Hurling and camogie

Shane O'Neill's set for stiff test from Setanta in Ulster Club JHC Final

Darren Hamill of Shane O'Neill's, Glenarm, in action with Antrim. Pic Seamus Loughran
Francis Mooney

Darren Hamill has tasted the big time with Antrim, winning half a dozen Ulster Championships, along with Walsh Cup and NHL Division Two titles.

His club career has taken him on a less glamorous journey, but he'll step into the spotlight when his Shane O'Neill's side takes on Setanta of Donegal in the Ulster Club JHC final this weekend

Team captain Hamill has led the Glenarm men to a couple of comfortable wins over Carrickmacross of Monaghan and Armagh title-holders Sean Treacy's, but the Donegal Senior champions will pose a stiffer test at Celtic Park.

"It will probably the first time this year we'll be going in as underdogs, so that's a new task, but we're all looking forward to it," he said.

"We're facing a stiff task on Sunday with Setanta. They're the best team in Donegal and they're that for good reason.

"It's a very proud day for the club, because it doesn't come around that often.

"We had to wait a long while to win our first county championship, and now we're looking forward to Sunday, to give it a good rattle and see where that takes us."

It's another step into the unknown, and Hamill admits that preparation for Ulster ties is less than straightforward.

"It's the same case for all the teams, that we don't really know what to expect from any of the teams that we play.

"It's just a matter of turning up and trying our best on the day, and thankfully we have come through both games.

"The Sean Treacy's game was tight enough for a while, but we did manage to pull away towards the end."

The 33-year-old has been a leader in the club for the past decade, and while his inter-county days are now behind him, the touches of class that earned him Saffron recognition are still evident and enduringly influential.

"It was a good experience to be involved, and you can always take that back to the club. It helps everyone. But I haven't been involved now for three or four years.

"I have that experience with Antrim, but I haven't had it at club level, but I'm a very proud clubman and I'm looking forward to getting this big day out with my club."

Victory this weekend will see Shane O'Neill's return to the All-Ireland stage, 18 years after Hamills first taste of hurling beyond the provincial arena.

As a raw 14-year-old, he made his Championship debut in an All-Ireland JHC semi-final against Galmoy of Kilkenny in 2004.

"I wasn't involved in the Ulster campaign, but I was brought into the panel after that for the All-Ireland semi-final.

"I came on as a sub in the semi-final. I think they went on and won the final equally as handy. That was 18 years ago, so time goes in.

"I've been at the two ends of the scale now, from being a very young player back then to now being one of the oldest in the team.

"I remember there was a heavy wind that day and we were actually ahead at half-time, and then they turned it around quite quickly and they were well ahead by the time I came on.

"So it was probably to give myself a run-out. I wasn't going on with any expectation of changing the game, but it was a great experience, and nice to be in around the senior players, who I would have looked up to at the time."

Hurling and camogie