By Michael McMullan
CUSHENDALL want to maintain a “winning mentality” when they lock horns with St John’s in their final group Senior Hurling Championship insists manager Brian Delargy.
A former championship winner with the ‘Dall, he believes three-in-a-row champions Dunloy are the standard bearers, but there is just a puck of the ball separating the chasing pack.
Cushendall backed up their 28-point win over Naomh Éanna with a hard-fought victory against Loughgiel.
“It took us a while to get going, but we performed better in the second half and pulled away to get the result, so we are happy enough,” Delargy said of their 1-20 to 1-15 win over the Shamrocks.
The Antrim format sees the group winners advance to the semi-finals where they await the teams who navigate the Qualifiers’ round.
The four-week break ahead of the semi-final gives teams the choice between resting any players with injuries and pencilling in a challenge game to maintain the focus.
Cushendall were pipped to the league title by a point by Portaferry, but Delargy insists it wasn’t the “main focus”.
“We brought in new players and the boys who came in did really well. Some of them have held onto their place now for the championship,” Delargy said.
When Martin Burke was forced out before the recent Loughgiel game, Ronan McAteer came in for his first championship debut.
Liam Gillan has hurled all the way through the season at corner back, while a thumb injury has had Shane McKenna on the sidelines and he’s only on his way back.
“Niall McCormick (hamstring) is coming back and Aaron Graffin dislocated his knee,” Delargy added of his injury update.
“Fergus McCambridge has a wee knock after the Loughgiel game. It was a tough game, so we will see how it is this week at training.”
Cushendall had five players on Antrim duty this season and Delargy – who spent two seasons as a selector under John McEvoy in Derry – feels hurling with the county is a huge plus, but the important factor is allowing players an adequate break.
Neil McManus is now in his 19th season of senior club hurling, while Paddy Burke and Eoghan Campbell were also regulars under Darren Gleeson.
“Scott (Walsh) and Ryan (McCambridge) maybe didn’t get as many games, but they did all the training. You have to give them a chance to come down again to get back up. Fingers crossed we can keep them fit for the rest of the campaign,” stressed Delargy.
In his second year in charge, he heads up a management team that includes former teammates Karl McKeegan, Odhran Scullion and Sean Delargy, while Derry man Oisin Quinn oversees the conditioning side of things.
“The split has worked well and it is about managing their workload so they are not done by the business end of our championship,” Brian explains.
“We are hungry for it and working seriously hard,” Delargy said. “Dunloy are going to be favourites in everybody’s minds.
“The plan is to get a crack at them, but there is only a puck of a ball between the teams who are chasing and it’s all on the day.
“Every year is competitive, I know Dunloy have won three in a row, but it’s definitely a competitive championship.”