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Cushendall boss John Smokey McKillop is primed for battle

Cushendall manager John McKillop  

RUAIRI OG, Cushendall manager John ‘Smokey’ McKillop believes he has the leaders in his ranks to ambush favourites Na Piarsaigh at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.

Underdogs for their All-Ireland semi-final against Connacht champions Sarsfield’s of Galway, the north Antrim men swept to a famous win with 12 points to spare to reach their first-ever All-Ireland final: “There are some great leaders in this team,” said McKillop. 

“You’ve [Arron] Graffin, you’ve Neil [McManus], you’ve Shane [McNaughton], you’ve Searlas [Karl McKeegan] and Paddy McGill has really came out of his shell... Paddy used to be so quiet; now he’s in the middle of it. So when you’re getting Paddy McGill talking you know things are going well.”

Cushendall have had to come from behind in all their Championship games - bar the Sarsfield’s clash - to win. Arguably their greatest escape was being five points down in their Championship opener against St John’s with four minutes remaining. Up stepped Neil McManus and Shane McNaughton with late goals to win it. Since then, the Ruairi Ogs haven’t looked back. Ironically, the club didn’t have a lot of people “putting their hands up” to take the senior team after they’d lost the 2015 Ulster final to Portaferry.

McKillop had been part of many backroom teams over the years and after heavy prompting from his namesake and assistant, John McKillop, he staked his claim: “Nobody put their hand up,” 
said ‘Smokey’. 

“It takes wile commitment to do the job. I was over our minors in 2010 and John, who was along with me, happened to come up to the house and said: ‘Would you not put your name in for the seniors?’ I wasn’t managing but I was in the background. So he kept at me. If you know John he doesn’t know what ‘No’ means. So I decided to have a go at it.”

An oil lorry-driver, McKillop has fulfilled every role at the club: “It’s like having a second job,” he said. 

“I’ve done every other job at the club. In summer, I’d be on the field at eight o’clock in the morning, Archie would cut the pitch, I’d cut the sides, spray the weeds, and strim whatever needs strimming and lift the rubbish. 

“I’d be at the pitch seven days a week. You always find something to do.”

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