Manager’s View – Johnny Campbell, Loughgiel…..
“The rivalry’s been good for hurling. It’s a good rivalry and it’s something that hurling needs.”
By Brendan McTaggart
“If there wasn’t a buzz about the place in the week before a county final I’d be getting worried. The lads are in good tune and looking forward to it.” Loughgiel manager Johnny Campbell, now in his second year as the Shamrock’s main man will be tasting a championship final from the side line for the first time as Bannisteoir. The All-Ireland winning co-Captain from 2012 masterminded a tactical masterclass against their neighbours ‘over the sheugh’ and Campbell was keen to have his sides feet firmly planted on the ground after their gritty victory over 2017 champions, Dunloy: “We knew it was going to take a massive effort to beat Dunloy and we got that on the day but I was keen to hit the reset button as soon as possible.
“We’re coming up against a different animal next day out and the sooner we reset from the Dunloy game, the better.”
It was a war of attrition against the Cuchullains and the Loughgiel manager was grateful for the extra week to recuperate: “The way the other semi-final transpired we got an extra week and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t do us any harm. It allowed us to clear up niggles, don’t get me wrong there’s still players carrying small things but they’re manageable and as far as we’re concerned, we’ve a fit panel to pick from for Sunday bar Barney (McAuley).”
On the other semi-final, Campbell adds: “Looking at those matches, St John’s probably should have beat Cushendall on the first day. A lot of people thought at the time that they missed the boat. Looking back on it now, you would have to say they did.
“St John’s have improved big time. I had a fair idea what they would bring to the table and knew there wouldn’t be much in it but like they’ve shown through the recent years, Cushendall are a team who never know when they’re beaten.
“The first match was probably played on St Johns terms while the start Cushendall made to the replay allowed them to dictate the play. St Johns hit back but Cushendall’s extra experience got them over the line.”
Sunday will be the eighth meeting between these two titans of Antrim hurling since 2005. Before that however, they had incredibly only hurled once in the decider for the Volunteer Cup and that coming back in 1985.
The record stands at four wins for the Shamrocks while the three wins for Cushendall came during those six finals lost from 2003 to 2008. Loughgiel have had the upper hand in the last four finals but Campbell told us the rivalry between the two sides have been good for the game: “The rivalry’s been good for hurling. It’s a good rivalry and it’s something that hurling needs and sport in general.
“For great teams anything worth winning only comes with overcoming great challenges and you have to be at your best to beat them that’s for sure.”
The matches between these two sides have been nothing short of epic in recent times and that is no exaggeration. Last year it took 150 minutes to separate the sides in the Feis Cup and while it wasn’t a high scoring affair in the championship semi-final 12 months ago, the energy, passion and intensity that day at Páirc MacUílín made it every bit as gripping as any other contest between these two. Campbell gave us his take on the Ruairi’s: “It’ll be a physical game, they have big physical players but they have big men who can hurl as well. We think we have the players to match them in that respect and we’ll have to. Match them physically and work rate, they work incredibly hard as well.
“I don’t know if Eoghan Campbell will be playing, if he is he’ll need some watching. Their forward unit, Alex Delargy and McClafferty (Cormac) are nippy while you have big power players like Natty McNaughton, Ryan McCambridge and McGill’s one of the best forwards in the county on his day.
“It’ll be up to us to negate those influences.”
Campbell continued by talking about the 2017 semi-final: “I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t crossed our mind but really it’ll have no relevance to Sunday’s match. We left Ballycastle that day thinking we left it behind us and we missed out. That game was largely played on Cushendall’s terms and we certainly feel like we didn’t do ourselves justice.
“We’ve looked back on that game and certain aspects, just like we have the games this season against Cushendall but you can plan for A, B and C and end up having X, Y and Z during the game. You have to be able to adapt during the game.”
In a bizarre twist that only the club championship can bring, Campbell will be pitting his wits against the man who guided him to his first senior final. Loughgiel native Eamon Gillan will be in the opposite dugout on Sunday and the Shamrocks man acknowledged Gillan’s role before saying it will be business as usual: “Eamon was in charge of us in the first final back in 2003 and then against Rossa in ’04. I joked during the week that he’d be a winner no matter what happens but look, he was the one that laid the foundations and built the platform for our future success but he’s a Cushendall man on Sunday. But no matter what happens, we’ll shake hands at the full time whistle.”