Brian Delargy: “It’s going to be hard to take over the next few days, but I couldn’t have asked for anything more

Cushendall manager Brian Delargy speaks with Brendan McTaggart after his side lost narrowly to Dunloy in the championship decider….

Cushendall manager Brian Delargy was making his way off the Corrigan Park pitch when we caught up with him on Sunday.  He had just witnessed his side push the reigning champions to the pin of their collar in an enthralling final where the Ruairi’s looked like they had the Cuchullains number on the day.  During our interview, Cushendall legend Sambo McNaughton congratulated Delargy for his efforts saying: “Well set up man, you’s did everything right.  You can’t be faulted.  Just a little bit of luck, nothing wrong with that.”  Praise indeed if it were needed for Delargy but the Cushendall manager said their game plan was all about the work he, his backroom team and players put in as they prepared for the final: “We sat down last week to think on a plan for Dunloy, between the players and the management team we knew we’d have to stop Dunloy’s dangermen and get enough up top as well.  A lot of it went right today but their big players got the scores when it mattered.”

The final score certainly didn’t do the Ruairi’s justice.  Six points was never a fair reflection on the game but Delargy said the score line mattered little: “When we were pushing up we knew we were leaving ourselves short at the back.  Just two men inside 40 or 50 yards.  We pushed up and maybe took away some of the space for our forwards but the game took a run of itself and it’s hard to control.  Six points or one point, it was never going to matter at that stage.”

The Ruairi’s made a dream start with Cormac McClafferty’s goal coming inside the first 20 seconds.  Delargy said the start was by design: “We had planned to do that.  We pushed Ryan (McCambridge) inside with Neil (McManus) alongside him.  If we won the throw in, we were sending in a high ball and it worked but we try to plan everything as a management team, we pulled that one off today and it wasn’t by fluke either.”

Delargy continued: “I’m serious proud of them to be honest, Brendan.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more.  Yes they hit a few wides and a few handpasses here and there but they done me proud and done Cushendall proud the way they performed and that’s all you can ask for.

“When we were coming up in the bus, you want a performance and hopefully the result looks after itself.  It’s going to be hard to take over the next few days but I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

The Cushendall challenge stumbled in the closing stages and Dunloy showed their championship pedigree to get over the line.  The Ruairi’s scored just one point in the closing 14 or so minutes and a number of wides hurt their push for the Volunteer Cup.  Delargy commented: “There was a period and to be fair they were shots from good areas and the boys that you want taking your shots.  We had a goal chance and they turned it over, went up the field and Keelan Molloy gets onto a trademark break to hit a worldy.  It’s a game of inches.

“I know Dunloy have four in a row.  We were close today but we think we’re close everyday.  Someday we’ll get them.”

In one of the best finals in living memory, Cushendall more than contributed to an epic game and Delargy said he hopes that despite defeat, they have put some rumours to bed: “I think we play a good brand of hurling now.  There’s a myth going about that because we’ve been on the stream so much that everybody thinks we’re slow and dogged and stuttering, our boys just proved today that we can hurl with anybody in Antrim.  Our lads are some of the best players in the county team, it’s maybe put away some of that myth.  We can play a bit of hurling as well.  

“I’m seriously proud.  As a manager you try and set everything up and let them show the work they’ve been doing and they done that today.  They just came up against a good Dunloy team.”

McMahon major seals Dunloy’s four-in-a-row

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship Final

Dunloy 1-20 Cushendall 2-11

Sunday 16 October

Brendan McTaggart reports from Corrigan Park, Belfast

Corrigan Park played host to one of the biggest roller coaster finals in living memory on Sunday afternoon with Dunloy and Cushendall going toe to toe for the right to take the Volunteer Cup back up the M2.

In the end, it was the Cuchullains who edged the Ruairi’s in the closing stages to make it four in a row but they were pushed to the pin of their collar by a Cushendall side who threw everything they had at them.

Keelan Molloy salutes the Dunloy fans in the Corrigan Park stand after scoring a spectacular points as the game entered injury time

In 60 minutes of enthralling championship hurling, the sides were tied no less than seven times and the game was still in the melting pot going into injury time.  The Cuchullains held a three point lead before substitute Chrissy McMahon held his nerve to score Dunloy’s only goal of the game and seal their 16thcounty crown.

The score board certainly didn’t so the Ruairi’s justice.  This was a titanic tussle between Antrim’s two heavy weights of the game and neither were willing to take a backward step.  In the cauldron like atmosphere of Corrigan Park, these two sides pushed each other to their limits.  Moments of brilliance and heroic defending.  Stylish scores and magnificent turnovers.  It was everything you would want in a final with the Cuchullains and Cushendall delivering in spades.

In the end, Dunloy’s vice like grip on the Volunteer Cup remains, but they wont have many harder assignments in living memory than the test Brian Delargy’s men asked of them on Sunday.

Cushendall showed three changes from their semi-final victory over Loughgiel, Ronan McAteer, Cormac McClafferty and Fred McCurry coming into the 15 while Dunloy had Eoin McFerran in for the injured Deaglan Smith.

The Ruairi’s made a dream start with a goal inside 20 seconds and straight from the training ground.  A high delivery was broken into the path of Neil McManus and while he didn’t strike his effort cleanly, Ryan Elliott couldn’t clear the danger and McClafferty finished from close range.

No yard was given nor spared in the opening exchanges as both sides upped the intensity from the get go. Cushendall had Mr Reliable, McManus on frees and keeping the scoreboard ticking while Eoghan Campbell scored a point that brought a roar from the terraces either side of the stand.

Conal Cunning’s free taking was being tested but he answered with a series of sumptuous scores from all ranges while Aaron Crawford and Keelan Molloy also chipped in to leave the sides tied midway through the first half.

The Cuchullains stretched into a two point lead with Cunning’s frees, Eamonn Smyth and Nigel Elliott splitting the posts while McManus fired over a brace of frees.  The Cuchullains looked to be finding their rhythm but Cushendall hit another major blow in first half injury time.  The Cuchullains had just passed up a major opportunity of their own with Ryan McGarry’s effort agonisingly going to the left of the post. Cushendall responded with their second major.  A free from McManus dropping in the heart of the Dunloy defence where Sean McAfee doubled on the sliotar in mid-air and found the onion bag.

Sean McAfee celebrates Cushendall’s second goal just before half-time

Dunloy responded with Cunning’s seventh score and fifth free of the half to leave the minimum between the sides at half time, 2-6 to 0-11 in favour of the Ruairi’s.

The second half started with the same hair raising intensity as the first.  You couldn’t take your eyes off the game with end to end, high octane action with both sides looking, searching for that level which would take them clear.

Mid way through the second half Cushendall still held a one point lead but incredibly they would only find the target one more time in the 14 minutes of the hour plus injury that would remain.  Their accuracy left them when they needed it while the Cuchullains defence found another level.  They forced turnovers and turned the screw at the other end of the pitch with Keelan Molloy showing his class.  

Chrissy McMahoon sends over a second half point

The Ruairi’s hit five wides in succession while Cunning (free), McGarry, McMahon and Seaan Elliott split the uprights to hive Dunloy a three point lead.

McManus hit his seventh point of the game, second from open play to leave two between the sides but it was going to take another major for Cushendall to reeel the Cuchullains back in.  Fergus McCambridge had a chance but the Cuchullains defence scrambled, the sliotar fell to Niall McCormick but Phelim Duffin was the Dunloy hero with Elliott out of position, Duffin stopped McCormick’s effort and cleared the danger.

Keelan Molloy’s third point of the final followed, a super score to give the Cuchullains a bit of breathing space but the fate of the Volunteer Cup was sealed with McMahon’s major in injury time.  Claiming a cross-field ball from Ronan Molloy, McMahon showed all the composure and class needed to seal the Cuchullains victory.

Four in a row, five in seven years.  The Cuchullain Village are still Kings of Hurling in the Saffron County.

Joint captains Ryan Elliott and Paul Shiels hold the volunteer Cup aloft after Dunloy’s win over Cushendall in Sunday’s Antrim Senior Hurling Final at Corrigan Park, Belfast.
Dunloy celebrate after completing their 4-in-a-row

TEAMS

Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Phelim Duffin, Ryan McGarry, Oran Quinn; Aaron Crawford, Kevin Molloy, Eamonn Smyth; Paul Shiels, Eoin McFerran; Ronan Molloy, Gabriel McTaggart, Nigel Elliott; Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning, Seaan Elliott

Subs: Conor Kinsella for Kevin Molloy (blood sub 14 reversed 16); Anton McGrath for R Molloy (blood sub 15 reversed 17); Chrissy McMahon for G McTaggart (24); Conal Kelly for S Elliott (57); Anton McGrath for N Elliott (60)

Scorers: C Cunning 0-11 (9fs 1’65); C McMahon 1-1; Keelan Molloy 0-3; R McGarry 0-1; A Crawford 0-1; E Smyth 0-1; N Elliott 0-1; S Elliott 0-1

Cushendall: Eoin Gillan; Liam Gillan, Paddy Burke, Martin Burke; Scott Walsh, Eoghan Campbell, Ronan McAteer; Alex Delargy, Ryan McCambridge; Cormac McClafferty, Sean McAfee, Niall McCormick; Aiden McNaughton, Neil McManus, Fred McCurry

Subs: Christy McNaughton for S McAfee (38); Fergus McCambridge for C McClafferty (44)

Scorers: N McManus 0-7 (5fs); S McAfee 1-1; C McClafferty 1-0; E Campbell 0-1; N McCormick 0-1; F McCurry 0-1

Referee: Kevin Parke (Naomh Eanna)

Maroon and white day at St Mary’s and Glenann Primary Schools

Past pupils Fergus, Fred, Scott, Stephen, Ryan (& Conn) came to visit St Mary’s PS & Nursery Unit, Cushendall on Friday. The boys had a Q&A session with the children then got presented with a Good Luck card signed by all the staff & pupils. They then visited the Nursery Unit. Everyone at St Mary’s cheered the boys and wished them and all the Ruairi Og Senior Hurlers the very best of luck in the County Final on Sunday. A few proud mammy’s in the audience too

Meanwhile out at Glenann PS, where the principal is former Dunloy hurler Paudie Shivers, the pupils were brilliantly kitted out in their maroon and white as they welcomed Ruairí Óg stars Aidan McNaugthon, Christy McNaughton and Paddy Burke to the school ahead of the big game in Corrigan Park Sunday vs. Dunloy.

Glenann PS wish to thank the boys for coming along and answering questions, getting photographs and doing their Half the Pot draw this week!

Good luck to Ruairí Óg Senior Hurlers on Sunday!

Delargy: “It was important for us to get here”

Cushendall manager Brian Delargy speaks with Brendan McTaggart ahead of Sunday’s final….

Now in his second year in charge, Brian Delargy has taken his Cushendall side to the decider for the first time in three years.  You may think that isn’t much of a drought, but the Ruairi’s have been the one constant in Antrim hurling for a generation or more.  A three year gap is the most they haven’t been at this stage of the championship since 2005 where they bridged a six year gap from their previous win – ironically enough that came in 1999 against Dunloy!

The Ruairi Og manager said there aim was simple from the start of the year.  Reach the decider: “We set that as our target at the start of the year.  Make sure we were there and have that four week break.”

In previous years, Cushendall have had a love-hate relationship with the new championship structure.  More often than not, they have ended up in the quarter-finals but Delargy said they targeted the four week break: “It can work to your advantage (being in a quarter final) but we were able to get a challenge game in between times and it allowed us to work on a few things and have any injuries or niggles cleared up.

“Naomh Eanna up first and the lads got off to a great start.  We played ok in patches against Loughgiel but nowhere near our potential.  St John’s at home was a good challenge for us and I suppose Christy (McNaughton) was the difference.”

Having played for barely 10 minutes against Loughgiel, Christy finished with 1-2 but had to come off injured.  Delargy said they are sweating over the fitness of a few players: “He (Christy McNaughton) hasn’t trained since.  Dom (Delargy) and Paddy McGill haven’t lifted a hurl either.  We’re hopeful though.  We’ll give those lads every chance to prove their fitness.

Christy is a huge asset for us.  He one of those lads that works off instinct, he knows exactly where the posts are.  He’s struggled a bit all year with injuries and looked like he was coming good.  He just seemed to twist his knee but he’s been working with Oisin Quinn, our Strength and Conditioning man to get back out again.”

It’s not all doom and gloom on the injury front for Cushendall however, Delargy confirming that Arron Graffin is likely to have game time on Sunday having recovered from yet another knee injury.

In their semi final, Cushendall looked to be coasting towards the final.  They were left clinging on however with Loughgiel scenting blood after the dismissal of Liam Gillan.  Delargy said: “We had to win that game twice.  We knew it was going to be tough and that was the case.  You’re never going to get an easy game against Loughgiel but we fought well.  It was a game we could have lost and got turned over given the pressure we put on ourselves but we didn’t lay down.

“We seemed to get our goals at the right time in the game and when you score three goals in a game, they’re going to make a difference.  Scoring goals at vital times like that makes it tough for the opposition, no matter how well they’re clipping over scores.

You’re never going to dominate a team like Loughgiel, they had a pile of confidence from the Rossa game and looked to be building momentum but we got over the line and that’s all that mattered.”

So onto Sunday’s final.  Cushendall and Loughgiel in another decider, the sixth time the Volunteer Cup will either be draped in maroon and white or green and gold.  Delargy said he was delighted to have reached this stage but now they’re here, they’ll be doing all in their power to add to their 14 senior championships: “We wanted to reach the final.  Three years is a long time for a club like Cushendall to not reach the final and it was important for us to get here.  But we’re here now and we’ll give it our best against Dunloy.

“We’ll have our plans in place but we’re not going to navigate too far from what we’ve been trying to do for the last two years since I’ve come in.

“We’re trying to make better use of the ball.  Retain possession and running off the shoulder but it’s important to play to our strengths too.”

Having tasted defeat to Rossa at the semi final in 2021, Delargy said that while the job comes with added pressure and expectation, it’s days like these that he’s still involved with his beloved Cushendall: “I’ve really enjoyed it.  This is a serious group of individuals who come in and give nothing less than 100% every time they show up, no matter if it’s training, league games or championship.

“The atmosphere is special, there’s no getting away from that.  Being in a championship final brings about a buzz around the community, you have to enjoy days like these.

“The schools have maroon and white day on Friday and it definitely adds to the occasion.  It’s for days like these that we train for and hopefully we can do the business of Sunday.”

Gregory O’Kane: “It’ll be the team that’s improved the most.  We’re hoping that’s Dunloy.”

Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane speaks with Brendan McTaggart ahead on Sunday’s final with Cushendall…

Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane leads the Cuchullains to their fifth final in six years.  To say they have been there and done that is an understatement.  The run up to Sunday’s final is something they have come accustomed to around the Village.  The Cuchullains have shown no signs of easing the grip on the Volunteer Cup with their performances in this years championship and the Dunloy manager said the group of players set the challenge themselves: “It’s pretty simple, that’s the next challenge.  Whatever happens in the past, it’s gone.  We can only play one game and that’s the one in front of us on Sunday.  All we want to be is the best version of ourselves we can be and we just challenge each other to get there.

“The challenge is Sunday.  The only challenge we can face is the one that’s put in front of us.  That’s our focus and that’s all we can concentrate on.  Whatever has happened in the past won’t be good enough come Sunday.  We’re always looking to improve and challenge each other.”

With the club also winning the Intermediate football championship last Saturday, it’s fair to say their schedule has been busy.  On Sunday they will have played three knockout football and two knock out hurling championship games in six weeks.  O’Kane made light of the busy period, stating it was meant the club and the vast majority of his players were able to build momentum: “It’s been great to be honest.  It actually was good when we had the four weeks out there was two rounds of football.  In terms of keeping the players sharp and match fitness, you can’t put a price on match fitness because you can’t train it.  In those terms it was excellent.  Then the lads who don’t play football were working hard around that.”

At those knock out football ties, those who aren’t dual could be seen on the grassy bank at Dunsilly offering their support.  Gregroy said it was a testament to the unity there is within the group: “We’ve a good group. The unity’s there and everybody wants success, it’s a nice environment to be in and that’s important too.”

There’s a certain excitement that comes to O’Kane’s voice when it came to talking about Sunday’s final.  You can tell he relishes the challenge of what the Volunteer Cup brings.  You don’t have 11 medals as a player and four as a manager without having that hunger and desire to be the best in the business.  The Dunloy manager said: “The best place you can be on Sunday is playing.  There’s no substitute for it, money can’t buy it.  It’s the best place any hurler, especially a Dunloy hurler on Sunday is preparing for a county final.

“You set out every game and that’s your focus, everyone is the same and we’re no different.  We’re absolutely delighted to be in the final and every one of the lads and coaching set up are really looking forward to it.”

Sunday presents Dunloy with a chance of equalling their record of four in a row.  A record they hold with Loughgiel and Rossa.  This will be the third time in six years the teams will have faced each other, Cushendall will be hoping it’s third time lucky but O’Kane said what has happened in the past will have no bearing on what’s to come on Sunday: “We’re definitely not ’17 and definitely not ’19 but neither are Cushendall to be fair to them.  It’s two teams who are improving all the time and it’ll be the team that’s improved the most.  We’re hoping that’s Dunloy.”

With some thinking the decider could be played in Ballycastle, Corrigan Park was given the nod.  One off if not thee best playing surface in the county and a repeat venue from 2021.  O’Kane said the venue matters little to them with the focus and pursuit for the Volunteer Cup their number one objective: “Belfast is a fantastic venue for the county final.  Corrigan has a super surface and it’s the county ground but to be honest it doesn’t really matter where we’re playing.  We’re just looking forward to the final.”