Hurling and camogie

Ryan Elliott savours magic moment as Dunloy look ahead to All-Ireland semi

Ryan Elliott and Paul Shiels lift the Four Seasons Cup following Sunday's Ulster final victory over. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

THE party was just kicking off as Ryan Elliott stood outside the Dunloy changing room on Sunday afternoon. Named captain in the absence of the injured Paul Shiels, it was clear a thousand thoughts were whirring around his head long after the Four Seasons Cup had been hoisted aloft.

Every now and again the door would open, the music thudding louder out the gap, before a shout of “come on Ryan, would ye?” Still Elliott would carry on – “one more minute” – trying to convey why what unfolded on the field yards away had meant so much.

“Ah look, it means everything,” said the 23-year-old goalkeeper, who follows in the footsteps of dad Shane, a stalwart between the sticks for a different generation of Dunloy’s finest.

“We’ve all grown up together, I know everyone in Slaughtneil is all friends as well, but to win with your friends is just something else.

“Obviously when you win, someone’s going to say we did something different or whatever, but we didn’t. We stuck to the same thing, and this time we had a lot of confidence coming into it.

“We’ve worked really hard to get to this place again… now we’re back.”

Elliott was one of many Dunloy heroes as they dethroned Slaughtneil, pulling off a smart save to deny Jerome McGuigan in the first half.

And, after finally edging across the line following a breakneck 60-plus minutes, Elliott admitted the pain of three previous defeats to this Emmet’s side – in 2019, 2019 and 2021 – had pushed Dunloy to another level.

“You’ve been in our head the whole time,” he said from the steps of the Athletic Grounds before Sunday’s trophy presentation.

But was there ever a point where this young group wondered would they ever topple the Derry champions?

“You could probably say that, but we knew we would get a day.

“Everyone’s talked about it - you try and get away from it but it’s hard to get away from it in your own club.

“Dunloy had never lost an Ulster match before this team - yes we were the first to lose one and that was always disappointing, but Slaughtneil are an unbelievable team.

“You’re nearly looking at it like ‘what are they doing that we can do better?’ You always have doubts, but we worked extremely hard to get where we’re at today.”

Dunloy’s reward for Sunday’s long-awaited success is an All-Ireland semi-final showdown with St Thomas’s on December 17/18, with the Cuchullain’s eyeing up a first All-Ireland final appearance since 2004 – when Gregory O’Kane was still in his playing pomp.

The Dunloy boss was proud as punch in the wake of this Ulster title breakthrough, a victory made all the remarkable because they did it largely without Shiels, who came on as a late substitute.

“Shorty took a very heavy knock in the Antrim final and he couldn’t get it shifted for four weeks - he has literally done two pitch sessions,” said O’Kane, who hopes to have Conor McKinley available for the semi-final, but fears it will come too soon for Chrissy McMahon.

“Paul Shiels in an unbelievable hurler, and at this stage he is an experienced leader. But to come on for the last 13 minutes or so we could out of him, that was key. But that’s the development of the team - that’s where they are at themselves.

“Decky Smith picked up an ankle injury in the semi-final against St John’s and he came really come back this last two weeks. Nicky McKeague, massive off the bench, and we had enough to get us over the line.”

Hurling and camogie