Donnelly is urging Ballycastle to seize golden chance of title success
Club legend Dessie Donnelly has told Ballycastle McQuillan's to embrace the big occasion tomorrow as they gear up to take part in Antrim hurling's showpiece day for the first time in 14 years.
Facing reigning champions Ruairi Óg Cushendall (at Dunloy, throw-in 3pm) the 1989 hurling All-Star maintains that his club will be right in contention.
"You always have a chance," the architect said. "There is no doubt about that. It can be all on the day. Whenever you don't get to finals that often you just have to embrace the entire day. Go out and hurl the best you can."
The last time Ballycastle, or 'The Town' as they are known, were in the final, they were defeated 3-15 to 1-17 by Dunloy, who were desperately unfortunate not to win an All-Ireland club title during that spell. Prior to that, the last time the duo faced off in the decider was 1996, with a number of present-day players' fathers doing battle.
The subsequent slump for the club wasn't something that anyone saw coming. Donnelly, the club secretary, explained: "It has to go around everybody. Nobody dominates forever at anything. Everybody has to get their turn and it comes in cycles."
Their task against Cushendall will not be simple. While Ballycastle have more or less been without full-back Cormac Donnelly for the last three years due to injury, the opposition have Aaron Graffin, Shane McNaughton and Neil McManus all returning and finding form at the right time.
During the last decade, Ballycastle have not been idle as a club and their facilities are possibly the envy of most clubs in the county. But Donnelly warned: "Facilities aren't everything. While they are good to have, you would still gauge yourself on performances."
Ballycastle began their Championship campaign with a win over O'Donovan Rossa in Belfast's Corrigan Park, a game that could have proved a banana skin, owing to the venue and Rossa's successful run to the All-Ireland Intermediate title.
The prospect of taking Rossa lightly had to be ruthlessly dismissed as they faced a vociferous Belfast support.
"Full concentration had to be taken. You had to give them respect after what they achieved in the All-Ireland Intermediate. They knew what it took to win close games during that run," recalled Donnelly.
It was the semi-final win over Dunloy, however, that delivered a huge confidence boost.
"We hadn't beaten Cushendall, Dunloy or Loughgiel for a number of years in the Championship and it was good to get over that," Donnelly explained.
Ballycastle are managed by Dessie's cousin Ronan, who took over from Paul McKillen in mid-season, hoping to make light of their 5/2 odds.
"(Ronan) is only retired a couple of years and he would have played along with a lot of the lads in the squad. They know him and what way he works," Donnelly added.