Croke Park is a special place: Gregory O’Kane

INCLUDING a draw with Birr on the club’s first ever visit to Croke Park in 1995, Dunloy will contest their sixth All-Ireland final in the New Year.

Now the undisputed top dogs in Antrim, they shook free from the clutches of Sleacht Néill and the penance of Keelan Molloy’s wonder goal sent the Antrim champions back into dreamland.

“Croke Park is a special place,” manager Gregory O’Kane said after Sunday’s win over St Thomas’. “A club like Dunloy, our ambition is always to be here and to play a game of this magnitude.

“That’s always been our goal, to get out of Ulster and to represent ourselves and our club on the best stage in the world, and bring our hurling here.

“It’s a good day for the team and we are delighted to get over the line.”

O’Kane, who was the club’s leading marksman during a decorated club and county career, is now in his eighth season as manager after playing in all of Dunloy’s All-Ireland finals.

Dunloy had the luxury of seeing goalkeeper Gerard Kelly turn Conal Cunning’s penalty away during a tight first half when the Ulster champions looked like it would be an afternoon of woe in Dublin.

“We were glad of half time,” O’Kane admitted of getting his side into the solace of the dressing room to regroup.

“ He insisted his squad had done nothing wrong and it was about polishing up their approach.

“It was about resetting at half time and gathering our composure and getting set for the second half.

“There’s no doubt about it, it’s about taking your chances, especially when you are here and our defence was absolutely outstanding here today.

“The way they closed down attacks, and our match-ups were fantastic and everyone put their shoulder to the wheel.”

The game hinged on a moment of brilliance. Nigel Elliott’s paw plucked cousin Ryan’s puck-out before offloading to Molloy to score the game’s only goal.

“They are special players,” O’Kane said of Molloy and Elliott’s input.

“Keelan Molloy is an outstanding player and you just know he’s going to produce something…he’s one of those players.”

As for Elliott, O’Kane spoke of his relief that the half-forward was available after a spell in Australia since their 2019 Ulster final defeat to Sleacht Néill.

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