By Brendan McTaggart
Relief, ecstasy and unbridled joy. Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane beamed from ear to ear at the final whistle as his side edge Rossa in classic. One point, four minutes into injury time but belief and trust were key for the Cuchullains manager: “I felt we were starting to get a few plays together but at that stage you’re basically trusting your players. You trust them to do the right thing when on the ball and make the right decision. That exactly what they’ve done.
“Seaan’s score before that was exceptional too. That’s what big players do. In big games when the pressures on, they make an impact. Chrissy’s a young lad, not long out of minor and he just wants to get involved. No better man to be in that position.”
The game itself was a rollercoaster. The opening quarter was Dunloy at their best, running into an eight point lead but O’Kane paid tribute to the Jeremiah’s for how they clawed their way back into the contest: “We had a brilliant first quarter and Rossa got a goal out of nothing. The second and third quarter we couldn’t get into the game. We couldn’t get structure or flow in our game but to be fair to Rossa, they do that. They pull and drag you all over the pitch.” O’Kane continued: “Rossa have been the story of this years championship. They’ve been exceptional and we were lucky to hang on in there in the end and get the scores when we needed to.”
With the age profile of the Dunloy team still in the early 20’s, O’Kane said championship matches like these just adds to their development: “They need to grow and learn and develop as players and as athletes. Playing championship hurling and making them decisions, that’s what it’s all about.”
One major concern for the Cuchullains was Paul Shiels having to leave midway through the half but O’Kane lauded the impact of Ciaran ‘Cat’ Elliott when he replaced the Dunloy playmaker along with Nicky McKeague: “He twigged something in the first quarter and it was pulling at him so we took a chance and got him out of there as soon as. We’ll assess him this evening and tomorrow and see where we are.
“Cat’s good in the rucks and gave us that edge to get over the line. That’s what he’s good at but in particular he tracked Deaglan Murphy all over the park and he did that very well.
“Nicky will give you everything he has. He’ll die for you, he would die with his boots on, he’s that type of player.”
When Dunloy needed leaders, they found them at the death. Their defence tightened and the Dunloy manager reserved praise for another substitute when he continued: “It comes a stage you just have to trust the players. Kevin McKeague came on and dug two or three ball out of there he had no right to win, Conor Kinsella and Phelim Duffin. You could see our backs starting to find men in the middle third. We needed to get boys in the right places and get the ball over the bar.
“Woody’s a player. That’s his first competitive game in the championship and he never looked out of place. He’s a huge presence and has a wealth of hurling experience, no better man to come in and replace Ryan.”
A short window with just seven days until the final but the Cuchullains have an Intermediate Football championship semi-final to contend with. O’Kane cast a frustrated figure when adding: “We’ll deal with whatever comes but I don’t get it. Why do we have to play this so quick. Every county in Ireland. I can only look at the last four counties that have won the All-Ireland – Galway, Limerick, Kilkenny and Tipperary. They’re playing from Sunday to Sunday. Tipperary have 32 senior hurling teams and they’re playing Sunday to Sunday, and 12 football teams.
“The games are quality and this is as good as it gets in any county. We’re looking forward to it and delighted to be in the final.”