Finally…

Brendan McTaggart looks back on Sunday’s game as Dunloy dethroned Slaughtneil to take the Four Seasons Cup back to Pearse Park for a record equalling 11th time in their history.

“It’ll be the longest two minutes of your life, Brendan.”  A word from behind me at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday as the fourth official showed how long injury time would be allowed at the end of the hour.

The notes were almost being forgotten about at that stage.  I was up and down off my wee stool more than usual.

Dunloy without Shorty, Slaughtneil with Jerome McGuigan and Gerald Bradley back in their team.  How would we react to playing a game of this magnitude without our ‘Pirlo’?

Word had reached me during the previous week that Shorty was struggling, I might have lit an extra candle just for our genius.

Brendan seems to be happy with the outcome as he greets Coby Cunning at the final whistle

By now when it comes to these games, I’m a creature of habit.  Reach the venue ridiculously early with the same passengers in the car.  There’s always a selfie to post on social media before we set off and my oul fella is always sitting or standing with my girls while I’m pitch side.  Everything was there, apart from the selfie which was only remembered when we navigated our way past the ‘Cow Clap’ competition in the car park!  That was it, a Dunloy defeat and the selfie or lack thereof was my excuse.

It’s ok to look back on it now, when I was in amongst the throws of it, I just wanted the game over but what a day Sunday was.  Was I confident Dunloy would win?  No but I had the belief that they could.  A hope that they would.

There were big calls to be made with the selection and to have Conor Kinsella partner Eoin McFerran in midfield was probably the biggest of them all.  Coming into a game against the seasoned experience of Cormac O’Doherty and Shane McGuigan and with Gerard Bradley and Chrissy McKaigue never far away, Dunloy showed a hunger and desire in that middle third that they have never reached before.  Wango and Kinsella ran themselves into the ground.

Starting Anton McGrath in the front six was massive.  A cub with all the ability in the world and all the natural class that oozed from his dad before him but raw when it came to playing in the Ulster championship arena. Another call that was vindicated with his performance, especially in the first half.

Wee Jimmy’s saves, the reactions to get something onto the rasping drive from Brian Cassidy was outrageous.  Morale boosting for Dunloy, confidence draining for Slaughtneil.  Followed soon after by Nigel’s major to put daylight between the sides for the first time just on the stroke of half time.

Five points up at half time, I was asked if I was confident yet?  No because I knew there was a kick in Slaughtneil.  A reaction to being out-hurled in the first half.  They are a proud side who have rubbed shoulders with the best in the club scene in recent times, they were always going to come out and hit another gear in the second half.

I said in my report that the winning of the game came down to Dunloy’s response and ultimately it did but by God my heart was beating just a small bit faster 15 minutes into the second half.

It wasn’t the most pure of hurling games but it was one for those who love the battle.  Those who love the fight, the intensity and tenacious side of the game.  Dunloy’s defence was superb, in the first half especially.  Creating turn over ball and as I was reminded by a friend from west of the Bann after the game, when was the last time Slaughtneil didn’t manage to reach 20 points in a game of hurling?

Slaughtneil came roaring back in the second half and Dunloy kept their scoreboard ticking at the other end. Coby with touches of magic and brilliance throughout, his point from wide on the right and scores from Snoozer, Decky Smith and Nicky McKeague inspirational.

The death was a dog fight.  Slaughtneil going for goals and the Dunloy defence putting their body on the line.  Each ball played like it was the last.  Every man in green and gold stood a foot taller in those closing stages and hurled without fear, knowing they had to do whatever it took to see the game out.

Phelim Duffin, Dunloy’s quiet man but he like many around him was immense in those last few plays.  Duffin threw himself in front of Brendan Rodgers drilled effort for goal and I’m pretty sure that after the adrenaline wore off on Sunday he’s feeling the effects of a sliotar travelling at rapid speed meeting his torso.

Those two minutes did seem to last a lifetime.  But to be honest, at that stage I had finally got confidence.  As that second half wore on, the way Dunloy hurled, I knew they had it in them to finally get over the line against Slaughtneil.

Looking back again, in a game that was decided in small margins, Dunloy won enough of the big moments to deserve the win.  Asking something different of a brilliant Slaughtneil team that we hadn’t asked before.  Met fire with fire and showed a presence of mind in the cauldron arena that was the Athletic Grounds to remain composed and trust what they were trying to do.

I have lived through Dunloy’s glory days of the 90’s and Noughties, I’ve been to every final won and lost.  Savoured the memories of those epic wins in the past but there was something about last Sunday that was different.  It seemed to mean more to the club, more to the Village, more to me.  

This current crop of players needed this Ulster championship to be made comparable to the teams gone by in Dunloy’s history.  They needed to show that this current group of players had what it takes to defeat a team the calibre of Slaughtneil.  It vindicated the belief that’s been shown in them by the club and by the Village.

A trip to Croker now lays ahead for the semi-final and memories of the past come flooding to mind. Athenry twice, Portumna twice, Sarsfields twice (one replay) in Dunloy’s past and a decent record against those sides who come from the West.  Dare to believe?  To dream?  Ah we’ll let the hangovers settle before we go down that rabbit hole….

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.