By Michael McMullan
THE door may have closed on them, but Dunloy kept beating until it opened for the first time since 2009 on Sunday and the Four Seasons Cup found a new home for Christmas.
For manager Gregory O’Kane, a multiple championship winner as a player, he was content the latest crop of players eventually came of age.
“It’s great to get over the line in an Ulster final,” O’Kane said with the calmness of a manager just after overseeing a routine league win. But this was seismic.
“(This is) probably the day that this (Dunloy) team developed again. It was a game to be won and it had to be Sleacht Néill …that’s where it was today.”
The Emmet’s were winners on the last three meetings of the sides in 2017, 2019 and last season.
“In 2019, Sleacht Néill beat us in an Ulster final,” O’Kane replied when quizzed if there was a level of pressure to add Ulster silverware after their recent Antrim resurgence.
“I think we finished that match with something like eight U-21s…two of them were 20. That team needs to develop, that 19-year-old now is 23 or 24 and so on.
“Physically, with the big game experience…it takes all that. Probably today, we were fit to match Sleacht Néill physically and then let our hurling, when it was on, take over.”
It was a day when Dunloy bagged two first-half goals and had seven points from ace forward Conal Cunning.
There was another dimension. When Sleacht Néill fought their way back on level terms, it was Dunloy’s substitutes that added to the mix.
“Well, Sleacht Néill, they are so experienced and they have played in so many games, so you are not going to keep them quiet and they had a purple patch just after half-time.
“We just needed to get that steadied up and then the fresh legs at that stage were key to getting us over the line as anything.”
“Shorty (Paul Shiels) took a very heavy knock in the Antrim club final,” O’Kane said. “He couldn’t get it shifted for four weeks, so he has literally done two pitch sessions.
“Decky Smyth picked up an ankle injury in the semi-final against St John’s and he came really come back this last two weeks.”
“Nicky McKeague, he was massive off the bench and we had enough to get us over the line.”