Hurling and camogie

Experienced Paul Shiels hails strength in depth as Dunloy look ahead to Slaughtneil final clash

Paul Shiels has hailed the quality options on the Dunloy bench after the Antrim champions' impressive Ulster semi-final victory over Ballycran on Sunday. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

DUNLOY stalwart Paul Shiels believes the breadth of options on their bench leaves the Antrim champions in rude health heading towards an Ulster final showdown with Slaughtneil.

Gabriel McTaggart. Seaan Elliott, Ronan Molloy, Anton McGrath and James McKeague all came on to good effect as Ballycran were blown away in Sunday’s semi-final at the Athletic Grounds.

The pace and power of Elliott is a huge asset from the bench, as evidenced by his two-goal cameo in the county final win over Cushendall, while McGrath fired home a classy goal as Dunloy romped across the line at the weekend.

At 31, former Antrim star Shiels is one of the elder statesmen on the team.

His calming influence and superb positional play were in evidence again on Sunday, and he admits the Cuchullains’ strength in depth leaves them in a good place, with Slaughtneil to come on November 10.

“We have a good squad and there’s competition for places,” he said.

“We have a wee bit of variety coming off the bench. You don’t know on any given day what you’re going to need so it’s good to have a good squad, and everybody’s pushing hard in training.

“It’s not as if we were just emptying the bench for the sake of it. The boys on the bench were looking to come on and prove something, so that keeps it fresh and that allowed us to push on when the game maybe seemed to be petering out a wee bit.

“That’s why we kept racking up the scores and pushing for home.”

Dunloy came flying out of the blocks from the start and didn’t drop their intensity level, even after the loss of corner-back Gerard Hughes to a red card had left Ballycran facing a major uphill battle.

With the back-to-back Down champions having accounted for Slaughtneil in spectacular style 12 months ago, as well as being familiar foes for Dunloy, Shiels says Dunloy were determined to get off to a quick start.

“We came down here and we were under no illusions that Ballycran are a good side. They probably left an Ulster title behind them last year.

“We play them twice a year so we’re very familiar with them, they’re a very experienced championship side, they played in Ulster last year, they beat Slaughtneil, they ran Cushendall very close so they’re a quality side and we knew what we were going to be up against.

“We started well, we were looking lively and just after half-time, them losing a man probably took the wind out of their sails and we were fit to see the game out.”

Shiels is well aware of the challenge posed by Slaughtneil after Mickey McShane’s men proved too strong for Dunloy at the Ulster semi-final stage two years ago.

But he believes that 2017 meeting will have “very little bearing” on the outcome in 12 days’ time.

“We came here today and all we wanted to do was earn the right to play in an Ulster final,” he said.

“They’re probably a wee bit more physically developed, they have quite a young squad as well, so we’re looking forward to it and we’ll prepare well.

“They’re a smashing club, it’s a credit to them how they can compete in both at senior level. Maybe they just needed that wee break and I’m sure they’re back hungry as ever, so we’ll have our hands full.”

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