GAA Football

Improvement in skills as important as physical progression: Paul Shiels

Dunloy captain Paul Shiels pictured lifting the Volunteer Cup after their win over Cushendall in the Antrim final.

DUNLOY’S hurling progression is as important as the physical strides made in terms of an assault on the Ulster title believes Paul Shiels.

The Antrim champions had won their first title in eight years when they emerged in 2017, only to be outmuscled by Slaughtneil in a provincial semi-final played before a mammoth crowd in Owenbeg.

They’ve looked a physically more powerful outfit this year as they won back the Antrim crown that Cushendall had taken away en-route to an All-Ireland final last season.

Part of that is the natural filling out of lads turning into their 20s, and part of it is the work they’ve been doing under their S&C coach Eoin McNicholl since the start of 2017.

“We are quite a young team and those boys are just filling out and developing as players. It’s always hard to know where you’re at," said the Dunloy captain.

“Maybe we weren’t so much [outmuscled] the semi-final last year, Loughgiel maybe got it right tactically on the day and hurling-wise we weren’t fit to deal with them.

“Two years ago, Slaughtneil were more physical than we were and we thought we’d need to up the physical a wee bit.

“There’s a lot of injury prevention stuff goes on too, it’s not just about getting boys bigger. You still have to be fit to move and hurl.

“Eoin’s been great with the boys and we’re delighted to have him. It’s probably a natural development of those boys too, it’s not all just pumping weights.”

The dynamic has been altered in Dunloy in recent years. Unlike north coast neighbours Loughgiel and Cushendall, they now have a thriving football team that is pushing on towards the top tier after many of their young dual players won two Antrim minor ‘A’ football titles.

Shiels, now 31, never played the big ball after minor himself. The former Antrim star, who manages the steel yard at Creagh Concrete’s site in Toome, says football can help the hurling as long as it’s managed properly.

“The boys maybe don’t train, they’re playing more matches than they’re training in the middle of the summer. It can be difficult to balance training for the non-footballers.

“It’s a tough balancing act but it’s better that they’re getting games and playing. That’s the joys of being a dual club.”

Shiels won championships with Dunloy in 2007 and 2009, but then had to wait eight years as Loughgiel and Cushendall dominated while the next generation made its way through in Dunloy.

It was a very young Cuchullains side that annexed the title two years ago and while they fell short in Ulster, Shiels believes it will stand to them as time goes on.

“The last time we came out of Antrim, it was the first time in eight years and there was maybe a wee bit of novelty and excitement.

“There wasn’t much time between the Antrim final and the Ulster semi-final, and Slaughtneil were going real well. We just came up short. We’re looking forward to it.

“Ballycran’s a massive game for us and it’ll let us know where we’re at. We’d be familiar with them from playing in the Antrim league.

“We’ve a great squad there, a good group of young minors coming through after winning four-in-a-row and it’s always good to have made the breakthrough early.

“The longer you’d go without those boys winning a senior, maybe the harder it becomes for them. It’s good for them to have it in their back pockets and look forward to Ulster.”

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