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Cushendall Ruairi Óg manager Terrance McNaughton driven by cousin James' memory

By Declan Bogue

Cushendall Ruairi Óg manager Terence McNaughton chuckles when he is asked if he has his side in the Lough Erne Hotel preparing for this weekend's Antrim Senior Hurling Championship semi-final against Dunloy (Sunday, Loughgiel, throw-in at 5.30pm).

Reminding us of the All-Ireland final of 25 years ago, McNaughton recalls: "The Friday before, I had to turn turf for a neighbour from nine in the morning until nine at night."

Joking aside, this season has been one of another kind of emotion in the club, following the passing of James McNaughton in February, who was all set to take the senior side along with cousin Terence. The two had a close bond.

"A man of 51 years of age," he began. "You hurled with him all through your juvenile career, senior, county. I roomed with James, hurled with James, fought with James and won Championships with James and played in an All-Ireland final with James."

Now, Terence manages James' three sons on the senior team and they are looking to build on their impressive win over 2012 All-Ireland champions Loughgiel Shamrocks.

"Obviously there would be motivation there," explains Sambo, "but in sport, there is no place for sympathy. It's alright for us, we have motivation, but other teams have motivation for themselves.

"Loughgiel were good champions, there is no question about it.

"You are always hoping the team are going to perform the way you want them to perform. For a few years we did not deliver but we have shown good heart, good character and that's all you can do. If you can walk off the field knowing you gave it everything, no matter what the scoreboard says, then that is success."

And just because they beat the runaway favourites, there are no guarantees against a Dunloy side under the shrewd management of Gregory 'Dick' O'Kane.

In attack, Sambo has to plan without his sons Shane and youngster Christy, the 17-year-old who sank Loughgiel with two goals in the quarter-final. Christy was injured in last week's minor final and cannot walk yet, while Shane is on a long road back from a hip operation.

"He was down at training last week for the first time, but he is a long way off to be fair," explains the former All-Star.

"He underwent a major operation and he more or less has to learn how to run again. They had to take the ball-joint out and sand it down. That's lay-man's terms, but they basically had to file it down and put silicon in it to smooth it down. His thigh was attached to his hip, it could not move and it was wedged together."

The other semi-final features St Gall's and Sarsfields (Saturday, Corrigan Park, 5.30pm).

Belfast Telegraph

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