Hurling and camogie

Dunloy boss Gregory O'Kane heaps praise on players and management team after winning county title

Paul Shiels lifts the Volunteer Cup after Dunloy defeated Cushendall Picture: Seamus loughran
Brendan Crossan in Ballycastle

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship final: Cuchullain’s Dunloy 3-16 Ruairi Og, Cushendall 2-15

HURLING is more than a game. For Gregory O’Kane, it was the best distraction he could ever have had over the last 12 months.

The Dunloy senior hurling manager lost his mother and father in the space of eight weeks between November and January.

‘Pappy’ and Pauline O’Kane were around to watch their son guide the Cuchullain’s to the county championship title in 2017, their first in eight years. Yesterday at a packed McQuillan Park they were in the mind’s eye.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, O’Kane was composed as his attackers in the second half.

“I lost my mum and dad in the space of eight weeks,” he said. “Hurling has always been good to me and there was probably never a better time to be involved in hurling.

“These players are fantastic; they deliver for you and I’ve a wonderful management team too. With a group around me like that, they helped me a lot too.”

There were similarities between the 2017 and 2019 finals.

Cushendall were their opponents. Dunloy didn’t reach the heights in the first half two years ago and they didn’t reach the heights in the first half yesterday.

On both occasions, though, the Cuchullain’s saved their best for the second half and were worthy winners in 2017 and yesterday.

Two late goals from super sub Seaan Elliott finally ended Cushendall’s hopes of retaining their hard-earned crown.

Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels, Nigel Elliott, Conal ‘Koby’ Cunning and Keelan Molloy all produced majestic displays in the second half while Cushendall pinned their hopes on Neil McManus to get them out of another tight corner.

But, for once, McManus’s gargantuan efforts weren’t enough to keep the Ruairi Ogs alive in this year’s county championship decider in Ballycastle.

“We actually started the game very well, but we hit a few wides at crucial times and put ourselves under pressure,” said O’Kane.

“But we calmed them down at half-time because the game was being played on our terms and we just needed to relax on the ball and stick it over the bar to build momentum. ‘Koby’ nailed a few frees that settled us and ‘Shorty’ started to get on a few balls and our defence was outstanding and the space started to open up.”

Dunloy simply had too many razor-sharp attackers for Cushendall to contain with 19-year-old Seaan Elliott rippling the net in the 58th and 60th minutes to seal a fine victory.

“On a pitch like Ballycastle pace wins,” O’Kane said. “These boys have pace but they’re all wristy hurlers. You say to them: ‘Stay composed and spaces will open up and then it’s about taking your chances.’”

After that famous win in 2017, it was anticipated Dunloy could dominate the Antrim landscape for the next five years or more but they came unstuck against Loughgiel Shamrocks last season before re-establishing their credentials yesterday.

“Last year was probably the best lesson we got,” O’Kane said as they prepare to face Ballycran in Ulster.

“It was hard at the time but it was a good lesson. Every day is a learning day. Every day you think you’re on top is the day that you can be toppled. But in terms of 2017, I’d say we’ve improved.”

Meanwhile, Cushendall manager Ciaran Kearney had nothing but praise for his players after yesterday’s four-point loss.

“We had goal chances and didn’t take them. Their goal [by Nigel Elliott] just before half-time helped them. But I’m proud of the lads, proud of the effort. They died with their boots on and they never stopped. I don't expect anything less from a Cushendall team.”

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