Disappointed but proud of Dunloy: captain Paul Shiels
PRIDE and acute disappointment were the over-riding emotions in the Dunloy camp as they narrowly failed to win their first All-Ireland title against the all-conquering Ballyhale Shamrocks at Croke Park on Sunday.
Still in the game going down the home straight, Ballyhale pressed on the accelerator and won by a slightly flattering seven-point margin to lift their third All-Ireland in four years and their ninth overall.
Cuchullain’s captain Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels said: “It’s a very disappointing dressing-room which shows you how close we were.
“I know coming down the stretch we were still in the game. We thought they were going to load up early on and go for goals but I thought we were very comfortable at the back.
“But that middle third was just an absolute jungle and the more the game went on it was getting tougher and tougher. They picked up a few scores at the end to pull away.
“But that’s high level sport. The margins are small. We dropped a couple short just when we had them under pressure and then we conceded a couple of frees or a ’65 and they started to pull away from us.
“Once the game starts to edge into stoppage-time you push up and try and get the scores and we left gaps at the back. I’m so proud of that bunch of players and management team. We’ve been improving every year and we’re really disappointed.”
‘Shorty’ added: “Whenever you’re playing in the last club game of the year you must be doing something right. We have been going in the right direction this year but it’s back to porridge now.
“The county boys will go back to a tough League and Championship campaign ahead of them and it’s up to the rest of us to get up to that level when we start up again. We’ll probably take six weeks off and get back on the wagon.”
The 34-year-old captain, who has been plagued with injury this season, stated before Sunday’s final that he will continue to play for Dunloy in 2023.
He hit a point in each half while defenders Oran Quinn and Eamon Smyth landed scores from distance, but Dunloy’s much-vaunted attackers couldn’t get under Ballyhale’s defensive skin.
The Kilkenny men’s half-back line was largely impenetrable and Joey Holden the side’s insurance policy on the edge of the square.
Dunloy reacted and tweaked things as Sunday’s final developed but they didn’t create any goal-scoring chances after Ronan Molloy raised a green flag after just three minutes.
“I’d a quick chat with Gregory about 20 minutes into the game and we were doing okay, but we were getting very little change from their half-back line and our half-back line was going slightly closer to our own goal and we were getting over-run a wee bit in the middle.
“We brought Seann [Elliott] out and he was getting on ball and started running at them. We got some joy in that and that cleaned the middle up a wee bit but just towards the end the gaps started to appear again. You’ve no time to analyse, you’re just trying to win every break and the breaks were going their way and they were punishing us.
“We had our chances, but we weren’t finding the pockets of space as easily as the last day [against St Thomas’s] and that’s probably down to their defensive structure.
“The emotions are still raw but when the dust settles over the next few weeks we’ll be fit to re-assess it a wee bit better - but every man gave everything they had and we just came up short. The over-riding emotion is disappointment and pride.”