By Brendan McTaggart
This was not an easy job. Some might have called this mission impossible and without fear of contradiction, I’ve changed the 15 a dozen times. My earliest memory of watching Dunloy comes from our run to our first championship final in 1990 so all the choices come from that era onwards.
Some names were automatic choices, some had to be put in somewhere but I don’t think you could get any two people from a Dunloy persuasion to agree on the same 15.
It’s always nice to think on those who wore the green and gold and played with passion and distinction for years in search of glory. I’m still mulling over some of my choices but it was fun to try and get a 15 narrowed down.
1 – Gareth McGhee
Cocky, arrogant but brilliant. Everything you want in a ‘keeper’. I was there in U12 when he volunteered to become a keeper when Johnny McQuillan was our manager and ‘wee McGhee’ took to it like a duck to water. His performance against Cushendall in the 2009 final was the best I’ve ever seen while his ability to hit a rasping penalty gave him the nod. Could have easily had went for Shane or Ryan Elliott here as well but McGhee’s all round game just gave him the nod.
2 – Sean Mullan
Patch. More known for his exploits on the half back line but an outstanding and solid performer so I had to get him in the 15 somewhere. Moved to full back later in his career but I genuinely can’t ever remember leaving a match thinking he had a poor game. Mr Consistency for close to two decades in the green and gold.
3 – James McKeague
James reading of the game is exemplary. Maybe not blessed with blistering pace but he was a yard ahead between his ears and that made him close to one of my first names on the team sheet. Running off memory, he held Joe Canning scoreless from open play when Dunloy played Portumna in 2010. Not many in the country can boast something similar.
4 – Seamus McMullan
Mushy. Big Dog. The man you’d want by your side going to war. A cult hero for a generation growing up in the village. A man who could strike the sliotar for miles and who wasn’t bad from placed ball with frees and penalties. First Dunloy man to lift ‘Big Ears’ – almost made him an automatic choice.
5 – Malachy Molloy
Made the game look so easily. Effortless brilliance and looked at home in a senior short from the moment he put one on. A giant on the field both physically and metaphorically speaking. Could play on the wing or centre but a natural on the half back line.
6 – Gary O’Kane
First name on the team sheet. Pappy really was a natural at centre half. His positional sense was second to none while there have been few better at reading the game in front of them. Rarely caught in possession, moving the sliotar to all corners but had a knack of playing the right pass at the right time. Captain, leader, legend
7 – Kevin Molloy
Brilliant under a high ball and a rock in defence. Bunga is another who rarely has a poor game. A burst of pace that takes him away from danger and brilliant in rucks, Bunga is another who consistently performs.
8 – Tony McGrath
My favourite hurler from his generation. Ooh Ahh Tony McGrath. Stylish, classy, an unassuming genius on a hurling field and a gentleman off it. I learned more from him in one year of his coaching than I did in the others I played. Saved Dunloy in 1990 to earn a replay and against Birr four years later in the All-Ireland final. Tony was another who gave 100% every time he took to the field.
9 – Colm McGuckian
Named by Brian Whelahan as the toughest opponent he ever came up against. Cookie had one of the best engines I ever witnessed by anyone on a hurling field. A workhorse in the middle of the field and another who could pluck the ball from the clouds. Would run through a brick wall for the Dunloy shirt.
10 – Gregory O’Kane
Mr Dunloy. Has been involved in all 14 championship wins for Dunloy. 12 as a player and two as a manager, ‘Dick’ was one of the best forwards in Ireland on his day. Accuracy from frees and his ability to play others in when they were better placed was unerring. He was brilliant on the edge of the square but his ability to catch a ball gives him a nod on the three quarter line. His goal versus Lavey in 1997 Ulster Final epitomised his overall game. Outstanding catch and finish
11 – Liam Richmond
A player made for the number 11 shirt. Natural on the three quarter line and an automatic pick for years in the green and gold. Another stylish performer and I loved the way he hurled. Mixed his game with catching or playing first day, Nancy was the ultimate team player and another who you’d want by your side in an hour.
12 – Paul Shiels
Another automatic pick. Shorty could hurl in a number of positions and would look like he’s played there all his years. The most naturally gifted hurler I’ve ever seen in a Dunloy shirt and a genius with a sliotar in his hand. Never looks rushed in possession and coolness personified in the heat of battle. Steps up when his team need him and makes the game look disgustingly easy.
13 – Ally Elliott
Tortured defences in Antrim and beyond for years and I grew up idolising this man. He could turn any defender in a phone box with blistering pace and trickery. I watched defenders try to go touch tight and get done or stand off him and end up chasing him. Ally was virtually impossible to mark and plenty breathed a sigh of relief when he hung up his hurl. Two match winning goals to get us over the line in 1990 after being kept scoreless in the first game tells you everything about his mental strength as well. Another of the first names in the team sheet.
14 – Paddy Richmond
Handy on the three quarter line but Paddy was immense on the edge of the square. A more than handy goal keeper at underage as well, Paddy was the man for the big occasion. A naturally gifted talent who had the ability to turn barely half chances into goals. Blistering hurl speed and a shot not match by many, Pat the Baker always delivered in a Dunloy shirt.
15 – Conal Cunning
Some might see this as a bit strange given the fact he is only three full years into his senior career, but Coby has the hurling world at his feet. A work ethic and natural talent, ability to beat his man in tight spaces and make something from nothing, it’s scary to think where his talents could see him rise to.
My near misses
Shane Elliott – he’ll have the bragging rights over Ryan for this one. Brilliant shot stopper on his day. His save from Daithi Regan in Dunloy’s first All-Ireland final will live with me forever. Incredible.
Mickey McClements – played with Mickey through the age groups. A natural leader and nothing but 100% commitment every time he played. Thoroughly enjoyed playing in teams he captained.
Nigel Elliott (snr) – tireless workhorse. A guy who did a lot of the dirty work but complemented plenty of partners in the middle of the field. Equally as effective on the three quarter line.
Conor Cunning – classy operator. An abundance of ability and talent and at times was unplayable. His ability to take a point from distance was something that always amazed me. Guaranteed a couple a game.
Frankie ‘Tarby’ McMullan – difficult to leave out, a player I admired and his last outing in a Dunloy shirt against Newtownshandrum was one of his best.
Keelan Molloy – another of the new breed who is nothing short of being classed as an ‘operator’ on a hurling field. He really has the hurling world at his feet.
Conor ‘Woody’ McKinley – rock solid anywhere in defence. Gutted when he stepped away from the Antrim panel. Could play anywhere in the back six and give you 100% commitment and an 8/10 every game.
Martin Curry – work rate, commitment, and desire. ‘Cat’ was a player you’d go into the trenches with everyday of the week and twice on a Sunday. No such thing as a lost cause, would and did run himself into the ground for the badge.
Kevin McKeague – difficult to leave him out of the 15. Brilliant under the high ball and another solid and consistent performer. Loves the challenge, lives and breathes hurling. Outstanding in the county final last year after missing out in the semi-final against Loughgiel – tells you everything you need to know about him. Committed.
15 could look very different in years to come with the current crop of talent but that’s not a bad tidy 15 and my picks for the finest to have adorned the Cuchullain shirt.