Hurling and camogie

'Dunloy are there for the taking' says returning Loughgiel star Liam Watson ahead of Antrim final

Liam Watson scored 1-3 on his return to the Loughgiel side during Sunday's extra-time Antrim semi-final victory over St John's. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

LOUGHGIEL sharpshooter Liam Watson believes reigning champions Dunloy are “there for the taking” in Sunday’s county final showdown between the north Antrim rivals.

Gregory O’Kane’s Cuchullain’s have bounced back from a slow start in this year’s championship to advance to their third Antrim final in four years, with Chrissy McMahon’s late, late winner edging them across the line against Rossa last Sunday.

Loughgiel, meanwhile, needed extra-time before seeing off St John’s in an equally dramatic second semi-final – with Watson, making his first appearance since coming out of retirement, marking his return with 1-3.

And, although Dunloy will start favourites with the bookies in Ballycastle on Sunday, the former Antrim forward insists the Shamrocks have nothing to fear once they cross the white line.

“Dunloy’s there for the taking,” said the 38-year-old, who scored a remarkable 3-7 in the 2012 All-Ireland final victory over Offaly’s Coolderry.

“Dick [O’Kane] says that’s why they’re champions and they were meant to go and win All-Irelands, but Loughgiel have been All-Ireland champions. We play a good brand of hurling, we fear nobody.

“All the talk’s about Dunloy – they talk themselves up. Fair play to them, they’re last year’s champions. What would it mean to us [to win on Sunday]? You’d say it’s another championship. I can’t wait to get back out there again, hopefully lift that trophy and go and have a good time with these boys after that.”

Having been held in reserve by boss Hugh McCann as Loughgiel safely negotiated Group Two, Watson played every one of the 100-plus minutes against the Johnnies last weekend.

However, he later revealed his comeback was almost curtailed before he had even struck a sliothar in anger.

“I’d bother with a hamstring coming into the game but, to be fair to the management, they gave me every chance. They didn’t want to risk me too much and I came here in good form.

“But I just went to go a wee jog before the match and I pulled my calf muscle. I should never have been playing. I thought I’d get 15 minutes in maybe, but I just kept going and going… that oul drive and thickness and thranness - I always want to win.

“It was strange for myself there. I missed a lot of scores, I could have been coming away with maybe 1-8 or 1-9. But look, I don’t care what I score as long as that team gets over the line and, fair play to the boys, they dug in deep.

“That’s a good group of boys there [St John’s], but at the same time we’re Loughgiel Shamrocks and we’re not going anywhere.”

It was last December when Watson announced he was stepping away from hurling, with his intention to spend more time indulging his other sporting passion - motocross.

However, with so much in the world having changed since then, Watson was eventually tempted back for another crack at the Antrim championship, with Loughgiel bidding to get their hands on the Volunteer Cup for the first time since 2016.

“When you get to 38 it doesn’t get any easier.

“I’d no intentions of coming back. The wife maybe convinced me more than anything. I was in good shape for the motocross, doing a lot of running on the roads and when they asked me to come back to training I saw that I wasn’t away from the pace at all.

“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but I kept breaking down and that’s where I get down on myself and it’s not as enjoyable when you’re training and training but not getting games.

“Everybody’s asking ‘where’s this boy coming out of retirement, sure he hasn’t played’ – look, I’m out of retirement now, I’ve one game by me, but I have a lot of work to do to get ready for the final.

“The likes of me, Neilly McGarry, Barney McAuley, ‘Skinner’ [Declan Laverty], Joey Scullion, we’d love to leave the club in a good place. We had a good lot of young boys there impressing, and if this year’s the year to walk away again, that’s it.

“We’ll take it onboard after next week but we’re going with a will to win and we’re hoping nothing’s going to stop us.”

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Hurling and camogie