Cushendall manager Brian Delargy speaks with Brendan McTaggart ahead of Sunday’s final….
Now in his second year in charge, Brian Delargy has taken his Cushendall side to the decider for the first time in three years. You may think that isn’t much of a drought, but the Ruairi’s have been the one constant in Antrim hurling for a generation or more. A three year gap is the most they haven’t been at this stage of the championship since 2005 where they bridged a six year gap from their previous win – ironically enough that came in 1999 against Dunloy!
The Ruairi Og manager said there aim was simple from the start of the year. Reach the decider: “We set that as our target at the start of the year. Make sure we were there and have that four week break.”
In previous years, Cushendall have had a love-hate relationship with the new championship structure. More often than not, they have ended up in the quarter-finals but Delargy said they targeted the four week break: “It can work to your advantage (being in a quarter final) but we were able to get a challenge game in between times and it allowed us to work on a few things and have any injuries or niggles cleared up.
“Naomh Eanna up first and the lads got off to a great start. We played ok in patches against Loughgiel but nowhere near our potential. St John’s at home was a good challenge for us and I suppose Christy (McNaughton) was the difference.”
Having played for barely 10 minutes against Loughgiel, Christy finished with 1-2 but had to come off injured. Delargy said they are sweating over the fitness of a few players: “He (Christy McNaughton) hasn’t trained since. Dom (Delargy) and Paddy McGill haven’t lifted a hurl either. We’re hopeful though. We’ll give those lads every chance to prove their fitness.
Christy is a huge asset for us. He one of those lads that works off instinct, he knows exactly where the posts are. He’s struggled a bit all year with injuries and looked like he was coming good. He just seemed to twist his knee but he’s been working with Oisin Quinn, our Strength and Conditioning man to get back out again.”
It’s not all doom and gloom on the injury front for Cushendall however, Delargy confirming that Arron Graffin is likely to have game time on Sunday having recovered from yet another knee injury.
In their semi final, Cushendall looked to be coasting towards the final. They were left clinging on however with Loughgiel scenting blood after the dismissal of Liam Gillan. Delargy said: “We had to win that game twice. We knew it was going to be tough and that was the case. You’re never going to get an easy game against Loughgiel but we fought well. It was a game we could have lost and got turned over given the pressure we put on ourselves but we didn’t lay down.
“We seemed to get our goals at the right time in the game and when you score three goals in a game, they’re going to make a difference. Scoring goals at vital times like that makes it tough for the opposition, no matter how well they’re clipping over scores.
You’re never going to dominate a team like Loughgiel, they had a pile of confidence from the Rossa game and looked to be building momentum but we got over the line and that’s all that mattered.”
So onto Sunday’s final. Cushendall and Loughgiel in another decider, the sixth time the Volunteer Cup will either be draped in maroon and white or green and gold. Delargy said he was delighted to have reached this stage but now they’re here, they’ll be doing all in their power to add to their 14 senior championships: “We wanted to reach the final. Three years is a long time for a club like Cushendall to not reach the final and it was important for us to get here. But we’re here now and we’ll give it our best against Dunloy.
“We’ll have our plans in place but we’re not going to navigate too far from what we’ve been trying to do for the last two years since I’ve come in.
“We’re trying to make better use of the ball. Retain possession and running off the shoulder but it’s important to play to our strengths too.”
Having tasted defeat to Rossa at the semi final in 2021, Delargy said that while the job comes with added pressure and expectation, it’s days like these that he’s still involved with his beloved Cushendall: “I’ve really enjoyed it. This is a serious group of individuals who come in and give nothing less than 100% every time they show up, no matter if it’s training, league games or championship.
“The atmosphere is special, there’s no getting away from that. Being in a championship final brings about a buzz around the community, you have to enjoy days like these.
“The schools have maroon and white day on Friday and it definitely adds to the occasion. It’s for days like these that we train for and hopefully we can do the business of Sunday.”