Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane reserves special praise for his sides defence as the Cuchullains hold tight to the Volunteer Cup….
Relief, ecstasy, unbridled joy? Take your pick of any one of those emotions. Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane was the happiest man Corrigan Park at the final whistle as he masterminded the Cuchullains to a nail-biting victory over Cushendall in the senior hurling final.
Victory on Sunday meant O’Kane now has 11 medals as a player, five as a manager and the first to do four in a row both as a player and manager. Yet, the numbers mean little to the Dunloy man. He’s living in the now and said: “I never count (the medals). The day has been fantastic. We were pushed every road. Physically, mentally, the game was going away from us. We had our backs to the wall with bodies on the line. Lads were dying on the ball and you’re wondering where are they getting it from? It was a pleasure to watch.”
Of their recent run of championship wins, Sunday was the contest where they had to dig hardest. Cushendall asked the right questions of the Cuchullains but O’Kane said that they needed the break to reset his side: “Half time was key. We needed to get our structure back. We had lost our threat and to be fair to Cushendall, they had pulled us out this way and we had no threat inside close to goals. Then we got inside, Coby and Chrissy gave us shape. Seaan Elliott put in a serious shift in and around Campbell (Eoghan) and Seaan’s starting position we tried to tie up Campbell at times, he’s a super hurler. All of a sudden, we have structure. Our backs were superb. The intensity in which they tackled at and the way they used the ball out of defence, that was the platform in the second half to kick on and get over the line.
“I knew they’d try to suffocate the ball and disrupt the ball going in. Cushendall are a good side who bring that physical side to it and live off scraps. We just got enough.
“We got a bit of width in the second half. We try to reinforce and get back to what we’re good at. We’ve got pace, we’ve got legs and we’ve got runners. Eventually we got one on one and Chrissy McMahon’s finish was outstanding and Coby’s (Conal Cunning) freetaking was out of this world. Where would you see it. Keelan, Shorty, look what does he go on? Word got back to the line he was probably gone ten minutes in (to the second half), we asked what was he like and he said he was good to stay. Where does that come from?”
Sunday showed another side to O’Kane’s side. Cushendall played with fluidity and aggression, in the past a combination that has caught Dunloy short. The Dunloy manager said days like Sunday are invaluable for the Cuchullains learning curve: “Experience. You can’t experience a battle until you’re in it and come through the other side. I can’t train that on the pitch, you can’t recreate that. Today you’d have to say that this team have really grew up together. They are really kicking on and we managed to get enough scores to get over the line.”