Hurling and camogie

Lessons learned from Ulster final defeat can stand to Dunloy going forward says Paul Shiels

Paul Shiels was in superb form during Dunloy's comprehensive Antrim championship victory over St John's on Sunday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

PLAYMAKER Paul Shiels hopes lessons learned from last year’s Ulster final defeat to Slaughtneil can stand to Dunloy after they successfully negotiated a path to the semi-final stage of the Antrim championship.

Last-gasp draws against Ballycastle and Rossa left the Cuchullain’s fighting for their lives heading into Sunday’s final Group One game against St John’s, and defeat at Corrigan Park could have prematurely brought down the curtain on their defence of the county title.

However, goals from Keelan Molloy, Seaan Elliott, Kevin Molloy and Conal Cunning helped them ease across the line against the Johnnies, leaving them top of the pile in Group One and looking forward to a semi-final date with the winners of Saturday’s quarter-final clash between Rossa and Cushendall.

That steady improvement makes them a dangerous proposition for everybody else and, although last year’s Ulster final defeat to Slaughtneil was a bitter pill to swallow, the experienced Shiels hopes it can help make Dunloy a better side in the long run.

“Look, the Ulster championship is done. It’s gone,” he said.

“It’s a young team, we have to just move on. Obviously we have to learn from some of the mistakes we made against Slaughtneil but, in Antrim, every game’s as tough as the next. You can’t take your eye off the ball at all or you’ll end up with egg on your face.”

Especially in this year of years, with teams still finding their feet before being thrust into the heat of championship battle.

Shiels was in superb form during Sunday’s win over St John’s, particularly in the second half, and Dunloy looked much more like themselves in a display full of pace and attacking verve.

But the former Antrim star admits this year’s championship still remains something of “an unknown quantity” as a result of the Covid-19 enforced delay to club seasons.

“It’s a strange season,” said the 32-year-old.

“That was a very difficult group. Ballycastle are a good side, we got out with our lives from Rossa Park, then to come up here, hopefully it’ll stand us in good stead. St John’s are a super side, hard to beat up here, so to win by the margin we did, we’re very content.

“Normally you’ll know your best team coming up to championship, you’ve got 12 league games to play, where [this year] everybody’s a wee bit in the dark. We’ve got a strong panel, a lot of competition for places.

“You’re trying to get match practice and it just takes that wee bit of time. Normally by now you know who’s on form, the touch is in, the fitness is there, so it maybe just took a couple of games to get going.

“It’s a wee bit of an unknown quantity and it maybe takes those couple of games to find your feet. It was nice there today to get a good performance all round.

“The last few weeks we’ve been a wee bit rash at the back, giving away a lot of frees, and it was hurting us. Today, we kept the free count down and the work-rate in the forward line was second to none.

“We scored so many points from turnover ball, you can feed off that and it gives you momentum. But Antrim championship is dog eat dog, if you’re not on your game any day, you’ll suffer.

“Everybody can take a scalp.”

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Hurling and camogie