Fire back in the belly as Eddie McCloskey and Loughgiel plan Antrim charge
IT was only three-and-a-half years ago that Eddie McCloskey felt the fire was beginning to burn out. Trying to straddle club with county had just become too much and, for whatever reason, the passion was gone.
Luckily for Loughgiel, those feelings have long since been confined to the past and on Sunday McCloskey looked like a man who had rediscovered his mojo, and then some.
Even after months with hardly any meaningful action, the 32-year-old was skipping across the turf and finding holes in the Cushendall defence as the Shamrocks got their championship campaign off to a winning start at Fr Healy Park.
“I’m gassed after that,” he said, mopping sweat from his brow in the moments after the final whistle.
“But it just felt good to be back, it felt like championship should feel. Even without the maximum number of people here, there was still a good buzz. It was a good game to match, you were always going to get that with us and Cushendall.”
It was McCloskey’s goal 14 minutes into the second half that saw the Shamrocks stretch out into a six point lead, combining well with Callum McKendry, who bagged Loughgiel’s second goal two minutes later.
After so long away, there was no sign of rustiness as he rifled past Conor McAllister in the Cushendall goal.
“Benny [McCarry] won the ball out on the wing - we’ve been hurling since year dot, same primary class and we know what each other does when they get the ball.
“I could have gone the other way but thankfully it came off, Callum got the ball, it didn’t just work as fluidly as we’d have wanted, but I just hit it and thankfully it went into the net.
“Winning today was our main focus. The nature of the preparation, you’d no other games really to get ready for. It was hard to get games, there were a couple of in house games but that’s not the same as a league match.
“But we know there’s only two points won in the group today, nothing more. Cushendall will probably progress, chances are all being well we’ll probably meet each other again.”
McCloskey is one of several survivors from the glorious 2011/12 campaign that resulted in the Shamrocks being crowned kings of Ireland, an unforgettable 3-7 haul from Liam Watson killing off Offaly kingpins Coolderry at Croke Park.
The previous October they had landed the second of four Antrim titles on the spin, but success hasn’t been so easy to come by since that run ended, with the Volunteer Cup returning to Loughgiel just once – in 2016 - in the last six years.
With the 2020 championship taking on a life of its own, played out against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, nobody is quite sure of their ground – but the Shamrocks appear in rude health.
Watson, who announced his retirement from hurling last December, has come back into the fold for one last crack, while Hugh McCann’s panel has been further bolstered by the return of several familiar faces.
“Boomerang,” smiles McCloskey when asked about ‘Winker’.
“Aye, it’s good to have Liam back... Benny McCarry’s back too, Damon McMullan, Joey Scullion, Neilly McGarry who was brilliant today.
“We’ve got that experience but then Damon’s a younger lad, Declan McCloskey has stepped into the senior team - we’ve boys that have come back again so it’s added a bit of freshness. We’ve a really strong panel this year so it’s a good headache for the management to have.
“It’s up to us to make it count. If you live in Loughgiel, every year’s significant. We set our stall out every year wanting to get an Antrim championship - 2016 was the last time, it’s a good gap now and we want to win it again before that gap increases.”