PAUL ‘Shorty’ Shiels was in seventh heaven after pocketing yet another county championship winner’s medal on Sunday – but the Dunloy veteran revealed it was close to the wire whether he would play any meaningful games for the Cuchullain’s in 2022.
After undergoing groin surgery earlier in the year, Dunloy’s midfield metronome planned to be back playing a few league games towards the end of the July, but suffered a setback.
And when the north Antrim men began their pursuit of four-in-a-row at the beginning of August, ‘Shorty’ was only fit for a few minutes from the bench against Ballycastle before building up his game-time as Dunloy breezed through the group stages and landed in the semi-finals.
“It was a tough year,” said the 34-year-old.
“I had to go for groin surgery, I kept that low key. I targeted the end of July and to play a couple of league games and that didn’t happen. I had a bit of a setback. I tried to get a few of the group games in but didn’t really play much in them either.
“I played five minutes against Ballycastle, played a half against Carey and 10 minutes against Rossa. It was a lot of hard work from everybody involved and getting back on the pitch at the right time of year was the goal and luckily it worked out.”
‘Shorty’ produced stunning back-to-back displays against St John’s and Cushendall in the semi-finals and final, respectively, and was delighted to be back in the Corrigan Park stand alongside Ryan Elliott to lift the Volunteer Cup for the fourth time-in-a-row and his seventh in a quite brilliant career.
“You kind of forget the feeling of winning it until it comes around again and it’s the best one every again,” he said.
“It’s what we set out to do all year and I suppose it’s satisfying when all the work you put in comes out on the day. That was a brutal out there, really, really tough. It’s not that we were expecting anything different from Cushendall because that was championship hurling.
“We’d watched a lot of Cushendall’s matches, broke them into clips, and what they’re very good at is bombarding you with aerial ball because they are big physical ball-winners.
“We just had to be patient. It was no shock to us the way they are going to play. They’re very mobile at the back and they tried to stifle our forwards but when they had to push up to try and win the game they left the gaps at the back and that’s what we were trying to do – get ahead of them so they had to come out and play. Chrissy [McMahon] came off the bench with a point to prove and took his goal really well.”
While all eyes will be fixed on another crack at Ulster and possibly another meeting with Derry champions Slaughtneil, should they overcome Portaferry in their semi-final, ‘Shorty’ insisted the importance of taking care of business in Antrim before mulling over anything else.
This Dunloy side have yet to win an Ulster title, falling to Slaughtneil on each occasion.
“Obviously we were disappointed [in Ulster] over the last few years but we can’t really do anything about that until we get to the Ulster Club,” he said.
“It’s important that we look after things in Antrim as well because everybody is trying to take us down. We’ll sit back, recover and get ready for an Ulster Club campaign. Slaughtneil and Portaferry are two good sides – but we’re there and that’s the main thing.”