John McKillop: Cushendall in fine fettle for their final bid
A quartet of weekends away has provided the platform for Ruairi Óg Cushendall's preparations for tomorrow's All-Ireland Hurling Senior Club semi-final against the famous Sarsfields club of Galway (Pairc Tailteann Navan, 2pm).
On different weekends, manager John McKillop has brought his Antrim and Ulster champions south for games against Dublin, Dublin Institute of Technology, Wexford and Cork.
Given that none of those sides would have had any call to travel to Antrim, it has required a massive fundraising effort on behalf of the club. McKillop states that this work is hugely appreciated by the squad.
"It's been unreal," he said. "If you go on to the Ruairi Óg website and click on the hurling ball at the front, you can see the amount of people around the world that have donated.
"They are coming from all over the world. Most are Cushendall people, but they are from places like Canada, America, all over the place."
The club also hosted a Night at the Dogs at Drumbo Park on February 22, but such efforts are required to ensure meaningful challenge matches.
McKillop believes they have learned from past failed attempts to make it to the St Patrick's Day showpiece final. In the '90s, Cushendall reached the penultimate stage only to fall to Clare side St Joseph's Doora-Barefield after a replay.
In 2009, they missed out in taking out De La Salle of Waterford due to a sensational late equalising sideline cut by David Phelan.
"We had a few challenge matches," explained McKillop, who is a distant relation of Paralympian Michael McKillop. To complete the circle, Michael's father Paddy trained the Cushendall side of the '90s with John's brother, Junior, on the side.
"That's what we wanted, we talked about it. We thought any time we were there before, we thought we didn't get good enough challenge matches."
And McKillop believes that this side can fulfil their potential.
"We have left no stone unturned. We have never been in a final before and we will be trying everything we can," he added.