Eamon Gillan, Cushendall…..
“I have a job to do on Sunday and I’ll be doing all I can to make sure we get the result we want”
By Brendan McTaggart
In some areas of Antrim, it’s been described as an ‘unholy alliance.’ A sign of the magnitude of the rivalry between Cushendall and Loughgiel. Welcome to the New Firm. The Ruairi’s management team for 2018 is headed by Loughgiel native Eamon Gillan and it’s fair to say the Cushendall pharmacist has been having plenty of banter since the semi-finals: “Everyone’s been saying Eamon Gillan can’t loose but you could flip that around. Maybe Eamon Gillan can’t win on Sunday? But look, I’ve been living in Cushendall now for the better part of 35 years and have two sons that will be part of the panel on Sunday. If I wasn’t managing Cushendall, I would find it extremely hard to manage a team against them.
“I had been out of the game having been involved with development squads and was a couple of players approached me. I thought, why not?”
The Ruairi’s needed a reply in their semi-final against St Johns but the Ruairi’s manager was more content with his sides display on reaching the decider: “The replay was another tough game but I expected nothing less. We looked to be in a great position to go on and win handy but all credit to St Johns, they kept coming back at us and went ahead a couple of times. We had to dig deep. They never threw in the towel at any stage.
“I thought our attitude was better the second day out and we were more clinical when it mattered. We’ve always has a threat of goals this year and we took our chances that day and maybe could have had another one if not two.
“Every game of hurling takes a life of its own and against Loughgiel will be different again. St Johns are a team who looked to get behind the ball, some nice hurlers and a lot of movement. We have that too but probably more power and strength and at the end of the day, you have to play to your strengths.”
The final had originally been scheduled for Pearse Park, Dunloy last week but with replays required in the Ruairi’s semi-final and the minor decider between Loughgiel and Dunloy, a rethink was required. Despite overcoming St Johns at Páirc MacUíllín, Gillan reckons both sides would have preferred the Dunloy venue: “Ballycastle is notorious for having a strong wind. I think both teams would have preferred to play in Dunloy but the minor final dictated otherwise. I just hope the elements don’t play too big a part because it can become a lottery then.
“I do think Loughgiel will start as favourites after their win against Dunloy in the semi-final. It wasn’t a game for the purists by any stretch of the imagination but the confidence they’ll have gathered from that and the extra week’s rest makes them favourites in my eyes.”
The Ruairi’s had two bruising championship matches with the Johnnies and immediately after the win in Ballycastle, the rumour mill started with the fitness of Conor Carson being called into question. The Ruairi’s forward bagged two goals in a man of the match performance in the semi-final but appeared to be holding his arm while leaving the pitch. Gillan gave us an overview of the availability at his disposal for Sunday, confirming one players absence: “We have three or four niggling injuries and Conor is one of them. Eoghan Campbell is obviously still out with his broken wrist and his absence will certainly be felt but we should have everyone else fit for selection.
“If your asking me will we be at full strength, it’s difficult to know what our full hand is. We made three changes from the first St Johns game and you seen the difference they made. We have a couple of other changes in mind for Sunday but if you look at what we have in reserves, any one of those guys would be worthy of their place in the starting 15.
“It will be a tough game and it could come down to whoever has the strongest bench, that could be the difference.”
Some might say Gillan is between a rock and a hard place on Sunday. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. I couldn’t let him away without talking about what lays ahead for him this weekend: “Off course I have a huge amount of respect for Loughgiel. I played for them and was an administrator for them for years. I managed them to the final back in ’03 and ’04 and at that time Loughgiel hadn’t been in a final for a long, long time. I always felt like if we won that first won we could have pushed on but I’m Cushendall manager now. I have a job to do on Sunday and I’ll be doing all I can to make sure we get the result we want.”
Gillan was in charge of the Shamrocks when Johnny Campbell made his debut for Loughgiel. On Sunday they will be in opposite dugout. Gillan concluded by adding: “Johnny’s a gentleman and someone who I call one of my good friends. He’s done a fantastic job with Loughgiel but I’ll be doing my level best to come out on top on Sunday. I just wish we were coming up against someone else.”