Preview: Antrim SHC Final - Dunloy v O'Donovan Rossa
Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Final
Dunloy Cuchullains v O’Donovan Rossa (Corrigan Park, Sunday, 3.45pm, Live on TG4)
O’Donovan Rossa will bid to end a 17 year wait for an Antrim County Senior Hurling Championship title when they play Dunloy Cuchullains in Sunday’s Final.
The Belfast club have been a resurgent force of late, reaching last year’s county semi-final where they lost by just a point to Sunday’s opponents, Dunloy.
They look an improved team again this year, as evidenced by their dramatic semi-final victory over Cushendall that saw them turn a three-point injury time deficit into a one point victory.
The Shaws Road side have been a work in progress now since winning the 2015 All-Ireland Intermediate title, but the appointment of the passionate Colly Murphy as manager three years ago really accelerated their development.
The core of the team is much the same as it was six years ago, but they’re a better drilled outfit now who play with an indefatigable spirit.
Their presence in Sunday’s Final isn’t just a huge day for the club, but a timely boost for hurling in Belfast in general that should hopefully accelerate the positive impact of the Gaelfast initiative which seeks to develop hurling in the city.
For players like team captain Stephen Beatty, Sunday’s Final appearance is the culmination of a lot of hard work and dedication to the cause.
“I’ve played with Rossa all my life, so to be able to captain the club in an inter-county final is something I’m proud of and couldn’t have dreamt of,” he said this week.
“It’s easy saying to boys not to be getting involved in the occasion, but you need to enjoy the occasion too as they don’t come around that often.
“You can enjoy the build-up, but come Sunday it’s just another game: throw the ball in and that’s it. Everything goes out the window so we’ll enjoy our training and see where we’re at on Sunday.”
A Belfast club hasn’t won the Antrim SHC title since O’Donovan Rossa themselves last lifted the Cup in 2004.
Since then, the Big Three from the Glens – Dunloy, Cushendall, and Loughiel – have dominated the competition.
Dunloy have been the standard-setters of late, winning three of the last four county titles and fancied by many to complete a three-in-a-row on Sunday.
With quality hurlers like Paul Shiels, Keelan Molloy, Conal Cunning, Sean Elliott, Ryan Elliott and Ryan McGarry to call on they’re a force to be reckoned with, but Rossa proved in last year’s semi-final they’re more than good enough to push them all the way.
“I respect Dunloy so much,” says Beatty.
“They aren’t going for three-in-row by fluke, they are a serious hurling outfit and I actually enjoy watching them, but come Sunday, all respect goes out the window.
“We are there and we’re going to try to put it up to them and hopefully it goes our way.”