AIB Ulster Club SHC final: Robert Emmett’s, Slaughtneil (Derry) 2-10 Ruairi Og, Cushendall (Antrim) 0-20
CUSHENDALL are back out on their own again as kings of Ulster – and boss Brian Delargy believes his men are building on something special after bringing the Four Seasons Cup back to the Glens.
Sunday’s victory over Slaughtneil secured a 12th provincial crown for the Ruairi Ogs, nudging them back in front of county rivals Dunloy in the Ulster championship roll of honour.
While captain Neil McManus - clutching baby daughter Aoibhin - addressed the sea of maroon below, the understated Delargy soaked up the atmosphere at the back of the crowd, the warm glow of a job well done fending off the winter chill in Newry.
Landing a first Ulster title since 2018, with an All-Ireland semi-final showdown against Kilkenny kingpins O’Loughlin Gaels to come in a fortnight, these are high times for all associated with Cushendall.
“It’s a good problem to have,” smiled Delargy when asked about the quick turnaround to that last four clash.
“We’re kings of Ulster, that’s us out on our own again so we’ll enjoy tonight. Knowing the boys they are they’ll probably be in the sea tomorrow morning recovering, and then we’ll be back out on the pitch again on Wednesday.
“It’s brilliant to be back on the All-Ireland stage, you’re in the best four teams in the country, but we have a solid foundation in our club and we’re only building wee blocks on top of that. It all comes from the foundation that’s there before – we’re just adding to it.”
And they did it courtesy of their best performance of the year, the four point margin at the end more flattering to the fallen Slaughtneil, with Cushendall assuming control in the second half after a gripping opening half hour.
“We knew what we had got right in the first half, but we also knew what we had got wrong and we changed it up a wee bit and went more direct.
“We seemed to control it a lot more but the team that Slaughtneil are, they’re never going to go away. The defence today was really solid, we have first class defenders, the county captain, Paddy Burke and them in there, you’ve got to trust them to do their job and they did.”
For Slaughtneil boss Michael McShane, however, it was second consecutive Ulster final loss after Dunloy’s triumph 12 months ago.
The Emmett’s had waited 77 days since the Derry final for a competitive game and, while the Ballycastle man was adamant that wouldn’t be used as an excuse, at times that lack of action – compared to Cushendall – showed.
“No complaints,” said McShane, “the best team won on the day, without a shadow of a doubt.
“We got everything from Cushendall we were expecting. They are a phenomenal team, some days you just have to tip your hat to the other team and, today, I do that.
“The reality is that Cushendall played in an Antrim Championship that was very tough. They won the final by a point in a nail-bitter with Loughgiel and were put to the pin of their collar. They played Portaferry and were put to the pin of their collar, had to go to extra-time.
“They came out of those games, probably not playing as well against Portaferry as they would have wanted to, but they still had that match-sharpness and match-cuteness that we don’t get because we don’t get playing those types of games.
“There was lots of talk that we were up and down the country playing challenge games - we weren’t. We couldn’t get challenge games. We played one challenge game. I don’t want that to come across as an excuse.
“We came here today, we thought we could win the game, we thought we were in a place where we could win it. We just didn’t show.”