Dunloy focus turns towards an All-Ireland bid

By Michael McMullan

WITH their 13-year wait for an Ulster title over, the Dunloy attention will quickly switch to the All-Ireland series insists goalkeeper Ryan Elliott.

Sunday’s win over the club’s 11th Ulster title since making the breakthrough to take a first Antrim title in 1990 and despite playing in five All-Ireland finals they have yet to win club hurling’s biggest prize.

The closest venture – with Ryan’s father Shane between the posts – came in 1995 when they had Birr on the back foot before being taken to a replay which they lost.

“You can’t put it into words how good it is,” Elliott said of the moment himself and Paul Shiels lifted the cup on Sunday.

“There were grown men out there, myself included and we were in tears. It means the world to us, me and ‘Shorty’ (Shiels) were only representing a group of 35 people.”

Now it’s about new territory. The last time the club graced the All-Ireland stage was 2010 when they went down to at the semi-final stage to a Portumna team searching for a third successive title.

On a day Galway legend Joe Canning amassed 1-8, Shiels, Kevin McKeague and Kevin Molloy from the current panel formed the half-back line.

LAST TIME…Seaan and Ryan Elliott, as youngsters, celebrate with Dunloy’s 2009 Ulster winning team

“We are in a new territory,” Elliott points out of a team with an average age just under 25 from Sunday’s starting 15.

“We are going into the unknown, but the monkey is off our backs now. Sleacht Néill has been in our heads for years, since 2017.

“Now we have got that out of the way, we can play with a bit of freedom now and we’ll make no bones about it, we are going to attack the semi-final.”

With 13 years since the club’s last Ulster success, nothing is guaranteed and Elliott sees their clash with Galway giants St Thomas’ at Croke Park as a huge opportunity.

The 2013 All-Ireland champions saw off Loughrea after a replay to clinch a fifth county title out west.

For Dunloy, they have dominated the Saffron county scene, but have lived in the shadows of Sleacht Néill in Ulster, something that was addressed in the acceptance speech on Sunday.

Dunloy’s 2017 Ulster semi-final defeat to the Derry side was the club’s first ever defeat in provincial competition and hurling debate always dominates a fanatical village like Dunloy.

“Everybody has been talking about it, but it is hard to get away from it in your own club,” Elliott explained.

“Before that, Dunloy had never lost an Ulster match before this team. We were the first to lose one and that was always disappointing.

“Sleacht Néill are an unbelievable team, so you are looking at what they are doing that we can do better, how are we training and all the things like that.”

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