DOWN MEMORY LANE
25 Years ago today Dunloy beat Kilkenny and Leinster champions Glenmore in the semi-final of the All Ireland Club Championship to reach their second final in a row. The Kilkenny men went in as hot favourites but they were soundly beaten by a Dunloy side who were top of their game to set up a final meeting with Clare champions Sixmilebridge.
All Ireland Hurling Senior Club Championship semi-final 1996
Dunloy 2-13 Glenmore 1-7
Billy Weir reports from Croke Park
Gary O’Kane shook his head in disbelief as Glenmore Coach Tom Ryan addressed the masses in the Dunloy dressing room after Sunday’s All Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.
The stout hearted centre-half-back, who had played such a key role in his team’s superb performance, had stood in the same dressing room all too often to Kilkenny men offer patronising platitudes when the Cats had inflicted another sobering defeat on the Saffrons.
“Ye are doing great to keep the ould game going up there” was generally the main theme of the speech. Probably the condolences were genuine, but there were times they were hard to stomach.
Tis time it was different. Here was a Kilkenny man who steered clubs to three All Ireland titles, admit that Dunloy had taught Glenmore a hurling lesson. The kingpins of the county which had produced so many hurling champions down the years had suffered a right good hiding by and Antrim team. Shades of ’43.
However Ryan sounded a warning note as he pointed his fist on the dressing room table as enthusiastically as if he was giving a team talk to his own players. “Ye taught us a hurling lesson out there, but it will all be wasted, but it will all be wasted if you don’t go on and win the final.”
What the Kilkenny man said was true of course but as more and more well-wishers found their way to the Dunloy dressing room, nobody wanted to listen. The party had begun.
The memory of that awful defeat in last year’s final replay, on a day that anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, had been excorcised. For about a year many who knew that they had not done themselves, or their club, justice had longed for the chance to prove they could hurl with the best of them. Retaining their Antrim and Ulster titles had helped ease the pain but to really get it out of their system they had to prove it against the ‘Southern’ teams.
The lead up to the game had warrented scarcely a mention in the Dublin papers and while RTE sent their cameras to the other semi-final in Thurles, none of them thought it worth their while to send one a couple of miles up the road to Croke Park.
Of course this all helped to galvanize the Dunloy spirit. Here was a team with a point to prove and prove it they most certainly did. The pride in the jersey, the club and the parish were at stake, and every man jack to them were prepared to die for the cause.
Glenmore didn’t know what hit them. When I spoke to the club secretary the week before the game he voiced his concern that one of their team was marrying a girl from up in Cavan the day before the FINAL, and that six of the team were guests at the wedding. Although he didn’t actually admit it, it was obvious that were being treated as a minor obstruction on the way to the All Ireland crown. I must say I took pleasure on Sunday telling him that he needn’t worry how much the lads drank at the Cavan wedding.
It’s is hard to know where to begin in assessing the match – there were 15 stars out there, from the heroics of Shane Elliott in nets to Frankie McMullan’s rasping shot that soared into the net
Defensively, they were superb. The much-vaunted threat of Christy Heffernan never materialised. The great man was reduced to dropping back in the second half in the search of an opening.
It rarely appeared as Dunloy blocked shots with sticks, legs, hands – basically anything they could stop the sliothair with they used it.
This was typified in the latter stages of the game by Gary O’Kane ‘Pappy’ charging down a forward pass with a bound Jonathan Edwards would have been proud of.
Right from the throw in the hunger of the Cuchulainn’s was evident. Willie O’Connor won the toss for Glenmore and turned the sides around, leaving Dunloy playing into Hill 16.
Within the opening two minutes Dunloy’s intention was there to be seen – go for the jugular.
Jarlath Elliott had a shot saved by Frank Kirwan, while Alistair Elliot’s low kick on the run agonisingly went past the far post.
They were not to be deprived though. Gregory O’Kanes from the left of the goal put them into the lead and three minutes later the lead was four as Alastair Elliott made Kirwan pay for being too ambitious in the danger zone.
Gary O’Kanes long pass caused him problems and as he tried to handpass his way out of trouble, up popped Elliott to intercept and send a low shot to the net.
A shell-shocked Glenmore tried to respond. Michael Murphy took advantage of the ball holding up on an unusually soft Croke Park turf and his fine shot on the run was met with a top notch save by Shane Elliott – one of three that could have turned the tide.
Greg O’Kane sent over two further points to make the score 1-03 to 0-00 with only 13 mins on the clock and tigerish play in the middle of the park by Tony McGrath and captain Marvel Nigel Elliott, in tandem with Frankie McMullan and Colum McGuckian snuffed out any threat.
The next few minutes of the game were the only time when Glenmore looked capable of dragging themselves into the match.
They hit three points from Dollard, Murphy and Mullaly without reply. For the second Paul Molloy gave Christy Heffernan too much room and his vision was shown by a tremendous cross field pass. It was given the finish it deserved by Seamus Dollard.
It was a false dawn for the Kilkenny men, who had swept all aside in the County and Leinster championships. Dunloy responded – and what a response.
Jarlath Elliott helped steady the boat before Seamus McMullan grabbed the first of his two points, from all of 75m – a score that had the fans in raptures.
Glenmore’s fans, or what there was of them, must have feared the worst moments later as Frankie McMullan scored Dunloy’s spectacular second goal to make the score 2-05 to 0-03.
Both sides exchanged points and Alistair Elliott’s shot went narrowly wide to leave the score at the interval 2-06 to 0-04.
Even with the wind-advantage in the second half it looked a monumental task that faced Glenmore.
Referee Pat O’Connor was no stranger to the Dunloy players, having taken charge of their two clashes with Birr in the final last year.
His half time whistle was greeted enthusiastically by the Dunloy fans, confident that this time there would be no slip up.
It was a point put across at half time by the management squad at the interval and one the players evidently took on board as they came out equally as determined for the second half.
Glenmore registered the opening score, two minutes in, but it was to be their last for 25mins and by then the game was well beyond their reach.
If the first half was one of attacking flair and opportunism for Dunloy, the second by contrast, displayed their fighting qualities.
The decision to bring in former Derry football coach Mickey Moran to give the side a new dimension was vindicated. His fitness regime bore dividends and right across the field as Glenmore wilted, Dunloy to man stood firm.
No-one showed this more than Colum McGuckian, he must have covered every blade of grass and at the end was even running on his knees to thwart Glenmore.
Alistair Elliott made it 2-07 to 0-05. He appeared to have been fouled but the referee waved play on. His determination was rewarded by a point before Tony McGrath put his name on the scoresheet a minute later.
This lifted Dunloy again and Gregory O’Kane put the finishing touches to a great move, linking superbly with Alistair Elliott. He added another shortly after and by this stage it was plain to everyone that the Cuchulainn’s would be Dublin bound on March 17.
One of the highlights was the clash between Seamus McMullan and Christy Heffernan. The two squared up to one another but a knowing smile from Mushy showed that reputations mean little when an All-Ireland Final is at stake.
Back to the action again and busy-bee Jarlath Elliott scored again to make it 2-11 to 0-05. This signed a move back for Christy and when he started to pump hopeful balls into the Dunloy defence it was clearly desperate stuff.
Form one of these they threatened but there was Shane Elliott to tip the ball wide. Two ‘65’s’ resulted but the confidence of the team was shown clearly.
He collected the high ball, eluded the challenge of two men, and found a teammate. It was the storey of the match. Dunloy’s seemingly telepathic understanding showing throughout.
Indeed, with a degree more good fortune then margin could have been much more, but cleaver flicks just failed.
In the end it did not matter. Fittingly, Tony McGrath scored the final point for Dunloy before two late scores for Glenmore gave the final score a degree of respectability, 2-13 to 0-07.
Dunloy: S Elliott, N McCamphill, P Molloy, S McIlhatton, S McMullan (0-2), G O’Kane, S Mulan, F McMullan (1-0), C McGuckian, N Elliott, T McGrath (0-2), J Elliott (0-3), E McKee, G O’Kane (0-5), A Elliott (1-1)
Glenmore: F Kirwan, P Fitzgerald, E O’Connor, W O’Connor, S Vereker, PJ O’Connor, J Walsh, P Phelan, R Heffernan (0-3), S Dollard (0-1), M Phelan (0-2), D Mullally (0-1), J Phelan, C Heffernan, M Murphy.
Referee: Pat O’Connor