By Michael McMullan
DUNLOY scoring ace Conal Cunning says Sunday’s opponents Sleacht Néill are a “top class” team and feels his own side need to find a greater level of consistency to push on to the next level.
This season delivered a 16th Antrim title for Dunloy since their first in 1990 and the current crop have completed four-in-a-row in 2022, but it has been 13 years since they’ve been at the top of the tree in Ulster.
After coming off the end of an underage production line that has reinvigorated Dunloy’s senior fortunes, Cunning is happy to have the experience of Paul Shiels and Conor McKinley in their camp.
“It’s nice to get four in a row and be part of the Dunloy team to be winning championships, that’s what you strive for,” he said.
“Winning the four in a row is great, but we are looking to achieve more. In my eyes, if you are happy with what you’ve got, then that’s when you stop.”
Standing in way of Cunning’s first taste of Ulster glory is a Sleacht Néill team he always felt would be the opponents of whatever team emerged from Antrim.
“Sleacht Néill are a top class team, they really are,” Cunning said. “They are top class players and are top class athletes.”
Looking on at their exploits for club and county in both codes, Cunning feels Dunloy must be at their “very best” on Sunday to ask questions of the champions.
It’s the standard they’ve set for everyone else to follow, with experience in the championship arena among a number of elements.
“You could argue a lot of things,” Cunning said of their opponents’ plus points.
“There is the physicality, their use of the ball and maybe they play a different style of hurling to a style that we’d be used to playing,” he said, before echoing the Emmet’s use of the ball as a key component.
But they have to get their own house in order, as Cunning explains. They have yet to play at a level they are capable of.
“Maybe in the last four or five years we have performed in patches, but we haven’t performed consistently over the 60 minutes,” he said.
“At this level, if you are not performing for the majority of those 60 minutes, it is just not going to work for you.
“Yes, we have played well in patches that have got us scores, but we have not done it consistently, so that’s the thing we need to work on.”
Dunloy were searching for an Ulster Intermediate Football title until they came a cropper at the hands of Donegal champions Dungloe, with Cunning one of a 11 dual players to feature in both sides.
While he feels it’s not an option to balance both codes as county level, it’s different in the club game with rising standards in recovery and preparation.
“Football benefits the hurling and the hurling benefits the football,” he said. “You are getting more game time and it’s not easy to re-enact a game situation in training.
“The game time situation we are getting in the football have helped in the hurling…if you are fit and well, you should be able to play both for your club.”