No room for complacency says Cushendall manager Eamonn Gillan ahead of Ulster final with Ballycran
EAMONN Gillan saw how much winning Antrim meant to the Cushendall players a fortnight ago and the Ruairi Og manager admits he is concerned that complacency may have crept into the dressingroom since that memorable day in Ballycastle.
He has no hard evidence that it has but he's concerned nonetheless because his side are overwhelming favourites to beat Down's Ballycran in Sunday's Ulster Club Senior Championship final. Despite their convincing win over reigning Ulster champions Slaughtneil, you can get the Ardsmen at 4-1 so Gillan worries that his players may lose the edge they'll need to win.
“The biggest thing is getting the players up for it,” he explained.
“They had a huge win over Loughgiel and the Antrim championship is always a tough battle, a big rivalry thing. I think they will be up for it alright but it's getting over that win because it was one that they really wanted.
“Now that they've got that they just need to get over Sunday and it's my job to get them up for it but you always worry about complacency.
“Because of the amount of rivalry, it's a huge honour to win Antrim and what comes after it sometimes doesn't have the same effect but these guys are hungry for more and I can't imagine that they'll not be up for it.
“From the start of the year they were hungry to get back training and two years ago they were in (the All-Ireland final at) Croke Park and deservedly so. They had a very good semi-final win against Sarsfields and the majority of them are still there.
“It's not as if this is a new team, the hard-core of them boys is still there with three or four additions. They'll want to be back there so I can't imagine any complacency.”
Loughgiel native Gillan has shepherded Cushendall to the Antrim title in his first year as manager and he's well aware that an Ulster title – and a crack at the All-Ireland crown next year – is within touching distance if his side play to their potential at the Athletic Grounds.
But to get there Cushendall will have to get past a Ballycran side that had too much energy and determination for a Slaughtneil outfit that had recorded back-to-back Ulster titles in the previous two seasons. A fortnight ago they looked tired and didn't produce their best and Ballycran made them pay.
“I'm not surprised if Slaughtneil were burnt out,” said Gillan.
“They were going for two or three years and it definitely takes its toll after a while, it has to.
“The big prize is an All-Ireland semi-final, that's the prize on Sunday and that's why ourselves and Ballycran will be up for the match on Sunday because that's what we ultimately want – we want a crack at an All-Ireland semi-final.
“But if you've been doing that for two or three years like Slaughtneil had then suddenly the hard slog through the gutters in the winter time isn't just the nicest place to be.
“You get tired and jaded and they probably were a bit but you don't want to take anything away from Ballycran because I've heard enough about that match and I've heard that Ballycran gave a good account of themselves as they will on Sunday too.
“Beating Slaughtneil will have given them a huge boost and they will be coming into this game on a high. It's up to us to counteract that.”
From the first while in their semi-final Ballycran harried Slaughtneil all over the pitch and once they got their noses in front they were never behind. Gillan knows his men have to play with purpose from the get-go at the Athletic Grounds.
“The last thing you want is for them to get a run on you,” he said.
“That's what they did against Slaughtneil, they got a couple of opportunist scores, and then Slaughtneil were chasing the game. They didn't panic but at some stage of the game you need to up the ante and because Ballycran were given room and time to get up for the game it's very difficult to get back.
“When the other side has their tails up it's very hard to break that down.”