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Campbell wants final chapter to remember

By Declan bBogue

"Don't get me wrong," says the reluctant Loughgiel Shamrocks manager Johnny Campbell. "I would swap the world and its dog to be able to pull a red jersey on me on Sunday. It is the place you want to be.

"Unfortunately I can't do that but hopefully I have added something to the guys' preparations and we can do the business."

For Campbell, one of the finest half-backs Antrim and Loughgiel ever produced, his hips ended him as a player. And so at the tender age of 34, he is now the manager leading his club to tomorrow's Antrim hurling final, attempting to knock Cushendall off their perch.

"Basically, the hips don't lie. I had cartilage tears and stuff like that in the hips. I still have a pain there," he explains. "To go through the operation and the rehab… I am 34 now so it didn't weigh up, unfortunately," he says.

In his playing days, he had many managers to learn from and he singles out Dinny Cahill, the man who handed him his county debut as a "big influence," adding: "I played under Woody and Sambo, I played under PJ (O'Mullan), Jim Nelson was involved there too. If you didn't pick something up, then you are doing something wrong."

As a matter of fact, he has turned to Woody - Dominic McKinley - to take some training sessions since the focus switched from the league to championship.

As selectors, he brought in Martin Gillen - who actually first coached Johnny as a child - and Paddy McGarry, two men synonymous with youth coaching in the club.

That knowledge of the young guns has been prominent in how they have given a platform to younger players such as Maol Connolly and Damon McMullan in their 0-19 to 0-12 win over Ballycastle in the semi-final, and the 4-24 to 1-7 quarter-final hammering of St Gall's. "We have given them chances when maybe the easier thing would have been to stick with the tried and trusted," says Campbell.

"But any time you threw them in, they have stood up and anyone who sees gametime this weekend or any weekend they fully merit it."

As for the last two years of not featuring in the Volunteer Cup decider, Campbell puts it into context.

"Whenever I started out hurling, we hadn't made it to a county final in 14 years. Then we started getting to finals and started getting some success after so many losses," he says.

"It's not something we take for granted. Before I started, you didn't know when you would get to the final. You just had to keep your head down and try to hurl. These are the days you live to hurl on."

Loughgiel have been installed as favourites for the game, Cushendall's odds offset by missing Shane McNaughton and Arron Graffin. Bookies odds have little interest to Campbell, who states: "It was the same when we got to the All-Ireland final. The form book goes out the window.

"For me, it's a 50-50 game. I know, that's what you would expect me to say, but honestly, look at the time we won four in a row, in 2014 there was nothing but a puck of the ball in it. It was the same last year, they only beat us by a point and reached an All-Ireland final.

"It will be as close a game this weekend and it will be the small things that make the difference."

  • Cushendall v Loughgiel, Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Final: Ballycastle, Sunday, 3.00pm

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