Gregory O'Kane: Dunloy minor talents may bear fruit at senior level
Bathshack Antrim SHC final: Dunloy v Cushendall (Sunday, 3.30pm, Ballycastle)
WHETHER it happens this Sunday or some time over the next few years, there is an inescapable sense that Dunloy hurling is on the way back.
The dominant force in Antrim from the mid-90s and late-2000s, during which time they collected 10 county and nine Ulster titles as well as reaching four All-Ireland finals, they have suffered a dip in recent seasons.
It’s been a hard watch for them to see Cushendall and Loughgiel share the last eight Antrim titles and occasionally grace Croke Park in their stead.
But on Sunday, they will return to the county final for the first time since 2012, when it was last played in Casement Park and the Shamrocks came strong under the Saturday nights to edge to a four-point victory.
Of perhaps equal significance is the fact that, for the third year running, the Cuchullains will also appear in the minor final.
There they will face amalgamated outfit Naomh Padraig in Sunday’s curtain raiser, with Dunloy chasing a third straight success.
They are also the reigning under-21 champions after a comprehensive win over Loughgiel in that decider earlier in the year.
Senior manager Gregory O’Kane has a circumspect enough view to know the significance of Sunday.
After five years without having reached a decider, this is a big step up but one he is confident his players will react to.
“With our minors in the final as well, it’s nice to look forward to. There’s been a lot of hard work by a lot of people to end up in finals and it’s nice to get there.
“You can never predict the future but we’ve been in three minor finals in a row, and we’ve won two, so maybe it’s starting to bear fruit now at senior.
“You can only worry about the present so all we can do is the best we can and see if we’re anywhere close to Cushendall.
“It’s never easy watching somebody else be successful but at the end of the day, Cushendall and Loughgiel in particular were ahead of us and the pack. Maybe Cushendall still are. Sunday will be a good test for us, to see exactly where we’re at.”
Dunloy’s passage to the decider was comprehensive. They had plenty of motivation heading into meet a Ballycastle side that had ended their hopes in both of the last two seasons.
Wind-assisted, they used the hurt to build a 1-13 to 0-4 lead that was plenty to see them over the line in a 16-point victory.
The following day the two heavyweights of the last eight years slugged it out in a semi-final decided by a single point in favour of Cushendall.
“The two sides know each other that well they probably cancel each other out. Loughgiel will feel they didn’t hurl that well on the day, and Cushendall will be happy they ground out a result.
“Cushendall are at that level – they were in an All-Ireland club final 18 months ago. You get to All-Ireland finals for a reason.
“They’re up there, they’re a good side so in terms of where we’re at, we can only find out about ourselves on Sunday evening.
“There’s no doubt we played well against Ballycastle and that’s what championship’s about. If you don’t play well on the day, you’re gone.”