'We're always just another contender in the race' - Dunloy's Paul 'Shorty' Shiels
IT’S a dark, rainy Thursday night in the Sierra Maestra of Dunloy. There’s just enough wind swirling around to stir the wet green and yellow flags on the lampposts that guide you to a place of sporting excellence, known as the Cuchullain’s.
While the movers and shakers of local media made a beeline for O’Donovan Rossa’s press night at The Dub on Tuesday night, Dunloy’s is a more understated affair.
Saffron Gael and The Irish News arrive to speak with manager Gregory O’Kane and the village’s ageless wonder Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels.
Civil as ever and filtering every syllable he uses ahead of Sunday’s fascinating Antrim SHC final with Rossa, O’Kane’s media work is done.
He hands over to ‘Shorty’.
When he retired from county duty four years ago this month, his plan was to give more time to his club. A club championship winner in 2007 and ’09, he’s won three more winner’s medals since stepping away from Antrim.
Now 33 with two young kids, success and fatherhood haven’t dimmed his ambition to win more with Dunloy.
First question: How’s the legs?
“Good to go,” he says with a roguish grin.
Last year, he suffered a hamstring strain in the semi-final and was a doubt ahead of Dunloy’s pursuit of back-to-back titles.
He started the decider and played the sweeper’s like only he can, drawing the sting out of Loughgiel’s attack and orchestrating Dunloy’s attacks from deep.
It was yet another masterclass of technique, vision and composure.
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He doesn’t put a timeframe on his club career.
“I don’t think like that,” he says.
“I actually enjoy having the children around. They love going to the matches and they love watching Dunloy playing big games – and that’s a motivation in itself to keep going, so they can be part of it and remember it.”
He insists that talk of three-in-a-row hasn’t crossed any of his team-mates or management’s lips. Dunloy, he says, are just simply chasing the next one.
“That was two years ago and that was last year so every year is a new year. We’re just dying to get playing on Sunday at Corrigan, we can’t wait. Three-in-a-row genuinely hasn’t been mentioned.
“This not just another game, it’s a county final. You have to embrace the buzz, you just don’t want to close up shop and be stone cold about it. It’s a big day for the village and I’m sure Rossa are the same.”
Dunloy will be favourites to retain the Volunteer Cup but ‘Shorty’ knows just how difficult Rossa will be to crack.
Last year, they “got out of jail” by grabbing a late draw in the group stages at Rossa Park and they just pipped the west Belfast men in a memorable semi-final at Dunsilly.
“When we won the last couple of titles, for two or three days after the final, that’s you, you’re Antrim champions and then your focus moves away from it because when the season starts you’re just another team in the race trying to do it all over again. Whenever you think back, you just want to experience that feeling again.”