It’s been anything but straight forward for St Galls hurling manager Chris Dornan. Appointed at the start of the year he has had to wait until early August for his first competitive game, and a championship game to boot. It’s far from ideal championship preparation and to make matters worse, he loses the experienced Karl Stewart with barely 45 seconds elapsed on the clock. This makes his Sunday’s eleven-point win at Naomh Eánna more remarkable. The Glengormley outfit came into this clash buoyed by a recent shock win over St John’s as they looked to make a lasting first-time impression in Antrim hurling’s premier club competition.
This meeting also pitted together the previous two winners of the Antrim Intermediate championship and with fixtures against heavy weights Loughgiel and Cushendall to follow, both sides would’ve viewed this fixture as a great opportunity to claim a win that would see them finish at least third place in the group and claim a quarter-final spot. Speaking after the full time whistle a delighted Dornan told The Saffron Gael “I’m really happy that we got over this and now we can look forward to the next two games, not take them for granted, but we can learn from them because I think now that will get us to a quarter final, I think we are looking at a quarter final.”
Asked if he had viewed the game as essentially a quarter-final play-off Dornan said “Since we came back after lockdown this is what we have been looking forward to, is this game.” “This was a knockout game in our group, and it was good that it came in the first fixture because we put all our focus into it.” “I had the footballers for the first time for a whole week and they put in some savage work and you seen that today.” “Our dual players really stood up” continued Dornan who was in understandably buoyant mood.
One player who came in for a special mention was Marcus Donnelly. “Brilliant” was the instant reply from Dornan when asked to sum up his contribution. Thrown into the white-hot heat of championship hurling with barely a minute on the clock, the young half forward had big shoes to fill replacing Karl Stewart who was helped from the field with an ankle injury. “To lose him (Stewart), he’s vice-captain and he’s a leader, but Marcus came in and he must’ve had a hand in three or four points in the first half and that’s the first I’ve seen him play hurling this year”.
Looking ahead Dornan has another five or six faces to welcome back while he hasn’t ruled out Karl Stewart returning to action before the end of the group stages. Despite Sunday’s win Dornan says that St Gall’s don’t intend to take their foot off the pedal as they look to take a big scalp over the next two weeks.
The Cushendall native spoke defiantly when asked how he would view the remaining two group two fixtures. “I don’t manage any team to go out and get beat, no matter who it is, whether I’m the strongest or the weakest in the fight I still think there’s a chance to win the game, and if we have a chance to win it, we’ll go and try.” With a great blend of youth and experience mixed with Dornan’s passion and drive, maybe this could be the year that St Galls make an impression on the senior championship.