Orchin believes Rossa are heading in the right direction

By Kevin Herron 

Ciaran Orchin is delighted that the hard yards that his club have put in this season is coming to fruition  

Featuring in their first County Senior Hurling final in 17-years, Orchin – who turned 29 on Friday says it is a privilege for his side to be back in the decider and they can’t wait for Sunday to arrive. 

“I’m delighted, it’s the hard work throughout the year coming to material” acknowledges Orchin.  

“I was 11-years old the last time we reached the county final back then and I remember being on the pitch celebrating – they were great days. We’re just privileged to be back in a final 17-years on. We all just work as hard as we can to get here and it’s everyone’s goal- so we’re delighted and can’t wait until Sunday”.

Orchin is one of a number of current Rossa panellists that helped the Shaws Road outfit to All-Ireland intermediate success back in 2015 and he recalls that the decision to drop into Intermediate hurling was done to reignite a flame within the code. 

“It was a rebuilding stage at that time” Orchin recalls. 

“We took the initiative to get down just to try and ignite a bit of a flame and it’s taken off now. We’re happy at this stage and we’ve progressed and made strides in those six-years- which was the ultimate goal”. 

Orchin in action in the group stage game with Loughgiel Shamrocks

Orchin insists that their mentality has been to take things a game at a time and is delighted to be able to take on the challenge of trying to stop Sunday’s favourites. 

“We just take each game as it comes” he insists. 

“They [Dunloy] are coming in trying to get three-in-a-row and naturally they will be favourites. They can back that up, they’ve great hurlers and great pedigree behind them. we’re just happy to take on the challenge”. 

The 29-year-old is adamant that winning Sundays final has always been the ultimate goal since their semi-final victory over Cushendall, but their status as one of Antrim’s three clubs that ply their trade at the top table of football and hurling meant that they couldn’t give their full attention to the hurling final for the last two weeks as he explains. 

“That’s the ultimate goal is winning the Cup at the end of the day” Orchin maintains. 

“But we were so heavily involved in both codes that we’d to play a football match at the weekend to try and get to the next stage as well. We were pushing on all fronts, now we just have the focus in the build-up, and we just take each day as it comes”. 

For the second year in succession covid has hampered club preparations and Orchin- who works for pharmaceutical company Randox- believes that their side have did well to avoid being hampered at any stage and revealed that manager Colly Murphy set strict standards to avoid the possibility of an outbreak within the team. 

“We’ve been really strict, Colly [Murphy] has set standards from the start of the year and everybody has adhered to that” Orchin revealed. 

“Everybody’s families at the heart of it essentially so everybody wants to maintain their health. We’re just fortunate that we haven’t really had a bad brunt of Covid this year and everyone is just delighted to get another day like this. To see everybody there on Sunday and a positive atmosphere and Antrim hurling on centre stage. I think now that Corrigan Park has had a revamp- it can only be a positive for Antrim hurling. The more eyeballs on Antrim hurling the better”. 

James McKeague: “the semi-final was one of the great Dunloy displays”

Brendan McTaggart speaks with Dunloy chairman and recently retired Captain, James McKeague

A man with six county championship winners medals in his hip pocket, James McKeague has since hung up his hurl but taken on the mantle of Dunloy chairman after the sudden passing of James McLean earlier this year.

McKeague was one of the few links between Dunloy’s 2009 and 2017 championship winning sides and after captaining the Cuchullains to success, he looks back at his time in a Dunloy shirt with undoubted fondness: “We went through a bit of a transition over a period of time and we won championships in 2007 and 2009 but we had boys like Gregory (O’Kane) and Allistair Elliott leaving the panel and we really had to find our feet with a lot of new players.

“The cavalry arrived in 2017 but I suppose it was a great achievement to hold ourselves together from 2009 to 2017 and get that championship.  It was a long pull.

“You seen them coming through and there was a lot of talk about them coming through.  We integrated them into the panel but a couple of years before than Phelim Dufifn came into the panel and Nicky (McKeague) and Allistair Dooey, those boys are nearly the forgotten generation.  They came in and really made a mark on the team.  They brought discipline and when the next lads came in, they had the talent, class and forward ability to get us over the line in 2017.

James McKeague lifts the Volunteer Cup after Dunloy’s win over Cushendall in the 2017 final in Ballycastle

“It was maybe a shock to everyone in Antrim we got over the line in 2017.  The previous year we got beat by Ballycastle in the quarter-final and well beaten by them and we were wondering where we were going from there. But every year I played for Dunloy, I believed we could win the championship and every year we set out to win the championship.  Many years it didn’t work out that way but 2017 was no different.  We trained hard in preparation for the championship and once we got momentum built up against St Johns and then Ballycastle in the semi-final, I was in no doubt we would win the final.  Traditionally we have a very good record of getting to finals.”

The hype around the village is noticeable as soon as you enter the 30 mph speed limit on any road entering Dunloy.  Flags and bunting of green and gold are hung from every telegraph pole, street light, garden fence or chimney pot.  The whole community within Dunloy get behind their players and McKeague told us, it’s through the efforts of the community that the Cuchullains ground and clubhouses have evolved in recent years: “There’s a great tradition in Dunloy that when we get to a final, we make the most of it.  It’s great.  You see the colour around the village and tomorrow (today) is ‘green day’ in the school and that’s all I’ve heard from my wains this week, getting their hair sprayed for school.  

“As a community we enjoy the occasion and buy into that.

“The facilities we have are indebted to our community.  It’s really our community that have put our facilities here and built what you see today.  Last year before the pandemic, we ran a ‘300 Club’ and it was very, very successful for the club.  

“The community have put a lot into these facilities so it’s important that they are used in the correct manner.  I would very much see us as one big community, you look here tonight and the soccer club are using the 4G pitch, different groups come and use the gym, play indoor soccer, indoor hurling and people from all ages.  My own mother comes up here on a Saturday morning with others to attend a class in the gym, it’s for all age groups and great to see everybody get benefit from the facilities from the walking tracks to the gyms, to the astro-turf to enjoying our games.”  McKeague continued: “Next week we’re getting our 4G flood lit pitch Blessed and officially opened by Fr PJ, Fr Darren, Fr McNally and Fr Blayney.  It rolls on.”

Dunloy club in general have had another successful year throughout the age groups with their senior teams all chasing honours at the business end of the season in all codes.  McKeague told us this all filters down from one team leading by example: “There’s a real momentum about the club this year.  The underage teams are doing very, very well with the u15’s winning the county ‘b’ last week in the football and the u17’s are in the football final on Sunday afternoon.  The camogs have been in transition and are starting to build a bit of momentum.  Hopefully they’ll have a good year as well and the footballers got over the line last week against Glenavy and are in the semi-final of the championship.

“The senior hurling team, I feel, always sets the tone around what else happens in the club.  When they’re going well, it pulls everything with it and everyone goes well.  It’s no coincidence in my opinion, that last week the senior footballers got over the line, that had a lot to do with what happened the week before in the hurling.  A lot of those fella’s went into the football panel and it was a release for them.”

James McKeague (left) with his brothers Nicky and Kevin after the 2017 win over Cushendall

McKeague’s record from his own playing days when reaching the decider is up there with the best.  Seven finals and winning six of them.  The 2012 defeat to Loughgiel under the floodlights of Casement Park the only blip on his almost perfect record.   That final ultimately the last to be played at Casement Park until the old ground goes through major development.  He had a different view to most on the Cuchullains semi-final win over the Johnnies: “I do think the St John’s performance in the semi-final was one of the great Dunloy displays to be perfectly honest with you.  

“It was a game that had to be won and they dug real deep in terrible conditions and their discipline was superb.”

With the Final just around the corner, it will present a very different hurdle for McKeague.  As a former player, a father, a husband and now a chairman of the club he loves.  He told us: “I’m very relaxed about it.  I don’t want to get involved with what Gregory and that are doing there, they very much have their own thing and what they’re doing there but while I’ll be there as chairman, I’ll be there as a supporter.

“At matches I nearly like to be on my own and observe, I’ll be standing watching and encouraging as much as I can.”

Shiels: “We’re obsessed with hurling”

Brendan McTaggart speaks with Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels ahead of Sunday’s Senior Hurling Final at Corrigan Park

Paul Shiels is a man who has been there and done that in the green and gold of Dunloy.  On Sunday, he goes into the breaches one more time for his club and he was as relaxed as ever when we spoke with him at the Cuchullains media night.

In the confines of their academy, ‘Shorty’ stood with hurl and sliotar.  Pacing up and down, taking touches and waving the wand.  Everything with precision.  The touch of an angel, the determination of a gladiator and the class of the greats.  Shorty is the spiritual leader in the Dunloy camp and he told us he relishes training in the dark evenings and wet nights: “Every season we set out, this is where we’re trying to get to.  It’s nice to be still training at this time of year, you know if you’re still training you’ve gone deep in the championship.  You never get tired of county finals.”

This season has been a strenuous one for the Cuchullains.  With nine players involved with Darren Gleeson’s county squad, Dunloy’s league campaign wasn’t littered with the performances or results of years gone by.  Shiels said: “It’s been a difficult year in terms of our squad.  Without the county players and obviously football as well but its gave us the chance to look at our whole panel then come championship, the county players come back in, it’s only really then that you see where you’re at as a full panel of players.”  Shorty continued: “We were coming into those first couple of matches trying to feel our way into the championship and the group stage allows you to do that. Obviously you want to top your group to get that extra week break but the championship in all has been good this year.  There’s been some good games and Rossa obviously upsetting Cushendall was a big scalp for them.  

“It’s been an interesting championship and I’d say the best two teams are in the final.”

In the semi-final at Dunsilly, Dunloy dug into their reserves to get over the line against a spirited St John’s side.  As the rains thundered from the heavens, Dunloy did enough.  It wasn’t with the flamboyant style of three weeks previous where the Cuchullains were in top form but as Shorty told us, they were in an unusual situation coming into the semi’s: “Sometimes in a semi-final, it’s just about getting through.  We had played St John’s three weeks previous and it was a difficult game to prepare for.  We beat them and sometimes you learn more from defeat than in victory.  They probably took more from that game than we did.  

“We were just trying to go out and do a professional job.  The conditions were tough, no doubt about it but we got the scores we needed to get in front and effectively shut up shop to see out the game.”

Since that semi-final, seven of the Dunloy team were involved in the footballers pivotal game against Glenavy.  The Cuchullains gained the result they needed to make the semi-final in the ‘big ball’ once again.  Far from ideal preparations coming into a county final but Shorty was looking at the positive side of the fixture scheduling: “It’s been a continuation of how our year has been, trying to dovetail the hurling and the football.  We did a bit of recovery and the footballers prepared for their championship as best they could and go again.  It’s a good distraction in a way.  They’re winning games and it brings a momentum, nothing beats that winning feeling and it’s good their continuing to win and bring that wee bit of success back into the squad.  It can be a distraction of you let it be but if you manage it the right way you can use it to your advantage.”

Last year, these two sides played in two epic contests.  Dunloy snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat in the second round of group matches at Rossa Park while it took a late Chrissy McMahon point to see off the Jeremiah’s after a thrilling semi-final at Dunsilly: “We’ve played Rossa a few times in last year’s championship but every year is a new year and those matches will have no bearing on Sunday’s final.  We’re just preparing for Rossa as best we can.  It’s another county final and they’ll be looking at it the same way.  I’m excited for Sunday and really looking forward to it.

“They’re improving as a team and as a group of players, I don’t think we can take anything from last year if we’re honest.  In their team they can play a number of players in different positions, we’re just trying to prepare for the game as best we can and not get too hung up on last year.  I’m sure they’ll not either.  They’ll be wanting a different outcome.”

With Ballycastle being the preferred choice of venue since 2012, with the exception of Dunloy in 2014, the senior decider makes a return to the City with Corrigan Park playing host.  Shorty told us he feels it adds to the occasion: “It’s nice to be heading back up to the City for a county final.  It has a buzz about it as it was Casement.  After the redevelopment of Corrigan, it’s a great venue.  We’re genuinely looking forward to playing there and I’m sure Rossa are too.  The pitch is first class and the ground is one of the best about.”

With the buzz and hype around the village going up a couple of notches in the past week, Shorty said they try to embrace what it means to the village but always mindful of the goal set at the start of the year: “We’re obsessed with hurling.  Our main aim is to get to a county final and obviously try and win it.  You become a bit oblivious to what’s going on around the village until county final day and the flags go up.  It’s all anyone wants to talk about it but it’s a nice time of year to be involved.  You know if you’re training in the dark evenings, it’s where you want to be.”