The Final Word

Brendan McTaggart gives his views on Sunday’s showpiece final as Dunloy take on Ballyhale Shamrocks

We’ve all heard the saying.

“You have to lose one to win one.”

Well, for Dunloy they’ve tasted the bitter sting of defeat at this stage on four occasions.  Sunday will be the fifth time the Cuchullains will attempt to bring the Tom Moore Cup back to the Village.

1995 and ’96.  2003 and ’04.  Birr (twice), Sixmilebridge and Newtownshandrum, the conquerors of Dunloy in the past.

The past.

A generation has since past and this current crop of Dunloy players are looking to forge their own memories and carry no such baggage of previous final defeats at this stage. 

In a year where they’ve defied the bookies since coming out of Antrim, they will have to do the same on Sunday.

Ballyhale are an incredible 1/10 to win while Dunloy are 13/2.  Eye watering odds in a two horse race.  The handicap betting would suggest the bookies see the Shamrocks as an eight point better side than the current Antrim and Ulster kings.

However, all that being said, it will take a braver man than me to bet against the Cuchullains on Sunday.

Ballyhale’s TJ Reid

Ballyhale have every right to be favourites, given their pedigree and history in recent times.  A side that boast the inclusion of modern day hurling greats such as TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly.  Joey Holden, Richie Reid, Adrian Mullen and Evan Shefflin are all household names and I’m probably doing the rest a disservice by not mentioning them.  But this has been brewing within the Cuchullain Village for the past number of years.

A belief that if they could ever get past Slaughtneil in Ulster, get that monkey off the back then who knows what could happen thereafter.

Dare to dream?

It dream has been the one constant in Dunloy for the better part of two generations.  Like every club that takes to the field, but for the Cuchullains to have come so close in the past, who would deny them the chance to realise their dreams?

The Shamrocks for one.  No, not those in red and white and across the north Antrim sheugh.  But those who will be draped in white and green on Sunday. 

Conal ‘Coby’ Cunning bears down on the St Thomas’ goal during the semi-final

All-Ireland Club Final Day is the pinnacle of the game for every small club and parish.  The old adage that club means more will be ringing through the ears of everyone in Croke Park come Sunday.  Dunloy look to be on the cusp of creating their own era, their own memories and banish the thoughts of final defeats in the past.

How do you beat a team like Ballyhale?  A question those in Kilkenny have been asking for the last five years.  One that Ballygunner were able to answer in the 2022 decider.  The brilliance of TJ, the goal threat of Fennelly and a half forward line that reads like a who’s who in hurling all over Ireland.  But you get the feeling that this Dunloy side will relish coming up against the hurling aristocrats from Kilkenny.

Some say that Dunloy are a bit of an unknown quantity and while it’s the Cuchullains first All-Ireland final since 2004, there really is no such thing as the element of surprise any longer.  There’ll be footage galore doing the rounds in Ballyhale, just like there has been in the Village in recent times of the Shamrocks.

With Aaron Crawford missing out because of a ridiculous challenge in the semi-final, it deprives Dunloy of one of their most consistent performers of the last season.  ‘Snoozer’ has been a tenacious entity and his use of the sliothar is almost unparalleled within the Cuchullain ranks.  Who fills the void he leaves behind is a conundrum for Gregory O’Kane and his management team.  They may look to the experience and physicality of Kevin McKeague.  A player who knows the position in the half back line inside out and having garnered further game time in a recent Antrim McGurk Cup game against Armagh, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see him back in the starting 15 if the Cuchullains look to match up the Ballyhale three-quarter line.  Another option could be dropping Ronan Molloy into wing half back but it would be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Molloy was instrumental in the wins over Slaughtneil and St Thomas, his aerial ability, agility and work rate in the break down key in those successes.

Paul Shorty Shiels made a big impact when introduced in the semi-final

Then there’s the Shorty problem.  I say problem with tongue in cheek.  Does O’Kane start the Dunloy G.O.A.T or does he use Paul Shiels as an impact sub which was so effective in the last two outings?  And if you do start him, who misses out?  Throw in a fully fit Deaglan Smith, Chrissy McMahon and Anton McGrath into the mix and it’s a selection headache.  Conor Kinsella and Eoin McFerran have been superb since forming their midfield partnership since the Ulster Final and you would imagine they will make the 15 again on Sunday.

If anything has been learned from the Ballygunner and Ballyhale games, it’s that Dunloy have the game style to cause the Shamrock’s problems.  Runners from midfield, breaking at pace and playing off the shoulder has been the Dunloy plan.  Support play, retaining possession and picking moments.  Bringing an element of patience to the helter-skelter nature of the game.  As a fan, it can make you reach for the quick of your nails in no time but it’s the Cuchullain way.  Methodically and surgically picking apart their moments.

Ballyhale are the standard bearers in the game.  The team at the summit of the hurling Everest.  Dunloy have established a solid base camp to make their assault with Gregory O’Kane leading the expedition.  Can they match their neighbours from Loughgiel in bringing the Tom Moore Cup back to the Saffron County?

A bookie defying performance awaits.

Dun Lathai Abu.

Leave a Reply

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