Hurling and camogie

Dunloy can edge past Rossa to seal another crack at Ulster crown

The pace of Eoin O Neill (pictured), Conal Cunning and Seaan Elliott would cause trouble for any defence, and Rossa will have to be at their best to contain the Cuchullain's tomorrow. Picture by Seamus Loughran

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship final: O'Donovan Rossa v Cuchullain's, Dunloy (tomorrow, Corrigan Park, 3.45pm – live on TG4)

O'DONOVAN Rossa's incremental rise back towards the top of the tree in Antrim faces the ultimate acid test when they come up against reigning county kingpins Dunloy in a mouth-watering battle at Corrigan Park tomorrow.

The Cuchullain's have negotiated the choppy waters of the championship to lift the Volunteer Cup three times in the last four years, and are bidding to become the first club to claim a hat-trick since Loughgiel turned up the heat at the beginning of the last decade.

In this current Rossa crop, however, Dunloy could be facing the greatest threat to their dominance – if Colly Murphy's side can rise to the occasion as they have done so often in recent years.

They have no fear of Gregory O'Kane's men and, given the most recent exchanges between this pair, why would they? In last year's championship they went toe-to-toe twice, first in a helter-skelter group game before an unforgettable semi-final showdown in Dunsilly.

A dramatic 1-1 right at the death secured a share of the spoils for Dunloy the first day, Chrissy McMahon with the late leveller. And McMahon was the hero again three weeks later when he steered over six minutes into added time to secure a final spot against Loughgiel.

On both occasions, Rossa could argue they were the better side – yet Dunloy's never-say-die attitude and ability to pull a result from the fire shows why they have been Antrim's best.

Rossa look fitter, faster, stronger this year. With Mickey McCullough helping out in the background, you can be sure every tactical base will be covered by the time the sliothar is thrown in.

But how much have they learned from those near misses? If tomorrow's game is in the melting pot again - and there is every chance it will be – do they have what it takes to see it out?

The fact Rossa were staring down the barrel of a gun before bouncing back against Cushendall a fortnight ago will have done wonders for their belief, surely strengthening any sense that this could be their year.

Instead of being on the end of a sucker punch, this time Rossa were handed one out – substitute Dara Rocks popping up with the winning goal after a Paddy McGill major looked to have edged the Ruairi Ogs across the line deep into added time.

In Dunloy, however, they face a different challenge to the physical power of Cushendall. The Cuchullain's are all pace and guile - Eoin O'Neill, Conal Cunning and Seaan Elliott would keep any defence on its toes, while the raiding runs of Keelan Molloy represent a constant threat.

O'Kane's men are solid and strong at the back too, although they look likely to be without the experienced Phelim Duffin, who limped off early on in their semi-final win over St John's.

And then there's Paul Shiels. In last year's final, Loughgiel failed to close the space on the former Antrim star, allowing him to dictate proceedings from sweeper as Dunloy swept to another title.

Rossa cannot afford to make a similar mistake, and could detail the likes of Seaghan Shannon to try and knock Shiels out of his stride.

The west Belfast outfit have the quality across the board to trouble Dunloy too, not least the manager's sons Deaglan and Tiernan, while Stephen Beatty carries a serious goal threat every time he moves into the square.

Murphy will have a plan in place for the inspirational Michael Armstrong too, who was unstoppable at full-forward in the second half against Cushendall having struggled to get to grips with Neil McManus at the other end.

With a dry afternoon anticipated, the conditions should play into the hands of both sides. For Rossa, there is the lure of a first county crown since 2004, and a hugely significant step on their journey.

Yet Dunloy aren't ready to let go yet. With the Ulster club back on the table after its 2020 absence, the Cuchullain's will want to be in the mix again – but they will have to fight tooth and nail for the right to be there.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Hurling and camogie