McKinley out to repeat Slaughtneil success with Saffrons
Sometimes, the maxim that hard work brings success can sound corny, and even trite. But for Dominic 'Woody' McKinley, it's always been an article of faith. Events over the last few weeks have only strengthened his belief in the process.
Just over a month ago, he was manager of the Slaughtneil camogie team when they won the All-Ireland Camogie Championship, beating Sarsfields in a never-to-be-forgotten day in Croke Park. The members of that team were tempered in the furnace of hard training by the sadly departed Thomas Cassidy, a tactic retained by McKinley.
As midfielder Louise Dougan said the week before the final: "We were probably cursing him up and down, making you do that extra run and all, but he knew it would all pay off."
McKinley knew that effort would translate to the Antrim senior hurlers when he agreed to go back as joint manager. They needed to go to the dark places in order to grow belief.
"Even the girls I worked with in Slaughtneil, we made them do it," said McKinley.
"You talk about words, you use words carefully. When you talk about belief, belief comes from a lot of different things. You build up an inner strength through hard work. There's some psychology in that, and then you build up camaraderie and togetherness, unity and so on.
"But they had done their work and that's why they deserve what they got. This is going to help us as people and managers. They might think, 'these boys are right in what they are saying'."
The first reward for their graft came last Saturday in Newry, when they ran out winners in a dogfight of a Division 2A final against Carlow.
Watching from the stands in Pairc Esler was DJ Kane, the captain of the Down 1994 football team that brought home Sam Maguire. He had been drafted in at the start of the year to bring the players through a pre-season of suffering for the greater good.
They shed a few along the way. Players they would even like to have kept, but attitude was the baseline requirement.
"This is nothing against anyone who managed or trained them before, but we just felt that for a lot of years they didn't seriously train hard enough and we wanted to get a programme in place. Anyone that was in it for the wrong reasons wouldn't be there in the end," insisted McKinley.
Last Tuesday night, the Saffrons regrouped. They laid out the week in front of them and vowed to post up three sessions.
They have a novel fixture against Donegal today at Celtic Park in the Ulster senior hurling semi-final. If all goes to plan, they have a final against either Armagh or Down next week. Then it's straight into the Christy Ring campaign against a Carlow side that will be looking to draw blood.
"We will not be weakening our team too much, we will show Donegal the respect they deserve for being there. But we will give some game time to players to reward them for the effort they have put in," noted McKinley.
A hurling development officer within the county with his son Conor playing midfield at present, McKinley is delighted that the county season appears to be front-loaded without the gaps that habitually leak the air of the football season.
"What it does is let the players go back to their clubs for the Championship. They will train and play hard with us and by the end of July, they can ship back to their clubs," he reasoned.
"One thing is that they will be going back knowing they have done their work, that they are fit and can add to the club.
"There is an animosity between club and county when it comes to Championship time around fixtures and everything. It's a lockdown for everybody."
In the immediate aftermath of victory over Carlow, the man they call 'Woody' had to check his exuberant celebrations. He knew that some Antrim people would object to high spirits after a win over Carlow, but he just couldn't help himself. If you had asked him 10 or 15 years ago if he would have been running around shaking hands and jumping about, he would have laughed.
As for where they could be in a decade, he prefers to take it competition by competition.
"We want to win the Christy Ring but next year consolidate our place in that division," he replied.
"That would have to be a target, and if we are all fit and well, we will play our part in that. You want to consolidate, stay there a year and then you want to think about getting into league semi-finals and quarter-finals of the National League. That's our long-term goal.
"That's not getting ahead of ourselves, it's looking at how important next year is as well and how we rejuvenate the whole thing and go again and go again."
- Antrim v Donegal, Ulster SHC semi-final: Celtic Park, Derry, Today, 3.00pm