Brendan McTaggart speaks with Nigel Elliott ahead of Sunday’s final with Cushendall…
Nigel Elliott has been a welcome re-addition to the Dunloy attack in 2022. Having left in 2019 after the Ulster Final defeat to Slaughtneil, ‘wee Nigel’ and his fiancé Kathryn Boyle left for sunnier climes. Since coming back into the team, it’s like he has never been away. If anything, Elliott is playing the best hurling of his career.
A quiet, unassuming genius of the game, Elliott normally steers away from interviews but we managed to coax him into a chat. Having missed collecting winners medals in 2020 and 2021, Elliott is hungry for more success to add to his own collection but admits he wouldn’t swap the experiences he has gained while on his travels: “Two and a half years was never the plan but Covid hit but I wouldn’t change it. I’m glad it hit and I’m glad I done everything that I did do, the experience is there but it’s good to be back.”
Having left at the age of 28, some would say he was hitting the prime of his career. But instead of winning championships in the cold and dark of an Irish autumn, Nigel found success Down Under: “I won a championship medal out there playing with Melbourne Sinn Fein. There was a lot of north Antrim boys over there as well, it wasn’t like I was away for two years but I was still hurling away. There was a big Ballycastle connection out there, Eoin McAlonan, Dermot Donnelly, Fergus Donnelly, Paul McLernon and Aaron Mooney.
“It was a relaxed but when it came to championship time we took it serious. It was nice to be at a different part of the world and meeting a lot of new friends. I’ll always keep in touch.”
Elliott was living his best life out in Australia and making memories to last, but admitted his thoughts were never far from home when it came to the championship: “The two days I missed while I was away, the two county final days I wasn’t there for but hopefully I’ll add another one this weekend.
“The last one (2022) I missed was the hardest one to take. I’ll never forget the first one (2020), I was up at 4am doing regional farm work in Australia. Me and Kathryn (Boyle) were trying to get signal. We watched it with two older Aussie’s and they sat and watched it with us, supporting the team with us. It was great at the time but I was trying to get to sleep and the boys ringing me, it was all good craic. I missed that and I missed them but I hope to add to my collection come Sunday.”
With Elliott returning from his travels, the obvious question was whether he would return to the Dunloy fold again. Nigel said it was never in doubt: “I just rocked up to training one Tuesday night and it was like I never left. Just kept doing what I was doing when I left.
“Not much has changed to be honest. They welcomed me back with open arms and it was like I never left. I was straight back in and it was just the way I wanted it. No fuss.”
Two and a half years can be a long time in the development of young players and Elliott laughed, one of the most noticeable changes he has been bestowed with is the fact he is no longer young Nigel. But he told us: “What I have notices is the likes of Seaan (brother), Keelan (Molloy) and Coby (Conal Cunning) have all matured. They are conditioned well and in the team now there’s boys who are coming out of everywhere. The talent is there. I know it’s only two or two and a half years but you do notice the whole structure of the management as well. It’s good to see. Not a lot has changed but what there has been is all positive.”
Nigel was one of Dunloy’s top performers in a semi-final where the Cuchullains really went through the gears. For 15 minutes they played hurling that very few could deal with and Nigel told us they were well prepared for anything the Johnnies could throw at them: “Going into that game, we all thought it was going to be a tough task. We always expect a tough one against St John’s and they got their spell in the first 10 or 15 minutes but I suppose it was a month from our last game and they were coming in from a two week turnaround I thought we dealt with it well. Some of the scores, the work rate and the way we played the ball was very good. I feel like we were well on top when they got a man sent off.
“We never panic and made great use of the ball. It’s a joy to play with the boys when they’re playing like that.”
The final words from Nigel went towards the Ruairi’s as he ended by saying they know that Sunday will be the acid test: “We know Cushendall, a big physical team. The two teams that reach the final are there for a reason. They’re normally the two best teams in the county at the minute. Is there ever an easy game against Cushendall? I don’t know, I don’t think there is. I know what to expect, the boys know what to expect and we’ll just take it as it comes.”