Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

McNaughton confident new focus can see Cushendall net success

Final push: Cushendall's Shane McNaughton (right) knows that his team will have to be at their best to chase down Loughgiel

The only time the hurlers of Ruairi Óg, Cushendall would have seen county final opponents Loughgiel Shamrocks defeated in Championship hurling since February 2011, came last spring when Galway's St Thomas' slipped passed them in an All-Ireland semi-final replay.

However, such is the familiarity that these two great rival clubs have with each other, there is no need for manager Aidan McAteer to burn the midnight oil studying a DVD of that game.

"We haven't looked at any other games involving them because we have all been playing on the same teams since we were 15 or 16 over and over again," claims Cushendall's Shane McNaughton.

"We have been playing with these boys and we know the different players and what qualities they bring to the thing."

With that level of intimate knowledge, the Ruairi Óg approach will be to look within themselves and produce what they are capable of, something that by their own admission, they have found difficult since their last Antrim title in 2008.

"We haven't focussed at all on them," continues McNaughton.

"We know we have the players there to beat them if we can get going, it's just in recent years I know we haven't got going at all.

"We have been selling ourselves short now for the last few years so we are hoping to bring that to an end."

In order to do that against the team that were crowned All-Ireland champions in 2012, they need to have complete concentration.

"This year we are a lot more focused than we would have been in any other year," said McNaughton.

"Previously we would have had a lot of distractions through one thing and another. This year everything is going the same direction."

They will also look to their respective paths to the final as a source of encouragement. Cushendall had to see off the rising threat of St John's in the first round before scraping past Dunloy.

By contrast, Loughgiel have had it rather easy against St Gall's, Cloughmills and latterly, Ballycastle. Cushendall will be hoping that they are more battle-hardened by this stage.

An injection of some youthful insouciance has also given their challenge some much-needed impetus.

"The young boys going through our team have been a good boost," said McNaughton.

"It has improved our team massively and it means that we now have a panel to work from whereas in previous years we only had the first 15 and our bench wasn't that good. You can't win county Championships like that."

Like the football final on Saturday, Sunday's hurling final will be in novel surrounds this time, namely Ballycastle.

The sheer ease of access for many hurling folk in the Glens will ensure a bumper crowd and it could make for an entirely different atmosphere than a crowd that could be dwarfed in the cavernous Casement Park.

"I am really looking forward to it and so is everybody else," reveals McNaughton.

"At the same time I would love to play at Casement because it is one of my favourite pitches, Ballycastle is a great pitch too so it's no different than Casement in a lot of important ways.

"Having said that, everyone will be right down on the pitch and it will bring a whole new dimension to it."

* ARMAGH'S 2002 All-Ireland winner Ronan Clarke hopes to take Monaghan Harps a step nearer the county Senior Football Championship final when they meet Clontibret in the semi-finals, with Scotstown and Ballybay crossing swords in the other tie.

"We will need to up our game for this one because Clontibret are Championship specialists," points out Clarke.

"They have a lot of very experienced players in their side."

Certainly, on that score Clontibret look to hold the whip hand. Vinny Corey, Dessie Mone and Conor McManus prop up their side while Neil McAdam and Conor Galligan will be in the vanguard of the Harps challenge.

In the other semi the Hughes brothers, Darren and Kieran, along with goalkeeper Rory Beggan will be key figures in a Scotstown side that will face a Ballybay outfit powered by the Wylie brothers Drew and Ryan.

Meanwhile, the Down semi-final between reigning champions Kilcoo and Mayobridge which had been scheduled for tonight at Pairc Esler Newry has been postponed until Monday night following the death of former GAA President Paddy MacFlynn.