Cmac in black and amber.. and a family divided

Left – Cmac and Cori. Right Cmac with their son Laochra after Ballycran’s win in the Down final.

Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship final preview

Regardless of how Sunday’s final goes in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh one player is going to have mixed feelings about the result. Ballycran half forward Cormac McAlister was born and raised in Cushendall and wore the famed maroon jersey at all levels from U12 right through to senior, and he even features on the ‘Wee John’ mural on the gable wall of the Lurig Inn. However on Sunday in Armagh Cmac will be in the black and amber of Ballycran, facing not only his former team mates, but his first cousin David Kearney, who is likely to line out in the Ruairi Og half back line.

When Cormac met Ballycran camog Cori Smyth on a night out in Belfast a few years ago it was love at first sight and soon they were an item. Cormac was living in Cushendall and playing for the Ruairis but when their son Laochra was born everything changed, and Cormac made the move down the Ards. The Smyth family was steeped in the Ballycran club so the logical solution for Cormac was to throw in his lot with the men and black and amber and since playing his first game in the league against Rossa back in April there has been no looking back. He had played his first few games in the half back line but as the season progressed he was moved to the forwards and in the county final against Portaferry he scored a vital goal in their narrow win over their neighbours. Since then he has played on the team who created a major shock by beating two times Ulster champions and hot favourites Slaughtneil, a victory that set up a final showdown with his family and friends in north Antrim.

21Cmac and his former team mate Paddy McGill in action during the Ballycran v Cushendall league game in July.

In the lead up to Sunday’s showdown there has been a lot of banter between Cmac and his old, and new, team mates, and he has been warned by those on the Ballycran side not to let his cousin David catch too many balls. He admits to being nervous about Sunday’s final and says that he is generally nervous going into a big game, but this one is at a whole new level. Cormac has plenty of experience in playing in these games, but most of it was built up on the Cushendall side of the field. “We always had really hard battles with Ballycran and there was seldom any more than a couple of points between the sides”

He did play for Ballycran when the sides met in the league earlier this season on a wet and windy evening in Ballycran, but Cushendall had three goals to spare at the end of it, though in truth it is hard to judge the two teams on that game, such was the strength of the wind. Cormac was not there when they played in the return leg in Cushendall, a game the Ruairis won by six.

When ask about Sunday and playing against his old team-mates and close friends in the Ulster final Cormac said. “When I moved to Ballycran I knew that it may be a possibility somewhere down the line, but to be honest I didn’t think it would happen in my first season. I’ll just have to shut it all out for sixty minutes and hope we come out on the right side at the end”

Cormac McAllister’s story is something that adds even more intrigue to Sunday’s clash. Twenty five years on from their previous final meeting there are many from both the Ballycran and Cushendall teams who will have sons or nephews lining out this time around. Noel Keith who was goalkeeper in ‘93 has his son Stephen filling the same number 1 shirt, while Patrick Dorrian, Hugh Torney and team manager Gary Savage have two sons each on the panel. On the Cushendall side Mark McCambridge’s son Fergus will be lining out as hopefully will John Carson’s son Conor and Paddy Walsh’s nephew Scott.

13939352_1065607690175407_4089660621809918486_nCmac with his family after the 2015 championship win over Ballycastle. His granda Donal Kearney is on the left.

Cormac McAlister’s mother is Jacqueline McAlister – formally Jacqueline Kearney. Her father Donal Kearney is one of the great Ruairi Og stalwarts. Since they made the breakthrough at senior level back in 1981 Cushendall has tasted success on a regular basis. However it has not always been that way, and during the lean times in the fifties and sixties, when the club was struggling, it was men like Donal Kearney who helped to keep it all going. I have often heard the story of a Ruairi Og AGM in the sixties when only four people turned up to the Parochial Hall on a December Sunday. One of the four was Donal Kearney.  He has served the club faithfully down the years holding practically every position in the club committee, including chairman, and he has also managed a range of teams from juvenile to senior. On Sunday Donal will be sitting in the stand in the Athletic grounds. A great Ruairi Og follower who will nonetheless be in a bit if a dilemma with grandsons David and Cormac facing each other out on the pitch below. The natural instinct will be to cheer for his native club but as we all know family ties can go even deeper.                                                                                                                                  You could argue that he is on a winner either way. He will want to see both grandsons doing well, but no doubt the love of his native Ruairi Og will see him come down on the side of the team in maroon.

1984- 087Team manager Donal Kearney gives a half time team talk during a championship match back in 1984.

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