-mad community the most joy.
Winning the county intermediate title was one thing, conquering Ulster quite another.
“I think I can say for all the players and management that, when the final whistle went, it was easily the best moment of all our lives,” says Laverty as he thinks back to November’s momentous provincial final victory over Eoghan Rua, Coleraine in Ballymena.
Now they have the chance to showcase their talents on the All-Ireland stage as the journey continues in London today. Robert Emmett’s, managed by Cushendall native Kevin McMullan, stand in their way.
McMullan was in Ballymena on November 20 to run the rule over today’s opponents and, as the only club outside Ireland to have won an All-Ireland title - the IHC crown 10 years ago – the Emmett’s deserve respect.
But with a huge contingent from the village setting off for London by plane, train and automobile in the last two days, Cloughmills won’t lack support in Greenford.
And, even more crucially, they won’t lack their main scoring threat as Liam Cassley has recovered from a groin injury just in time.
“Liam is fit and raring to go,” said Laverty. “We’re at full strength.”
McMullan isn’t the only one who has been on a scouting mission, with Laverty in attendance when Robert Emmett’s played Meath in a challenge game.
But the St Brigid's boss insists the focus has been on their own preparations rather than what they might face today.
He said: “We’ve had a very busy training schedule through the Christmas period – in a way Christmas didn’t exist for us this year. But Christmas comes every year, All-Ireland quarter-finals don’t come around that often.
“The village is buzzing, everybody’s come on board and everybody seems to be going to London. Not too many big things happen in Cloughmills so we’re very thankful to everybody for getting behind us.
“Emmett’s are the top team in England and they have top players from all over the country, so it’s going to be a tough task.
“They’re a massive challenge for Cloughmills, but I’ve no doubt we can rise to the challenge.”