Dunloy start as favourites but Rossa can spoil the party

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship Final

Dunloy vs Rossa

Date: Sunday October 10 – Throw in: 3:45pm

Referee: Mark O’Neill (Glen Rovers, Armoy)

Brendan McTaggart previews the Senior Hurling final, tomorrow in Corrigan Park.

16 matches later, thrills and spills, moments of genius and moments of, well, not so genius and we’ve reached the pinnacle.  The summit is in reach for either Rossa or Dunloy on Sunday afternoon with the Volunteer Cup on the line.  Corrigan Park is the host for the first time since 1974, a day Sarsfields will never forget and a day a city side defeated the fancied hurling aristocrats from north Antrim.

If the ‘Premier Club’ are looking for omens, they need look no further.  A year after winning the intermediate title, the Paddies defeated hot favourites Loughgiel in Corrigan as Casement was otherwise ‘occupied’.

For Rossa, this is potentially the dream final.  The possibility of lifting the Volunteer Cup in the front yard of their nearest and dearest rivals certainly adds to the occasion for the Jeremiah’s.  A first final since 2004, another season of building towards their Mecca and Sunday represents the chance to lay to rest the ghost of Chrissy McMahon in the past.

A terrible pun but you know what I’m getting at.

Last year these two sides met in two matches that were everything you want in championship hurling. Intensity, drama, pieces of brilliance and defining moments.  Twice McMahon became the scourge of Rossa, he’ll be hoping to make it a hat-trick tomorrow.

Chrissy McMahon in action during the semi-final win over St John’s

It’s been serene progress for the Belfast men for over two years now.  From winning the All-Ireland Intermediate championship in 2015, it’s taken longer than some might have expected for them to kick on but they have returned to be a force in Antrim hurling once more.  Making the senior decider ahead of their rivals on the Whiterock Road despite the Johnnies knocking the door with relentless consistency for a number of years.

There is an awakening in the west of Ireland’s second city.

Rossa are a team who have the ability to mix their game plan up but effectively play to their strengths. Aodhan O’Brien and Gerard Walsh have both improved immeasurably while playing for the county, Stephen Beatty and Michael Armstrong are two powerhouses and players for the big occasion while in a recent podcast I described Deaglan Murphy to being the hurling equivalent to the Duracel Bunny.  An incredible engine and endless desire with moments of class.  An accurate free taker while his brothers Daire and Tiarnan are both livewires in the forward line.

Michael Armstrong in action during the semi-final win over Cusehendall.

Where Colly Murphy and his backroom team start Armstrong is another massive question.  He changed the game against Cushendall on the edge of the Ruairi’s square but if Cushendall were to play that game another 10 times, I doubt they would concede the goals they did and the manner in which they were fashioned.  A team renowned for it’s defensive strength struggled with high ball that would be bread and butter for them on any given Sunday.  Just not that Sunday.

Armstrong is a ball winner and an absolute power house of a player.  For me, his best position is half forward and winning primary possession but it’s a great headache for the Rossa management to have.  

Adrian Kinneally has made a top impact since making the move from Cork and his presence in the Rossa defence has brought a calmness and composure among the mayhem of championship hurling.  A ball winner, a ball carrier with a good hurling brain.  All the hallmarks of a great defender.

The reigning champions come in off the back of another unbeaten championship round robin, meaning the last team to defeat them was their friends from ‘across the sheugh’ in the 2018 semi-final.  Loughgiel ambushing the Cuchullains but Sunday will be their 15th Antrim championship match since that defeat.  Not a bad stat and when you break it down, you can see why the men from the Cuchullain Village have been instilled as favourites once again.

Ryan Elliott has produced moments of brilliance between the sticks for them this year while his poc outs have top drawer.  His penalty save to deny Shea Shannon in the semi-final underlines his credentials as the best in the business in Antrim.  

Dunloy will be without the services of Phelim Duffin who has broken a bone in the last day out so Gregory O’Kane could draft in one of Kevin McKeague, Eamon Smyth or Oran Quinn to the starting 15.

The emergence of Aaron Crawford to the half back line has been a find for Dunloy while Conor Kinsella is one of the best man markers in the game right now.  The midfield pairing of Keelan Molloy and Paul Shiels has evolved into something special for the Cuchullains with Molloy developing into an incredible hurler and ‘Shorty’ produces top performances no matter the stage or what’s happening around him.  If Dunloy are struggling, he’s the go-to man to get them lifted or help them find an extra gear.

The Dunloy attack is their obvious strength.  Conal Cunning’s progression as a focal point for Gregory O’Kane’s side has been helped with his involvement for the county side while Chrissy McMahon has stepped into the starting 15 in 2021, building on his substitute appearances in 2020 and forming an impressive partnership with Cunning on the inside forward line.

Seaan Elliott in action during the semi-final win over St John’s

Seaan Elliott is the ace in the Dunloy pack.  He knocked over a superb score at the death in last years semi-final before McMahon’s heroics and this year he’s shown all his talents.  Power, trickery and accuracy, all with frightening pace.  He’s a managers dream and a defenders nightmare.  He will roam around the forward line and find space where he can, it will be up to the likes of Ryan McGarry, Shorty, Eoin O’Neill and Ronan Molloy to provide the service for him.

With the Dunloy attack, it’s impossible to stop them so it’s all about restricting.  Rossa will need to stop the supply of ball as much as they can and in doing so, suffocate the middle third.  By doing that, they could leave space in their own half for Dunloy’s forwards to exploit.  It’s the conundrum the Rossa management are faced with.  Stick or twist.  Dunloy will bring a game completely different to what they faced in the semi-final so there could be a couple of positional changes in Rossa’s 15 while I wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas Morgan is named in the starting line up, he brings pace and trickery, a directness that could be the answer on Sunday.

I don’t see Dunloy wavering too much from the 15 that started against St John’s with Phelim Duffin’s omission the exception.  Kevin Molloy made a huge impact when he came off the bench in the second half while Deaglan Smith’s performance will have given the Dunloy management something to think about, for sure.

If both sides bring their ‘A’ game, it’s going to be a close contest.  I feel that Rossa now have the tools at their disposal to make one more step, that being said, Dunloy’s experience and knowhow of this occasion should see them through.  My prediction, the Volunteer Cup stays in Dunloy for another year but only by the odd score.

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