Paul Shiels is hoping to play a part in what could be a significant sporting double this weekend.
On Friday he will be proudly wearing his Dunloy club colours when the first phase of a magnificent Sports Academy complex is formally declared open in the village and then on Sunday he will skipper Antrim in their All Ireland Hurling Championship quarter-final at Croke Park against Cork.
Still only 21, Shiels missed most of last year because of a serious hip ligament problem, only returning for Dunloy’s involvement in the All Ireland Club Championship at the start of this year.
Since then he has regained full fitness and now, having led the Saffrons to victories over Down, Carlow and Dublin in rapid succession, he is setting his sights on claiming the scalp of Cork — a feat that would project Dinny Cahill’s side sharply into the national spotlight.
Shiels has just spent his year out from university in the employment of Creagh Concrete and believes that the formal opening of the Dunloy complex, which will be attended by GAA President Christy Cooney and RTE’s Micheal O Muirheartaigh, could hardly be more opportune given Antrim’s mission on Sunday.
“The launch of the Academy complex with its excellent state of the art facilities is another massive step forward for the club and for Antrim. This will be a focal point for teams to train and prepare for games and it will certainly help to nurture a lot of new talent in both hurling and football,” points out Shiels (pictured), just one of a number of younger players in the side who have helped to spark considerable optimism for the future. Chris O’Connell is developing into an excellent goalkeeper, Cormac Donnelly is a proverbial rock at full-back, Shane McNaughton carries a quiet air of authority at midfield and PJ |O’Connell is proving a sharp marksman at right-full-forward. The experience within the side is provided by defenders Johnny Campbell and Ciaran Herron, midfield ace Karol Stewart and forwards Karl McKeegan and Neil McManus.
Shiels continues: “To be playing championship hurling at this time of the year is great.
“They may have lost the Munster hurling final replay to Waterford but Cork are still an excellent side. Look at the experience they have — players like John Gardiner, Tom Kenny, Ronan Curran, Ben O’Connor, Eoin Cadogan and Sean Og O hAilpin are among the very best in the business. But we have belief in our own ability and we want to do ourselves proud.”