Re-born Cushendun hurlers aim to topple Monaghan champions Castleblayney in Ulster decider
Ulster Club Junior Hurling Championship final: Robert Emmet’s, Cushendun (Antrim) v Castleblayney Faughs (Monaghan) (tomorrow, The Athletic Grounds, 1pm)
YOU know something special is happening in a team when players decide not drink at their team-mate’s wedding and the manager delays his honeymoon. Welcome to Robert Emmet’s, Cushendun.
After ending a wait of 55 years for a county title, the Emmet’s players could have been forgiven for not giving the provincial championship their full attention.
Tomorrow, the north Antrim club will compete in their first-ever Ulster final against Monaghan champions Castleblayney Faughs.
Emmet’s boss Chris Dornan, a Cushendall native, has been ramming home the same message ever since their comprehensive county final win over Glenarm at the end of September.
“We’ve been telling the players we mightn’t win another county championship in our lives so make the most of it,” explained Dornan, who stepped up from his assistant’s role to the management position at the beginning of the year.
“Rory [McQuillan] is retiring at the end of the season, a few younger players could move away. This panel may never be together again – so grab what you can, when you can because you mightn’t get another chance. And every player has bought into it.”
Corner-back Sean Hamilton tied the knot a fortnight ago – just two days before their provincial semi-final meeting with Sean Treacy’s of Lurgan – and none of the Cushendun players drank at their team-mate’s wedding.
Dornan got married last week, spent three days in Dublin and postponed his honeymoon to America until next year.
But these levels of commitment weren’t always the prevailing culture of the junior club.
Dornan explains: “I remember coming down here two years ago and there were six players at training – two of whom drove from Loughgiel and another two drove from Belfast to help make up that six.
“Around this time last year, Aidan [McHugh], Cormac [McKeegan] and I told the players three strikes and we were out. If the numbers fell below 20 on three occasions we would go. We still haven’t had a strike yet.”
After overcoming Na Magha and Sean Treacy’s, Antrim’s junior champions face their stiffest provincial challenge to date in Armagh tomorrow afternoon.
Castleblayney have just stepped down from the intermediate ranks and retained the Monaghan championship, beating familiar foes Inniskeen in the decider.
They breezed past Donegal champions Birt with nine points to spare and just about held off Clonduff’s challenge in semi-finals to book their final place.
Tomorrow will be ‘Blayney’s third appearance in the junior final after winning the 2005 and 2014 deciders.
Club chairman and Kilkenny native Jimmy Lacey may be in his first year as manager but the vast majority of the players know the provincial terrain as many of them celebrated in 2014 after beating Na Magha in the decider.
“We’d have an idea of what to expect in Ulster,” said Lacey, who moved to the parish in 2007.
“I suppose we’ve won our fair share of county finals over the last number of years and it has given us a bit of experience when it comes to playing in Ulster.
“We’d like to see ourselves being competitive at intermediate grade. We would feel if we’re at the top of our game we would be fit to compete at intermediate.
"Last year we were well beaten by Sarsfields of Belfast in the opening round of the Ulster Intermediate. But we want to get back to that level.”
Captain and centre-back Peter Treanor remains the driving force of this ’Blayney side while Fergal Rafter is their top scorer by some distance. Mark Treanor – brother of Peter – is still not fully recovered from a broken hand he sustained in a recent challenge match against Lisbellaw and Lacey will leave it as late as the warm-up in The Athletic Grounds tomorrow before making a decision on the fitness of one of his key players.
Cushendun’s spine remains as strong as ever with the improvement of midfielder Conor McHugh there for all to see after being promoted to the Antrim senior hurling squad last season.
'Blayney will have to keep a tight rein on Cushendun’s speedy corner-forwards David Kilgore and James Morgan, while Mark and Thomas Scally add plenty of bite at wing half-back.
And there’s always Rory McQuillan, the ageless veteran, who can pull a rabbit out of a hat at any given moment. It’s anybody’s game in The Athletic Grounds tomorrow.