Brendan McTaggart speaks with Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels ahead of Sunday’s Senior Hurling Final at Corrigan Park
Paul Shiels is a man who has been there and done that in the green and gold of Dunloy. On Sunday, he goes into the breaches one more time for his club and he was as relaxed as ever when we spoke with him at the Cuchullains media night.
In the confines of their academy, ‘Shorty’ stood with hurl and sliotar. Pacing up and down, taking touches and waving the wand. Everything with precision. The touch of an angel, the determination of a gladiator and the class of the greats. Shorty is the spiritual leader in the Dunloy camp and he told us he relishes training in the dark evenings and wet nights: “Every season we set out, this is where we’re trying to get to. It’s nice to be still training at this time of year, you know if you’re still training you’ve gone deep in the championship. You never get tired of county finals.”
This season has been a strenuous one for the Cuchullains. With nine players involved with Darren Gleeson’s county squad, Dunloy’s league campaign wasn’t littered with the performances or results of years gone by. Shiels said: “It’s been a difficult year in terms of our squad. Without the county players and obviously football as well but its gave us the chance to look at our whole panel then come championship, the county players come back in, it’s only really then that you see where you’re at as a full panel of players.” Shorty continued: “We were coming into those first couple of matches trying to feel our way into the championship and the group stage allows you to do that. Obviously you want to top your group to get that extra week break but the championship in all has been good this year. There’s been some good games and Rossa obviously upsetting Cushendall was a big scalp for them.
“It’s been an interesting championship and I’d say the best two teams are in the final.”
In the semi-final at Dunsilly, Dunloy dug into their reserves to get over the line against a spirited St John’s side. As the rains thundered from the heavens, Dunloy did enough. It wasn’t with the flamboyant style of three weeks previous where the Cuchullains were in top form but as Shorty told us, they were in an unusual situation coming into the semi’s: “Sometimes in a semi-final, it’s just about getting through. We had played St John’s three weeks previous and it was a difficult game to prepare for. We beat them and sometimes you learn more from defeat than in victory. They probably took more from that game than we did.
“We were just trying to go out and do a professional job. The conditions were tough, no doubt about it but we got the scores we needed to get in front and effectively shut up shop to see out the game.”
Since that semi-final, seven of the Dunloy team were involved in the footballers pivotal game against Glenavy. The Cuchullains gained the result they needed to make the semi-final in the ‘big ball’ once again. Far from ideal preparations coming into a county final but Shorty was looking at the positive side of the fixture scheduling: “It’s been a continuation of how our year has been, trying to dovetail the hurling and the football. We did a bit of recovery and the footballers prepared for their championship as best they could and go again. It’s a good distraction in a way. They’re winning games and it brings a momentum, nothing beats that winning feeling and it’s good their continuing to win and bring that wee bit of success back into the squad. It can be a distraction of you let it be but if you manage it the right way you can use it to your advantage.”
Last year, these two sides played in two epic contests. Dunloy snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat in the second round of group matches at Rossa Park while it took a late Chrissy McMahon point to see off the Jeremiah’s after a thrilling semi-final at Dunsilly: “We’ve played Rossa a few times in last year’s championship but every year is a new year and those matches will have no bearing on Sunday’s final. We’re just preparing for Rossa as best we can. It’s another county final and they’ll be looking at it the same way. I’m excited for Sunday and really looking forward to it.
“They’re improving as a team and as a group of players, I don’t think we can take anything from last year if we’re honest. In their team they can play a number of players in different positions, we’re just trying to prepare for the game as best we can and not get too hung up on last year. I’m sure they’ll not either. They’ll be wanting a different outcome.”
With Ballycastle being the preferred choice of venue since 2012, with the exception of Dunloy in 2014, the senior decider makes a return to the City with Corrigan Park playing host. Shorty told us he feels it adds to the occasion: “It’s nice to be heading back up to the City for a county final. It has a buzz about it as it was Casement. After the redevelopment of Corrigan, it’s a great venue. We’re genuinely looking forward to playing there and I’m sure Rossa are too. The pitch is first class and the ground is one of the best about.”
With the buzz and hype around the village going up a couple of notches in the past week, Shorty said they try to embrace what it means to the village but always mindful of the goal set at the start of the year: “We’re obsessed with hurling. Our main aim is to get to a county final and obviously try and win it. You become a bit oblivious to what’s going on around the village until county final day and the flags go up. It’s all anyone wants to talk about it but it’s a nice time of year to be involved. You know if you’re training in the dark evenings, it’s where you want to be.”