Provincial glory up for grabs! Conal Cunning of Dunloy GAC, pictured today ahead of the 2022 AIB Ulster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship Final which takes place this Sunday, December 4th at 1.30pm at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh. The AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships features some of #TheToughest players from communities all across Ireland. It is these very communities that the players represent that make the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships unique. Now in its 32nd year supporting the Club Championships, AIB is extremely proud to once again celebrate the communities that play such a role in sustaining our national games.
Provincial glory up for grabs! Conal Cunning of Dunloy GAC, pictured today ahead of the 2022 AIB Ulster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship Final which takes place this Sunday, December 4th at 1.30pm at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh. The AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships features some of #TheToughest players from communities all across Ireland. It is these very communities that the players represent that make the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Championships unique. Now in its 32nd year supporting the Club Championships, AIB is extremely proud to once again celebrate the communities that play such a role in sustaining our national games.

Cunning wants Dunloy to deliver on Ulster stage again


By Cian O’Connell

“It is the place you want to be, these are the matches you want to be playing in,” Dunloy’s Conal Cunning says ahead of Sunday’s AIB Ulster Club SHC Final against Slaughtneil. “Whenever you were younger, going to these matches with a big crowds, it is where you want to be.”

Four Antrim SHC titles on the spin have been won by Dunloy, but Cunning acknowledges that a talented team now wants to deliver on the provincial stage again.

“Winning four Antrim championships is great, but at the same time you always strive for more,” Cunning adds. “If you're happy with what you've got then I just don't know because you should always want to achieve more. That is what we are looking to do - to go a step further.”

Slaughtneil, though, have set a seriously high standard up north recently. “In the last four or five years we've been to Ulster finals a couple of times, we have been to semi-finals, we have been beaten by Slaughtneil,” Cunning says.

“They have set the standard, we now know we have to reach that standard if we are looking to go to the next level. It is a step up. They are a top class team with some unbelievable athletes and some class players too. We are going to have to be at our very best if we are looking to get to that next level.”

Conal Cunning in action for Antrim against Kerry at Croke Park in the 2022 Joe McDonagh Cup Final.
Conal Cunning in action for Antrim against Kerry at Croke Park in the 2022 Joe McDonagh Cup Final.

Cunning acknowledges that there is a real respect for Ulster club outfits nationally. “You could say that, maybe Slaughtneil in the last couple of years against some of the big name teams like Ballyhale and Ballygunner - they have performed really well,” Cunning responds.

“We have no doubt ourselves, we know the standard within Ulster. We know that you can play at that top level, it is maybe other places don't believe in it.

“We know that we definitely can achieve more, it has improved. You see that with the county too with Antrim, we've had Darren (Gleeson) come in for the last few years. He has brought a complete professionalism to the county. It has completely changed the way hurling is and what we are trying to build in Antrim and Ulster in a way.”

Antrim’s consistency has improved under the shrewd guidance of former Tipperary goalkeeper Gleeson. “That is what it is all about,” Cunning replies.

“You can play in patches here and there, good games, bad games, that isn't going to get you anywhere. It is all about consistency - it always is. It is about playing at that top level throughout the year. Darren has brought a real professionalism to the set-up, it is unbelievable.”

Darren Gleeson is enjoying a productive spell as Antrim senior hurling manager.
Darren Gleeson is enjoying a productive spell as Antrim senior hurling manager.

The connection forged between Gleeson and Antrim is significant according to Cunning. “It really is, I don't know how the man does it all, it is mad coming up that route four or five times a week, it is a long journey,” Cunning remarks.

“People would say he is just doing it because that is what manager's do, but there is a real passion from Darren. I think that is what passes on to the players. We can see that he has that real passion for Antrim hurling, he really does. That passes on to the players, you can see what it means to him.”

Gleeson has enabled the Antrim hurlers to believe that possibilities exist. “You can also see what it means to the players too,” Cunning continues.

“There is a really good connection. Hopefully we can just build on that in the next four or five years. We have now implemented a really good set-up at minor, U20, to be able to bring those young Antrim players up through, knowing what they are coming into.

“Before, when I played minor and U21 they picked it from a club perspective. You played for your club, you went to play for the county, you were happy to be there, you got a bit of gear and went away. It has completely changed now, the whole concept of Antrim hurling. I'm hoping it is changing and that it is changing for the good.”