CUSHENDALL will be coming up against “the standard-bearers in Ulster hurling” when they take on Slaughtneil in Sunday’s Ulster final, according to Ruairi Ogs stalwart Neil McManus.
Aside from Cushendall in 2018 and Dunloy last year, the Derry champions have been a powerhouse at provincial level since losing out to Cushendall after extra-time in the 2015 decider – lifting the Four Season Cup five times since making the breakthrough.
At Pairc Esler this weekend, Michael McShane’s men bid to win back the crown the Cuchullain’s ripped from them 12 months ago, and McManus believes Slaughtneil’s hurling ability has been undersold during their remarkable run of success.
“They have been the standard-bearers in Ulster hurling for the past half a dozen years,” said the 35-year-old.
“They’re an exceptional team… I actually don’t think they get the credit they deserve in terms of their hurling ability.
“We often hear quite lazy journalism around this Slaughtneil team, especially from the southern media, about how athletic and how physical they are… are Limerick not athletic and physical? I believe they are, and they get lauded for it.
“Slaughtneil are one the best hurling teams in the country, and that’s exactly who we want to be challenging. That’s why we’re looking forward to Sunday so much.”
It is a return to the big stage for Cushendall who, like the rest of the chasing pack in Antrim, have had to watch Dunloy dominate during recent times, completing a county championship four in-a-row from 2019-2022.
When Gregory O’Kane’s defending champions were stunned by Loughgiel in the last four, Cushendall seized their opportunity, eventually seeing off the Shamrocks to lay hands on the Volunteer Cup for the first time in six years.
And although the Ruairi Ogs needed a last-gasp equalising goal from McManus to avoid exiting against Portaferry, the former Antrim star insists Brian Delargy’s men can take encouragement from steady progress made in recent years.
“You’d much rather your club was winning the championship every year.
“If you take the previous year, we were beaten in the county final by Dunloy, but our performance that day was excellent, we had prepared really well, and the level we brought on the day was so good.
“That’s why it was such a good game, and that stood to Dunloy when they played Slaughtneil in the Ulster final and we’re really lucky to have such a competitive club championship.
“But look, whenever Dunloy progressed into Ulster, everybody in Antrim was fully supportive of them. They were representing Antrim, representing all of us at that stage, just like we are now.
“We have to just take the learnings from the Portaferry game because there were some things that we did well, and some we didn’t do so well. We have had an opportunity, during the past fortnight, to work on those things.
“A point that has also maybe been missed about that match is the level of performance that Portaferry brought to the table. They were excellent, even having watched it back, they certainly were very unlucky.
“You have to be thankful that you got the opportunity to make it through to the final, but realise that performance just would not do this weekend.”