Brendan McTaggart speaks with Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane as the Cuchullains prepare for the All-Ireland Final this weekend…
The green and gold continues into 2023. With a fifth appearance in the biggest day in the club calendar booked following their win over a fancied St Thomas side from Galway, Dunloy have their eyes set on the Tom Moore Cup. standing in their way? Eight-time Club Champions and Kilkenny’s finest, Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Like the old GAA saying goes, ‘No one said it was going to be easy.’
During the media evening in the Cuchullains clubrooms, it wasn’t so much razzle dazzle but more hushed and relaxed. If it weren’t for the green and gold flags on every lamppost in the village, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was just another winters evening in Pearse Park. But it’s how Gregory O’Kane and his team operate. Happy to go about their business with minimum fuss and let their hurling to the talking.
That being said, it’s an All-Ireland final. The RTE, TG4, UTV and BBC cameras had all been in attendance. The ‘Cuchullains Song’ was recorded in the school for the TG4 camera and there is no getting away from it, Dunloy village is being swept away in the euphoria that reaching an All Ireland final brings. The Dunloy manager told us it’s special times for the community: “It’s fantastic for everyone to qualify for the All-Ireland club final. That’s been the biggest reward for everyone the community, young and old and the school. Everyone gets something out of it.
“We’re blessed to live in a place like Dunloy and we’re just enjoying these times.”
Not many outside of the village would have foreseen a Dunloy victory in the semi-final against St Thomas. The Galway men were unlucky to have lost out to Ballyhale in last years semi-final and had their eyes firmly set on trying to bring the Tom Moore Cup back to the West for a second time. Dunloy manager O’Kane told us that while it was good to get the win, there is room for improvement and a need for improvement for the final: “We were good in spells. We made a lot of mistakes and there is loads to improve on. Would that level be good enough for the next day? No. In terms of we’re trying to improve the things we didn’t do so well and that’s all you can do. Improve and see where it takes us the next day.”
With the GAA calendar still in the evolution stages, the Cuchullains are in unchartered waters. Preparing for an All-Ireland final during the Christmas period. The time of year matters little to the Dunloy manager however and he saw it as a time to recharge, refresh and re-energize his troops: “It was a lovely time. A week out from Christmas and everyone was going off on holidays that following week. Everyone spent time with their families over Christmas and had the promise of an All-Ireland final in the New Year. It’s great times for the village and players.
“It’s a special time. This new era we’re in where they’re trying to play the club championship in the one calendar year. It’s unusual to qualify for an All-Ireland final a week before Christmas but it doenst really matter to us. We’ll play it anytime and we’re delighted and thankful to be there.”
In terms of injuries, Conor McKinley is back in full training and played 35 minutes for Antrim in the McGurk Cup along with a few other Cuchullains. Deaglan Smith and Chrissy McMahon will also be available for selection while the break would have done Paul Shiels no harm either. The Final will come too soon for one of Dunloy’s most consistent performers of the 2022 year however, Aaron Crawford. “Aaron has been outstanding for us all year,” said O’Kane, “he took a heavy knock the last day and he’s a huge loss for the team. He was playing very consistently all year. I’m gutted for Aaron and gutted for his family.
“The break has been good to us. It was a nice time and good preparation in terms of the rest of the players and the injuries are starting to clear up.”
Having played in four finals, O’Kane looks back on those times with fondness but insists what has happened in the past has no bearing on anything this current crop of Dunloy players: “It was brilliant times and a great era for the club and players but this team now are creating their own era and own memories. The only final they can play in or we can be involved in is the next one and that’s the only one we’re concentrating on.”
Kilkenny champions Ballyhale will provide the sternest of tests for O’Kane’s men. A side who are synonymous with the Tom Moore Cup and have pedigree in every line of their team. The Dunloy manager praised their final opponents when he continued: “What a club Ballyhale are. What they have achieved is unbelievable. They lost last years All-Ireland final in injury time and I think they’d be going for nine All-Ireland club titles. That’s just totally ridiculous levels for a club.
“They’ve produced two of the finest hurlers who have ever played the game in TJ (Reid) and Henry (Shefflin) so in terms of the challenge that’s in front of us, it couldn’t be bigger. It’s absolutely massive. “All we can do is be the best we can be on the day and perform to our levels. Will that be good enough? That remains to be seen but we need to perform to the best of our abilities.”