Hurling and camogie

Dunloy will be wary of Ballycran's Ulster heartache: Cuchullain's boss Gregory O'Kane

The Dunloy players celebrate winning last month's county title Picture: Seamus Loughran

DUNLOY boss Gregory O'Kane has warned his young Cuchullains players of feeling a Ballycran backlash after the Down champions missed out on Ulster glory a year ago.

The Antrim and Down champions meet in an intriguing provincial semi-final showdown in The Athletic Grounds on Sunday while Slaughtneil face Middletown in the other last four encounter.

But there will be infinitely greater interest in Sunday's second semi-final as Ballycran aim to reach back-to-back Ulster finals.

Last November, the Down champions failed to convert their chances which allowed Cushendall to eventually ease over the finishing line with five points to spare.

“Ballycran will be tough, like all Down champions are,” said O'Kane, now in his fifth year with the Dunloy seniors.

“They always bring that never-say-die attitude and they probably felt they left an Ulster title behind them last year because they played well on the day and after half-time they missed a few chances.

“Had they scored at that time they probably would have had momentum in the game. So they probably feel they should have won an Ulster Championship last year.

“They beat Slaughtneil in their semi-final and they probably feel they should have beaten Cushendall. That's the level they're at so Sunday will be a huge test for us.”

O'Kane guided Dunloy to their second county title in three years, beating Cushendall in last month's pulsating decider in Ballycastle.

In 2017, the Cuchullains were fancied to push Slaughtneil all the way in their Ulster semi-final in Owenbeg and despite a sprint start O'Kane's side were comfortably defeated by the Derry champions.

With a greater break between this year's Antrim final and Sunday's Ulster semi-final compared to 2017, O'Kane hopes the extra couple of weeks rest will benefit his players.

“The beauty about sport is there is always another day,” O'Kane said.

“That Slaughtneil match is gone and we'll never play it again. All we can concentrate on is our job on Sunday.

“You never look back. This year all we're doing is looking forward to Sunday and no further than that.

“Probably the break between the county final and Ulster suits us better this time [four weeks as opposed to two]. You know, the Antrim Championship is hard won; physically and mentally, it can drain you. We regard Sunday as just another opportunity to play a game of hurling.”

Dunloy are now back-boned by the four-in-a-row minor champions (2015-2018) with the likes of Ryan Elliott, Keelan Molloy, Eoin O'Neill and Conal ‘Koby' Cunning now leading lights on the senior stage.

The precocious Seaan Elliott proved the match-winner for Dunloy in last month's county final, coming off the bench and grabbing two goals in the closing stages to sink Cushendall.

It remains to be seen if young Elliott starts against Ballycran on Sunday or will he be held in reserve given his devastating impact from the bench.

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