Cushendall have cause for optimism

By Niall Gartland

CUSHENDALL don’t have the best record in All-Ireland semi-finals – and that shouldn’t be a stick to beat them with – but at the same time they have reason to believe that they can put it up to Kilkenny side O’Loughlin Gaels in Sunday’s last-four date at Navan.

The Ruairi Ogs have lost nine All-Ireland semi-finals in their history, the exception being their wonderful victory against Sarsfields back in early 2016 – coincidentally in Navan.

Many of the players lining out that day are still involved, so that’s something, but perhaps more relevant is how Ulster teams have fared on the national stage in recent years.

Dunloy made it all the way to last year’s final and gave Ballyhale Shamrocks a fright, while Sleacht Néill have been very competitive indeed in their recent All-Ireland semi-finals.

Cushendall got the better of the Derry kingpins with a deserved victory in the Ulster SHC final a fortnight ago and now manager Brian Delargy is confident that they won’t play second fiddle against an O’Loughlin Gaels team that can call upon elite-level defenders Huw Lawlor and Mikey Butler among others.

Delargy said: “There isn’t a big gap between Ulster teams and the rest at club level and at intercounty level you can see how Antrim have been climbing the ladder in the last couple of years.

“Clubs that manage to come through their county and provincial championships are obviously doing a lot of things right, between strength and conditioning, training and preparation and Cushendall are no different. We have very high standards, we’re an ambitious group and this is where we want to be so I’m just delighted to be here.”

O’Loughlin Gaels have been installed as favourites which is generally the way of it when Ulster teams move on from the provincial stage, but Delargy says they’re not over-thinking matters ahead of the game.

“I’ve viewed a few of their matches but when you get to this stage it’s mainly about yourself to be honest. You want to make sure the performance levels are high and to be fair our performance against Sleacht Néill on our last day out was one of our best of the year. We’ve got to match that, we can’t be worrying too much about what we’re coming up against.”

Cushendall hold happy memories of Pairc Tailteann in Navan as that’s where they broke their All-Ireland semi-final hoodoo back in early 2016 with a thumping 3-12 to 1-6 victory over Galway side Sarsfields. Delargy says the venue is pretty much irrelevant, however.

“You can’t make a big deal about any venue, we have to be prepared whenever the game is held. Some of the boys have good memories of playing in Navan but at the end of the day it’s a pitch with two nets and we’d have gone to Cork or wherever else for an All-Ireland semi-final.”

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