Playing with freedom is where the rewards are: Dunloy dual ace Nigel Elliott
NIGEL Elliott insists the Dunloy footballers will continue to play with freedom as they bathe in their first senior football final appearance in a remarkable 82 years.
The Cuchullain’s, who turn their attention to the hurling championship this weekend, will face seasoned football champions Erin’s Own, Cargin in the October 8 decider after a quite spectacular run.
The club’s footballers fired a signal of their intentions in the group stages by taking down former giants St Gall’s and then giving Creggan Kickham’s a run for their money – but it was after their quarter-final win over Lamh Dhearg that everyone has sat up and taken notice of Anthony McQuillan’s side.
They followed that sensational extra-time victory over the 2017 county champions with a surprise semi-final win over favourites Portglenone last Friday night in Dunsilly – with Nigel and younger brother Seaan playing exhilarating football, sharing a combined 1-4.
The Dunloy footballers ruled the roost back in the 1920s and 30s - winning six titles - and made their last senior championship final appearance back in 1941.
“We came into this championship playing with freedom,” said Elliott. “There’s nobody expecting a lot from us and playing with that freedom kind of helps us through these games.
“We’re just enjoying it, we’re gelling as a team and every game we’re getting better and the boys we’re bringing off the bench is phenomenal too.
“We know as a team we were more than capable of doing this. It’s no surprise to ourselves because we know the talent that is there. We backed ourselves the whole way through and it’s a journey that we’re enjoying it and we want to keep it going.”
There are a dozen or more dual players in Dunloy’s football and hurling squads with attention turning to the small-ball as Gregory O’Kane’s side prepares for their semi-final showdown with Loughgiel Shamrocks in Ballycastle.
Highly-rated dual star Keelan Molloy injured an ankle in the early stages of Dunloy's quarter-final win over Lamh Dhearg and probably faces a fitness race for this weekend's hurling semi-final.
Juggling both codes, Elliott says, has been credit to both managers at the Cuchullain’s club.
“Hands down to the club, they’re fantastic,” said the county hurling ace.
“Between Gregory [O’Kane] and Anthony [McQuillan], they’ve worked together which is proven now. Our dual players are fresh. Whenever the football’s on, we concentrate on that and whenever we have hurling, we do that. We need to look after our bodies, and we just hope it’ll be a long season for our club.
He added: “It’s 82 years since we were last in a football final and I don’t think we need any more words than that. We won intermediate last year, we showed we are capable of playing Division One football and we’ll look forward to the final now.”
Cargin are aiming for their fifth senior football crown in six years after seeing off the determined challenge of St Brigid’s in rain-drenched Dunsilly on Sunday afternoon – but given the speed merchants in the Dunloy attack, the reigning champions won’t have it all their own way in next month’s final.
“It’s nice knowing that nobody wants to face us because we don’t know much about the teams that we are playing and teams don’t know a lot about us, which is probably an advantage for us. If you play with freedom, you get your rewards.”