Hurling and camogie

Championship win would be dream come true admits Rossa skipper Stephen Beatty

Rossa captain Stephen Beatty is looking forward to Sunday's Antrim SHC final showdown with county kingpins Dunloy. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

IT has been 17 years since O'Donovan Rossa last captured Antrim hurling's top prize and captain Stephen Beatty says it will be the stuff of dreams if he gets to lift the Volunteer Cup on Sunday.

The west Belfast outfit have been away from final day since that win back in 2004, but this weekend they will return when taking on defending champions Dunloy who are bidding for three-in-a-row and fourth title in five years.

The Cuchullains are the undoubted kingpins of Antrim hurling at present but Rossa go into the decider off the back of four-straight wins in this year's competition, including a group stage victory at Loughgiel before pipping Cushendall in a thrilling semi-final.

There is no doubt the challenge will be greater again against Dunloy and while Beatty has huge admiration for their opponents, there is a game to be won and the men in blue and gold will be there to upset the odds.

"I respect Dunloy so much," he said.

"They aren't going for three-in-row by fluke, they are a serious hurling outfit and I actually enjoy watching them, but come Sunday, all that goes out the window. We are there and we're going to try to put it up to them and hopefully it goes our way.

"If I am the one who lifts that trophy, it will be something that sticks with me for the rest of my life. Just to captain the team into this final is a seriously proud moment for me and my family."

The dual star is one of many Rossa players who were part of the team that claimed the All-Ireland Intermediate title in 2015, so there is big game experience throughout their ranks.

Still, that victory against Kilburn Gaels at Croke Park was supposed to be the spark that ignited an immediate challenge back at senior level, but it didn't work out that way.

It has taken hard graft and over the past three years under the management team headed by Colly Murphy, Rossa gradually turned a corner.

"You would think we are on a six-year programme, but it's just the way it happened," said Beatty.

"From 2004, we had disappeared from competing in the senior championship - 2015 was a good stepping stone at intermediate because we knew we had to drop down.

"I keep saying it, but it's just the hard work paying off with all the buy-in we are getting. I think if you look back at that team, there is something like 13 still on the panel now."

Late in the semi-final against Cushendall, it appeared Rossa would not be there as from what looked like a winning position at five points up heading into the home straight, the Ruairis rallied to get level and then Paddy McGill lashed home a goal that seemingly had broken Rossa hearts once again.

However, the Shaws Road outfit stuck to the task and it was they who would find the dramatic winner with Dara Rocks blasting to the net to send them into the final.

Learning from past defeats, including last year's stoppage time heartbreak in the semi-final against Dunloy, has been invaluable and Beatty believes that growth as a team has brought them back to where they want to be.

"I remember being heartbroken last year when Dunloy scored that [winning] point and heartbroken when Paddy McGill scored that goal as I was thinking 'this is happening to us again'.

"But at the same time, I turned my back and ran as I thought 'this isn't us' and had a feeling we were going to sneak it. That shows the maturity of the panel as in the past we may have thought 'this isn't for us' but now we are stepping up and fingers crossed we can get it done on Sunday."

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Hurling and camogie