Elliott looking forward to Slaughtneil challenge

 

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Dunloy’s Shane Elliott – Pic by Sean Paul McKillop

By Brendan McTaggart

Shane Elliott joined Gregory O’Kane’s management team for the 2017 season along with Liam Richmond and the former Dunloy goalkeeper is no stranger to winning championships himself.  During the 90’s and in 2000 the former Dunloy shot stopper won six county championships and five Ulster crowns in that period.

With his son Ryan now between the posts for the Cuchullains, Elliott has more than just a coaching interest in the team and he gave us his thoughts on Ryan’s involvement: “It’s probably sorer on my wife to be honest.  I think I’m so involved in the game that it possibly passes me by a little but I’m possibly sorer on him than I am with a few others in the team.

“I have great confidence in his ability and don’t get nervous for him anymore than I do have going into any game.

“I suppose with having the experience of having played in goals as well I can help him in ways others maybe can’t but look I’m very proud of the fact that Ryan is part of the team.  He plays the game with great confidence and loves being involved.”

With the dust now settled, just about, from the county final win against Cushendall, Elliott gave us his views on the Cuchullains 12th championship success: “The result I have to say was of no great surprise to us to be honest.  We knew how we were playing coming into the game and how we prepared and we were very capable of producing a performance on the day.

“We had a jittery first half where we weren’t at our best but we knew that as the game went on it would open up and we needed to make sure we were capable of taking advantage.

“There was a lot of talk about the forwards but the supply of ball into the forwards was excellent on the day, as it has been all year.

“The 15 and even 20 minutes at the start of the second half we blew Cushendall away.  We were excellent and the game was over.  It was a matter of seeing the game out and we did that comfortably in the end.”

For a club that had enjoyed huge recent success for the better part of 25 years, an eight year championship drought seemed like a lifetime and for many that were in attendance greeting the Cuchullains back into the village on the Sunday night, it was a lifetime.  Elliott said that the scenes are something that will create and inspire a generation: “I think there was an element of surprise just how much people thought on us as underdogs but the winning feeling at the full time whistle was one of relief more than anything else and the scenes on the pitch afterwards shows how much it means to the team and the village to bring the Volunteer Cup back to Dunloy.  We have a great affinity with the Volunteer Cup within the village so for us as managers to be part of that and for the players, it was something special.

“There was an eight year gap before that Sunday and when you consider the success the club had in the 20 years previous I think it brought a lot of old memories back for us all.  The passion for hurling and the Volunteer Cup in the village is unrivalled and that was shown on the night.

“It was great for everyone and it was great to see the number of young ones out to welcome the teams home.  This is the start of their early hurling memories and hopefully it’s the start of us building something again in the club.  These sort of memories stick with you and it’s these memories that create the passion for the game, to want to be part of something special.  I know the players were taken back with the scenes that welcomed them back to the village that night, especially the younger guys.

“They had been used to success at underage level but this was their first taste of success at senior and the difference just took them by surprise and left them gobsmacked.  It just means so much to the village.”

Slaughtneil will present another stern examination of the Cuchullains credentials and Elliott told us that they are fully aware of the size of the task at hand but surprisingly admitted that he’s pleased with the draw: “I have a massive respect for Slaughtneil for everything that they’ve achieved in all three codes and there’s certainly lessons there to be learned for us all but as far as the game goes, we actually think it’s the perfect draw for us.

“It’s quickly brought us back down to earth after a couple of days celebrations.  The players are well aware that they have a massive task on their hands, Slaughtneil are the reigning Ulster champions and the team to beat.  Our feet were soon planted back on the ground and that’s why I think this is the perfect tie for us.

“Slaughtneil are a good team and have been made favourites for a reason.  They’re big, strong and physical but make no mistake about it, they can hurl too but we’re looking forward to the challenge.

“We’re well aware of the challenge that faces us against a seasoned championship team like Slaughtneil but we’ll be up for it and there’s no better place to be two weeks after winning the county championship.”

The Dunloy footballers have since booked their place in the Intermediate Championship final and with as many as 11 players being directly involved in both games, the preparations have had to be meticulous by the Cuchullains but Elliott added that they’ve tried to stick by what’s served them well thus far: “Our preparations haven’t changed drastically from what they have been all championship.  We’re trying to develop a style of hurling and that’s what we’ve been working on.  We do talk about the opposition as do all managers but we’re definitely not obsessed with them or go into too much detail.  We’ll tweak things here and there and try to exploit any weaknesses but mainly playing to our own strengths.”  Elliott added: “Slaughtneil bring something different to the table to what we’ve played before in Cushendall, Ballycastle and St John’s but we’re concentrating on ourselves.  We know how we want to play and the consistency that we want to achieve.  If we can get it right on the day then we won’t be far away but it’s going to be a close game.”BM35-775JS-Shane ElliottPremier Electrics

Captain McKaigue hungry for more Ulster success

AIB Ulster Club Hurling Championship semi-final preview  – Slaughtneil v Dunloy

By Brendan McTaggart

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Slaughtneil captain Chrissy McKeague

Slaughtneil captain Chrissy McKaigue has been there, done that and seen it all in a Slaughtneil shirt both in hurling and football.  He oozes class both on and off the pitch and was the last one leaving the O’Cahan Park pitch when we called to have a chat during the week.  The 28 year old midfielder is a natural leader and is probably better placed than most to answer, what keeps Slaughtneil ticking?  “This is our fifth county hurling title in a row and our fifth venture back in Ulster.  I think only now we’re seeing the real capabilities of this hurling team.  The boys are maybe starting to get more mature both physically and mentally.  I think that there wasn’t much talk about how young our team was and has been for the last number of years.  I think now we’re starting to mature a wee bit more and that’s what’s keeping us going.  The young boys are really starting to see what this game’s about and starting to enjoy winning that wee bit more.”

It’s apparent, even from early in a conversation with the Slaughtneil Captain that the Robbies incredible achievements in recent times have come from a self-driven hunger and drive to reach new levels.  Their improvements on the hurling field have been there for all to see, taking Cushendall to a replay three years ago before the Ruairi’s edged home by two points and two years ago it took 80 minutes in Armagh of high intensity drama before Cushendall took the spoils.  Loughgiel bore the brunt of their frustration last year as Slaughtneil decimated the then Antrim champions in a blistering opening quarter where Brendan Rodgers and Sé McGuigan wrecked havoc in the Shamrocks defence.  McKaigue told us that playing in the provincial competition brings the best out of his side and helps them to reach new levels: “When you go into Ulster in either football or hurling, the stakes are higher and the opposition gets better.  I think it’s our mentality that has helped us along the way and the consistency.  We couldn’t have achieved what we have in the last number of years if we weren’t consistent in what we were doing in training, in our lifestyle and we brought that into our game.  We’re fortunate that our young players have been used to winning.  Whether that’s been with St Pat’s Maghera or the county minors and u21’s or whatever it is.  Even at our own underage, they haven’t been too far away from winning so when you’re used to winning, you expect to win and when you expect to win quite often you do win.  We’re quite lucky that these young boys have come in with that mentality and some of the older boys, who maybe haven’t had as much success but have more hurt in them to help drive us on.  There’s a really nice balance there.”

The average age within the Slaughtneil squad is 23, a stat that McKaigue rightly pointed to during our discussion.  It’s something that has alluded many when it comes to this Slaughtneil team and the Robbies Captain told us that there are parallels to be drawn with the Cuchullains youth resurgence in recent times: “There’s always a conscious effort in Slaughtneil but time and life in sport is everything.  There’s been a group of boys who have come through who are very, very talented.  Our underage at the minute is maybe not as strong but all you need is maybe three or four players coming through.  Quite often you might not even get that but I think Dunloy are benefitting something similar to ourselves in that they have a real ‘freakish’ kind of batch coming through all at the one time.

“For us in Slaughtneil it’s always been about getting players to play senior irrespective of how good they are because that’s what keeps the club alive, how well they can compete at senior level but I wouldn’t say there’s been anything that’s been done at underage level.  I think it’s been a combination of hard work and commitment and pride in what we’re about.”

Despite not playing each other in recent times, McKaigue told us that they are confident they know what they are coming up against on Sunday: “I’ve said over the last number of years that there are no secrets anymore.  Everyone has access to videos and that’s the reality of it.  That’s the way it should be, what’s the point in hiding?  If we win our games you come up against better quality and you have to analyse the opposition but the opposition is analysed by everyone nowadays.

“Dunloy will know us relatively well and will we know them.  We might not have played each other a lot but both teams will be well prepared as both teams have good management set ups.  That’s what you would expect when it comes to an Ulster semi-final and we’re looking forward to the challenge as I’m sure so are Dunloy.

“Every year presents a different challenge for us.  You look at the four football championships we’ve won in a row in Derry, we’ve played four different clubs in the final and in the hurling five in a row we’ve played every team there is to play in Derry.  Every opposition brings a different challenge and now Dunloy will bring something different to what Loughgiel and Cushendall have done in the last few years.

“That’s the beauty of sport, isn’t it?  There’s always someone to prove wrong or someone to prove right.  We’ll be giving Dunloy our full respect and go out to play them as best we can.”CRLL5779 copy2

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McShane expecting tough test on Sunday

AIB Ulster Club Hurling Championship semi-final preview  – Slaughtneil v Dunloy

By Brendan McTaggart

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Slaughtneil manager Mickey McShane

Ballycastle native Mickey McShane is now in his third year of his tenure at the helm of Slaughtneil and he’s taken the Emmet Park side to new heights.  Last year they handed out a first Ulster defeat to Loughgiel in the provincial decider while this year they have achieved a fifth Derry crown in succession, the first time since Dungiven achieved the same fete in the 1970’s.

A fourth county title for Slaughtneil’s footballers has brought the club to new levels while the camogs have also made it another treble of titles within the Oakleaf county.  Incredible in any era, county or province.  A schedule that is as demanding as any in professional sports and coincidentally it’s taken it’s toll on the grounds at Emmet Park.  The Robbies were training at O’Cahan Park, Portglenone during the week when we got a chance to have a chat with the Slaughtneil manager.

They had just finished an in-house game when McShane gave us an insight into how things had been in the run up Sunday’s semi-final: “Everything’s been going really well.  Obviously, everyone knows the hectic schedule that Slaughtneil players have but we’ve came through the last cluster of matches in good health and training over the last week has been really good and positive.”

Slaughtneil won the Derry crown with little or no alarm.  Despite the nature of their success in previous years, McShane told us that they have been looking no further than the game in front of them and that has been the case from the first match of the season: “Our aim is and always has been, to win the next game and that’s the God’s honest truth.  We don’t look any further than our next match.  When the draw was made we drew Ballinascreen in the first round, we won that thankfully so it was Banagher next.  Yes, we retained our county title and it’s always nice to do that.  It’s a great feeling to be county champions but we move onto the next level and the challenge that Dunloy will bring.  If we win that, we’ll have earned the right to play in the final and that will be that.”

Slaughtneil have evolved into an excellent hurling team in recent years.  Their matches against Cushendall in previous years and last year against Loughgiel have helped them improve tactically and McShane said that every day is a school day for him and his team: “It doesn’t matter what age you are.  Unfortunately, I’m a good bit older than a lot of these boys out here tonight and I’m still learning the game.  Every day you go out you have to learn something whether you win, lose or draw.

“I think that every year we’ve got a wee bit smarter and a bit more cute about the thing.  These guys are very intelligent.  They’ve learned from their mistakes in the past and they’ve learned from their past defeats but they’ve also learned from their wins as well.  I like to think that we’re getting better every year.  Year on year over the last four or five, these boys have gotten better and that’s an upward curve we hope will continue.”

McShane told us that they are looking to their previous experiences in Ulster as they prepare for Sunday’s showdown with the Cuchullains: “Any game in the Ulster championship is going to be a physical battle.  You’re playing county champions when you step up to this level and you just have to look at our match against Middletown last year.  It was a very physical game and the Loughgiel match was the same.  The year before against Cushendall was something similar and to be honest we’re not expecting anything less from Dunloy.  We’re expecting exactly that same type of game.  They’ll come fast at us and they’ll be looking to hit us hard early on.  We’ll try to be prepared for that as best we can and we’ll see where it takes us.”

Slaughtneil were the first team from Derry to compete in the hurling club All-Ireland series and while their defeat to Cuala in the semi-final hasn’t really effected them in 2017, McShane told us that the defeat is still a huge disappointment: “We’re not really losing the hurt but we learned from that game.  We came away disappointed in ourselves and how we performed.  We felt that we didn’t play as well as we probably could have but we came away and licked our wounds.

“It’s behind us now, it’s old hat just like the way the Ulster final is old hat as well.  We’re looking forward now and looking forward to the next game.”

As it stands the match is still in Owenbeg although the Dungiven venue will undergo a pitch inspection on Friday afternoon.  McShane told us that the venue or pitch won’t be the deciding factor on Sunday: “I don’t understand why it’s not in Armagh.  Armagh has hosted the last two games between the Derry and Ulster champions and everyone seemed happy enough with it.  It was a toss and we’ve won it, the match is in Owenbeg and it’s a venue we know very well but it’s a pitch and that’s that.  It won’t win us the game and it won’t lose the game for them either.”Slaughtneil v Loughgiel 11

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Dunloy and Slaughtneill met in the first Ulster final of the new Millennium

AIB Ulster Club Hurling Championship semi-final preview  – Slaughtneil v Dunloy

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Slaughtnei’s Colin McEldowney in action against Dunloy’s Ciaran McGrath and Seamus ‘Mush’ McMullan during the 2000 Ulster final at Casement Park. Pic by John McIlwaine

Many younger hurling fans will feel Sunday’s meeting between Slaughtneil and Dunloy is an exciting new venture, but the sides met seventeen years ago in the final of the Ulster Club Hurling Championship back in 2000. The Cuchullains were dominating Antrim hurling back them, and though they had lost the 1999 title to Cushendall, that was to be their only defeat in seven years of dominance. Slaughtneil were contesting an Ulster final for the first time but the side back then were no match for the men in green and lost heavily.

Writing in the Ballymena Guardian back then Jim Smyth opened his report with these words…………

Hurling in Derry may have come on by leaps and bounds in recent years. In this Ulster decider, however between the cream of Antrim and Derry, it became clear that there is still quite a bridge to cross. Dunloy were simply in a class of their own and at no stage did the men from Slaughtneil prove any danger.

How things have changed since then. Slaughtneil crossed that bridge last year when they beat Loughgiel to become the first Derry team to lift the Four Seasons Cup and they go into Sunday’s game confident they can keep that run going.

In that first final of the new Millennium the Cuchullains were dominant from the start and after midfielder Colm McGuckian put them ahead in the second minute they were never headed. Gregory O’Kane caught the puck-out and put it back between the Slaughtneil posts. Dermot Doherty pulled one back for the Derry champions from a free but Dunloy took full control and by half time they were 2-7 to 0-3 to the good, the goals coming from centre-half forward Seamus ‘Mushy’ McMullan (from a 25 yard grounds stroke) and the other from Paddy Richmond.

Five minutes into the second half Ciaran McGrath, one of three brothers who saw action that day) grabbed Dunloy’s third goal and nine minutes from time Liam Richmond got the fourth. Slaughtneil came with a late burst of points Paudric Dougan, Jim Kelly, Declan Cassidy and Dermot Doherty as Dunloy emptied their bench.

The teams who lined out that day were

Dunloy : Shane Elliott, Sean McIlhatton, Damien McMullan, Drankie McMullan, Paudie McMullan, Gary O’Kane, Sean Mullan, Conor Cunning (0-2), Colm McGuckian (0-2), Gregory O’Kane (0-4), Seamus McMullan 1-3), Liam Richmond (1-1), Ciaran McGrath (1-0).

Subs – Nigel Elliott, Jarlath Elliott (0-1), Michael McClements, Malachy Molloy.

Slaughtneil: – Owen McGuigan, Francis Downey, Barney McEldowney, Declan Kearney, Paddy McEldowney, Colm McEldowney, Colm McEldowney, Pauric Kelly, Declan Cassidy, Francis Burke, Fergal McEldowney, Pauric McKay, Dermot Doherty (0-5), Aidan Quigg (0-1), Mark Cassidy, Danny McMullan.

Subs – Michael Kearney, JB McNicholl, Pauric Dougan (0-1), Jim Kelly 0-1)

Referee – Gerard Dougan (Armagh)

A few men who played in that final in 2000 will be involved again on Sunday. For Slaughtneil Dermot Doherty, Barney McEldowney and Patrick McEldowney will be part of the management team while for Dunloy team manager Gregory O’Kane and selectors Liam Richmond and Shane Elliott were all key members of the side. However there was one man who played that day who is still involved on the playing side of things. Michael McClements was a young sub, on the cusp of  a great career when he came on in the second half of that 2000 final and he will be on the bench again on Sunday. It would be some achievement if he was to see action again SEVENTEEN years later.

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Mickey McClements with his sons after the county final win over Cushendall came on as a sub when Dunloy beat Slaughtneil seventeen years ago in the 2000 Ulster final at Casement Park. (He even wore the right number for the pic)

Gregory and Shorty speak about Sunday’s win

After the dust had settled on Cuchullains dramatic win on Sunday I had a few words with team manager Gregory O’Kane and man of the match Paul Shiels about what had just happened on the Pairc MacUílin pitch and how the past few seasons were geared towards this day.

Shorty speaks about the times he felt he would never get back to full fitness and how the early season training with Antrim helped him get back to form