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John McKillop: Being Antrim champions is everything to us

By Declan Bogue

A couple of weeks ago, Cushendall and Antrim hurler Neil McManus assessed the contribution of manager John McKillop, on a wider scale, to the Ruairi Og Cushendall club.

He is the type that belongs to every club, that never refuses a task no matter how small. He has been everything from the water boy to the senior team, up to the club Chairman, but admitted that yesterday's victory in Dunloy might have been his most treasured day in his involvement in the GAA, coming in his first year as senior manager.

"To me, it's my best one yes, because I am manager," he exclaimed with relish.

"I have been selector, stickman, every other thing. I have waited a long time. I have been involved in managing now from 1995, training teams and that. I have waited a long time for this and thank God, we are Antrim champions again. That's all that matters."

The nature of the victory possibly made it all the sweeter, coming as it did with a frantic fashion, the destination of the Volunteer Cup in doubt right until the death.

He warned: "I said it all along that Ballycastle was going to be dangerous. Fair play to them, you couldn't fault a Ballycastle man there today."

He acknowledged that they had played a rollercoaster Championship, in beating a game St John's and then Loughgiel in the refixed semi-final.

"We do it the hard way. We don't do easy Championships. But that's the character that's in this team, there is so much character," he added.

Asked how much it meant to retain this Antrim title, he removed himself from indulging in credit for last year's triumph, answering: "You would have to ask Terence (McNaughton, last year's manager) that. I wasn't part of the set-up last year. To me, a good team wins it once, it's a special team wins it twice. This is a special team."

The intention is now to give the Ulster title a rattle, and they will have scouts at the quarter-final between Lisbellaw St Patrick's of Fermanagh against Armagh representatives Middletown, the winners of which they will face in the semi-final.

"I said at the start of the year that we want to get back there. We want to try and win this. You can't correct the wrongs if you don't get there."

For crestfallen Ballycastle manager Ronan Donnelly, there was no consolation in his charges producing a performance of serious honesty and effort.

Pressed on if he would be staying on, he replied: "To be honest, I don't know. I'm deeply involved in our youth teams and because it was a three-month window here it suited me. Our youth structures maybe suffered a wee bit because of it.

"I've a young family. This job is worse than 10 normal jobs. It takes up every minute of your time, you have sleepless nights, picking teams. It's ridiculous the amount of time you put into it and then to come away from that game today…"

You feel his pain. Cruel game, hurling.

Belfast Telegraph


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