ANTRIM SENIOR HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
Dunloy v Cushendall
Sunday, Corrigan Park, 3pm
THE buzz remains the same in Cushendall as they face into a first county final since 2019 and talisman Neil McManus counts himself
lucky to be able to hurl at the top level.
Cushendall were on the wrong side of a 3-16 to 2-15 defeat at the hands of Dunloy in their last decider and if they can overcome Sunday’s favourites, they join Dunloy on 15 titles on the roll of honour.
“There has always been a good build up to county finals, going back to before I was involved,” said McManus, now in his 19th season of senior hurling.
“There is a huge tradition and passion for hurling, like a lot of the North Antrim villages.”
Like Sunday opponents, they arrive on final day unbeaten having topped their group after a feeling out process during the round robin series with county players getting fully integrated back into their respective club teams.
“We have been playing well, but we have plenty to improve on as well,” McManus points out.
Goals from Maol Connolly and Rian McMullan saw Loughgiel stage a barnstorming comeback, but Cushendall held on against the Shamrocks in a 3-14 to 2-16 semi-final win, a game McManus sees as perfect preparation for Sunday’s final.
“It was incredibly tight, but nothing that should’ve surprised anyone. Both sets of players knew it would come down to very fine margins and it did,” he said.
“I have been involved in championship hurling for nearly two decades with Cushendall and you know going into that game there would be a puck of a ball in it…that’s exactly how it worked out in the end.”
“If you asked any player from the panel, they’d have said it was going to go down to the wire. That’s why it was the best team in the championship so far, everybody knew there was nothing between the sides and that turned out to be the case.”
McManus admits Dunloy are the standout team over the last five seasons in Antrim and the four-in-a-row backs it up.
“Little more needs said than that,” he said. “They absolutely demolished St John’s in their semi-final and we have had huge battles with that St John’s team over the past four or five years.
“That was a real statement of intent, there is doubt about it. They have a lot of quality and are raging hot favourites for that reason.”
McManus knows the talent they face from hurling with Dunloy’s Antrim contingent. Rather than trying to look out for their key players, the best approach is to focus on their own game.
“You’d be trying to single out nearly their whole team,” he said.
“In Cushendall, we have to try and put our best foot forward on the day.
“That’s all we are in control of because they are very much like the Dunloy team of the early 2000s who won many consecutive championships.”
McManus leads the attack and is savouring the build-up to Sunday’s decider, like the others in his steller club and county career.
“I am so lucky to be able to still play at the highest level within Antrim. It is such a pleasure and it is a great bunch of lads to be involved with,” he stressed.
“From a personal point of view, hurling is still such a passion and I have been very fortunate to be doing it as long as I am.”