Hurling and camogie

Cushendun's Rory McQuillan in dream land after junior championship triumph

Cushendun's Rory McQuillan jumps for joy after scoring his team's only goal shortly after being introduced as a second half substitute in Sunday's Antrim Junior Hurling Championship final win over Glenarm in Ballycastle. Rory played on five different Cushendun teams who were beaten in Junior finals, plus the 2000 senior final in which the Emmet's were beaten by Dunloy. Picture by Dylan McIlwaine

AFTER losing six finals wearing the green and black of Robert Emmet’s Cushendun and missing their 2007 intermediate championship victory through suspension, the sun finally shone on Rory McQuillan.

Last Sunday, the small north Antrim village never slept after the hurlers finally brought home the cup, beating Shane O’Neill’s Glenarm in the junior championship decider in Ballycastle.

After 25 years playing for the club’s seniors, 42-year-old McQuillan will hang up his hurl at the end of Cushendun’s season having finally exorcised the bitter memory of finishing runner-up in so many county finals.

The club suffered heartbreaking final defeats in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 while McQuillan’s disappointment dates back to the 2000 senior final defeat to Dunloy.

A mistaken identity decreed he missed Cushendun’s 2007 intermediate final victory over St Paul’s.

“I was only ever sent off twice in my career,” said McQuillan.

“Once when I was playing and the second time was when I was managing the minor team. Somebody else gave the referee abuse and I was the fall guy. It was mistaken identity. I got eight weeks and missed the intermediate final over the head of it.”

But after coming off the bench against Glenarm last Sunday and bagging 1-1, the popular Cushendun clubman can now walk off into the sunset with a winner’s medal in his pocket.

“You’ll struggle to find anyone who loves Cushendun hurling more than Rory McQuillan,” said club captain Mark Scally.

“He’s 42 years of age, he’s been playing senior hurling for 25 years. He actually broke down in tears after the game. He said he was never more emotional after a game. He’s given that much service to the club. If there’s a man that lives for Cushendun hurling, it is him.”

Survival is victory in itself for isolated rural clubs like Cushendun – winning junior championships is the stuff of dreams.

“When you’ve lost five or six finals, it makes it that bit more special,” said McQuillan.

“I’ve been on that senior team for 25 years. It’s been a long time coming, I can tell you.

“When you’re 42, if you get any game-time at all, it’s a bonus. It was nice to get on and score in the final.

“It rounded it off nicely."

A plasterer by trade who works 12-hour days, McQuillan was struggling for motivation earlier in the season. It was only when his former team-mate John McCaughan (38) took ill and died at the end of June that McQuillan found a reason to keep hurling.

“After the final was over it was hard holding back the emotion,” said McQuillan.

“The parish has taken a lot of knocks this last while – we lost John McCaughan. He was such a good fella, a friend to everybody. We played together for years. He was a big loss to all of us. The win on Sunday lifted the place a bit.”

McQuillan added: “We lost to Gort na Mona last year and I thought this is never going to happen for us. But we got together at the start of the year and we put in a serious effort. You can have all the sayings and quotes all you want - it just gets to the stage you don’t have to say anything any more. Everybody knew what had to be done and thankfully we did it.”

In order to sustain the Emmet’s, the club’s underage players have had to amalgamate with Armoy and Carey.

Cushendun don’t have the numbers to field at U16 or minor level. Some of their members – including Mark Scally’s younger brother Thomas – plays minor for nearby Cushendall and senior for his home club. Both were wing-backs on Sunday’s championship-winning team.

With Cushendun facing Derry’s Na Magha in the Ulster series the weekend after next, McQuillan has no intentions of staying on next season.

“This is my last year. Whenever John passed away it really kicked in and that gave me the motivation that I needed but this year will be me.”

Mark Scally, who has waited 13 years to win a junior championship with Cushendun, felt the club would never get over the line in a final.

“The last one we lost was to Lamh Dhearg in 2015. That was tough,” said the captain.

“We were four points up going into injury-time and they got a goal and two points to win in the dying seconds. After that game I thought: Was it a mental block? But the young players that are in the side don’t feel that – they just go out and play, and they’ve made a huge difference to the team.”

From Randal’s pub the Cushendun players paraded the cup around the village on Sunday night after their famous victory.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Scally said. “From talking to people, the over-riding emotion is relief – relief to having finally got over the line after being so close on so many occasions.

“I could see how much it meant to people – older people – they were coming up saying to us: ‘You don’t understand how much this means to us.’

“It wasn’t just a day for the players – it was a day for the whole community.”

Guided to the title by Cushendall man Chris Dornan, Scally quipped: “We were always a bit sceptical of Cushendall fellas but now we realise they’re not too bad!”

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