Hurling and camogie

Hard work and going for goals got us over the line: Dunloy ace Conal Cunning

Dunloy's Conal Cunning had an immense final on Sunday Picture by Mal McCann.

CONAL ‘Coby’ Cunning says the key to Dunloy staying on top of the pile in Antrim is out-working their opponents on any given day.

The Antrim ace hit 1-10 in the Cuchullain’s emphatic final victory over O’Donovan Rossa at Corrigan Park on Sunday as the three-in-a-row champions turn their attention to another crack at Ulster.

But you could forgive the mercurial attacker for savouring his fourth winner’s senior medal with his club before trying to scale the provincial stage.

“It does get sweeter,” he said.

“You work hard every year. Especially being the reigning champions, we know that everybody is champing at the bit to get at us.

“We know we need to be working five or ten percent harder than anyone else, because other teams are going that bit harder when they face us. That performance summed it up.”

Dunloy hit three first half goals to put away rookie finalists Rossa with Cunning helping himself to his side’s second major after 22 minutes.

In the second half, the north Antrim men produced an exhibition of score-taking to run out 15-point winners.

“As a team performance it went very well. We talked about how if we played as a team, we can really rack up some nice scores and we have been doing that this year. I thought this year we were progressing nicely and you can see what it leads to.

“We talked about being ruthless and going for goal,” Cunning added.

“That’s what we worked on for the last two weeks. But it’s a final, boys are nervous. It doesn’t matter how many finals you have been in, lads are as nervous as anything. And as the game comes close, you don’t get any less nervous.

"Once you get settled down, that’s when you start to flow. But the goals made the difference.”

With a long lay-off before they enter the provincial stage, Gregory O’Kane’s men have bitter memories of the 2019 final when they were well beaten by Slaughtneil.

With the prospect of a return meeting on December 12, Cunning remembers just how devastated the squad felt at losing to the Derry champions.

“It stuck in all our minds,” he said. “I remember in the changing rooms after and it was the worst changing room I think I have ever been in in my whole career.

“We all said to each other that we could bottle that feeling up. Because we would get chances again and we would be working towards changing that feeling.”

Despite the wait, Cunning is confident in-house games will keep the squad sharp.

“We are happy enough without challenge games to be fair. In my eyes I believe we have the best forwards and the best backs in the county. And if you are marking the man against you in training and you can do well on him, then you can do well on anyone.

“We will play a lot of in-house games. We might get challenge games but we haven’t really thought about that yet.”

Dunloy have now won four Antrim championships in the last five years bringing their overall haul to 15, five behind roll of honour leaders Loughgiel Shamrocks.

Cunning was in the running for man-of-the-match in Sunday’s one-sided decider but despite notching 1-10, the ageless Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels produced yet another stunning display in midfield.

“Ah, every year he gets better,” Cunning said of Shiels, who stepped away from county duty in 2017.

“I don’t know when his career will end, I don’t think we will let him, to be honest!

“We grew up watching ‘Shorty’, that’s who we wanted to be and aspired to play with.”

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Hurling and camogie