By Brendan McTaggart
Escaping the clutches of congratulatory supporters, Loughgiel Bainisteoir Hugh McCann was understandably a happy man. The Shamrocks had just came through a titanic battle with St John’s. Drama aplenty in Dunsilly with nails being bitten every corner you looked, the Shamrocks came back from the brink at the end of the hour to seal the win in extra time.
“St Johns had us nearly buried a couple of times” said McCann, “but the lads showed great character to come back and back again.” He continued: “
The boys are dead on their feet. It’s been a strange season, the bookies had St John’s beat like the same as Rossa against Dunloy. It’s a funny season but I’m delighted to be in the final.”
Both sides were hit with injuries through the game, but McCann thinks his side had an edge: “The first period of extra time, I think we probably done enough in it to beat them but we missed six or seven chances. I think that wee bit of extra fitness got us through in the end, they had injuries and were struggling in the end. I think our fitness and character were the difference.”
McCann and his backroom team threw their wild card into the mix with Liam Watson starting on the edge of the square having left retirement. McCann told us it was something he’s had in mind since his return: “Liam was carrying a wee niggle. With the greatest of respect to the likes of Naomh Éanna and that, we felt we had enough in us to beat them without Liam and that’s with the greatest respect to those teams.
We knew what St John’s were going to bring. St John’s in semi-finals the last three or four years have been there or thereabouts. We knew that all day long.”
Watson and Benny McCarry rolled back the years, scoring 2-7 from play between them. McCarry’s goal proving the decisive score at the start of extra time. With his knee ‘injury’ not as bad as rumoured, McCarry’s scores in extra time gave the Shamrocks some breathing space over the Johnnies. McCann said: “He (McCarry) got a knock on his knee against Naomh Éanna but it was nothing serious. He’s been for MRI’s and stuff but it’s nothing serious. I think you can see that today. That wee bit of experience with him and Liam saw us over the line. Some of the ball coming out of defence was top notch and they just put them over the bar.”
With the experience of Watson and McCarry, Loughgiel had some fresher faces starting and introduced. McCann told us he was happy with how his young guns played: “It’s not about any one of them. You have the likes of Callum McKendry who played exceptionally well or Ciaran McKay who came on at wing half back who was outstanding when he came on. Just to pick a couple of them. There’s Decky McCloskey, stayed on the whole match and he was outstanding.
“We have injury worries. Tony McCloskey came off, so did Odhran McCloskey. It might just have been cramp or something along those lines but hopefully it’s nothing serious.”
Having starred in the recent reserve championship, Ryan ‘Betty’ McKee was introduced into the half forward line in the second half of normal time. McCann told us that ‘wee Betty’ isn’t far from sealing a first team place and is in the forefront of his plans: “Betty would be better in midfield. You saw it that Monday night in Dunloy, he came on and scored five points in 30 minutes from midfield. He dropped into midfield at the finish up, his work rates phenomenal.
“He was very, very close to starting today. You can only start 15 and he’s very, very close to it, as were a number of other lads. We’re happy enough that we have that option but I don’t know what way it’s going to pan out through the week with injuries and what have you.”
And so onto Sunday. A final against their nearest and dearest. McCann is relishing the prospect of facing the Cuchullains: “I never seen the Dunloy and Rossa game. I heard the boys talking about it and I think Dunloy showed a bit of character to get over the line as well, similar to what we done here. Maybe that bit more experience.
“Dunloy are exceptional with exceptional forwards. The sort of season it’s been, Dunloy have to be favourites. Look at the bookies and they’ll call Dunloy favourites. I would call Dunloy favourites.
“We will respect them, but we’re not going to fear them.
“Do I think we can beat them? Yep or else we wouldn’t show up and that’s being honest with you. Dunloy will think the same. It’s got the makings of a great game.
“It’s an exciting season. Short and strange but we’re delighted to be in the final.”