Dunloy's Paul 'Shorty' Shiels laments no Ulster title to debate in 2020
DUNLOY'S Paul ‘Shorty' Shiels feels “a bit disappointed” that they won't get the chance to aim for a provincial title this year due to the condensed nature of both the club and county schedules.
The Cuchullain's remained top of the pile in Antrim at the weekend thanks to an assured seven-point win over Loughgiel Shamrocks in the championship decider.
That's back-to-back titles and Dunloy's third in four years following yesterday's imperious display – but their season came to an abrupt halt in Ballycastle yesterday.
After five incredible weeks of hurling, it's the end of the road for the Dunloy hurlers in 2020. With county teams allowed to resume collective training as of yesterday, the provincial and All-Ireland championships at club level were shelved by the GAA.
“It is a wee bit disappointing that there is no Ulster title there, especially when they're going ahead with the county season but that's the way it is,” said Shiels, who delivered yet another master-class in the heat of championship battle.
“There's a real hunger and desire in Ulster now with Slaughtneil starting to dominate the Ulster Club and the Antrim and Down teams wanting to get back into it. The fact that they shelved Ulster at county level, there is a vacuum. It's disappointing but hopefully it'll be there next year. It may not be us [competing in it] but it's good for Ulster hurling.”
Dunloy were fancied to steal Slaughtneil's crown in last year's provincial final but the Derry champions played brilliantly and were unlucky not to reach an All-Ireland final, eventually falling to Kilkenny's Ballyhale Shamrocks in an epic semi-final encounter.
In a high-wire senior championship, Dunloy were worthy winners of the new Fr Fitzpatrick Cup – as the Volunteer Cup, affectionately known as ‘Big Ears' around the county, has been retired due to its advancing years.
After drawing their opening two group games with Ballycastle and Rossa, the Cuchullain's recovered brilliantly to beat St John's to book their semi-final berth.
And they came through a pulsating semi-final with Rossa in Dunsilly nine days ago before putting Loughgiel Shamrocks to the sword in the final.
Nobody can dispute Dunloy's rightful claim on the silverware and the style with which they collected their 14th title in all at McQuillan Park on Sunday.
Once again, ‘Shorty' Shiels was one of the architects of Sunday's resounding victory, playing an impeccable game in the deep-lying midfield role.
The 32-year-old former county star was a doubt right up to the morning of the final having been withdrawn in the semi-final against Rossa with a hamstring niggle.
“I could have played on [against Rossa] but it turned out to be more nerve pain than hamstring. I didn't train all week and just had to get ready. It was the last game of the year - it doesn't matter if your leg falls off.
“But this is extra special because we'd a tough year. You're not getting your normal run of training, you're not getting your normal run of league games. We've strong characters in Dunloy as we decided not to play the league, which worked out well for us.
“It's just nice to be winning games. That's my fifth title now. The sweetest one is always the next one. You can never be happy. We just want to push on and we'll be looking for six.”
‘Shorty' also paid tribute to the fantastic group of minor players that have come through to dominate the senior championship over the last number of years, including the likes of Keelan Molloy and Conal ‘Coby' Cunning who have excelled at the top level.
“You can have underage talent all you want – until you produce on the senior stage, which is very difficult. The advantage we have, our main group that came out of minors won a championship straight away [in 2017]. So they didn't have that [tag] hanging over them – ‘potential talents'. Straight off the bat they earned a title and now we just want to pile it on because this doesn't last forever.”