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'GAA dropped the ball': Dunloy bemoan lack of Ulster Championship after breezing to county success again

Dunloy 2-20 Loughgiel 2-13

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Champions: Dunloy celebrate as they win the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship

Champions: Dunloy celebrate as they win the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Dunloy’s Eoin O’Neill

Dunloy’s Eoin O’Neill

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Champions: Dunloy celebrate as they win the Antrim Senior Hurling Championship

A strange summer began drawing in around Ballycastle with the Dunloy team heading over to their adoring supporters to accept their applause at the fence after blowing Loughgiel away and defending their senior hurling Championship.

In the carnage of celebration, an oversized teddy bear wearing green and gold was discarded on the turf, with the surreal touch that it was wearing a face mask. What a year it's been.

The hurlers of Dunloy will remember this fondly. They were up against it given their dual commitments nudged into this week with an Intermediate semi-final win over All Saints Ballymena only on Tuesday night.

And yet when they won the toss here, they elected to play against the huge wind blowing out towards the coast and Rathlin Island beyond it for the first half.

Despite that, they went in at half time on level peggings. Their goal from their 1-7 tally at that stage coming from Eoin O'Neill being alive to a Kevin Molloy shot partly saved to drill to the net.

"We wanted to start strong and we have a lot of pace through the lines. It probably suits a team like us to go against the breeze," said their manager Gregory O'Kane afterwards.

"The use of the ball, putting it to hand, and then running it through, it was first class. I would say probably, the first 15 minutes set the tone for us to go on and win it."

In the third quarter, they stitched eight points over to Loughgiel's two as they took control and pressured an overworked Shamrocks defence.

With Conal 'Coby' Cunning outstanding from frees and Paul Shiels conducting affairs in a sweeper role, Keelan Molloy and others had the platform to show their skills which included Molloy and O'Neill both slicing over improbable points from almost the corner flag.

The second goal came when Kevin Molloy feasted on a loose ball and despite a desperate lunge from Tiernan Coyle, he kept his balance to round goalkeeper Chrissy O'Connell and tap to the net to put 10 points between the sides.

Two late goals arrived for Loughgiel through Liam Watson and substitute Benny McCarry, but it was mere a gloss on the scoreboard with all the major battles won by Dunloy.

The great pity is that there will not be a repeat of last year's classic encounter with Slaughtneil, the county finals signalling an end to the season.

O'Kane feels there is an opportunity lost.

"We would have loved it. I think the GAA dropped the ball there. There is so much focus and goodwill in the club game. So much exuberance coming out of clubs, all over Ireland. And all of a sudden people are seeing everybody hurl, which is great.

"I thought they should have played it to a conclusion, but we are delighted."

Dunloy: R Elliott; P Duffy, A Crawford, C Kinsella; R Molloy, C McKinley, R McGarry; P Shiels (0-1f), N McKeague; S Elliott (0-2), Kevin Molloy (1-2), Keelan Molloy (0-5); C Cunning (0-8, 6f), G McTaggart, E O'Neill (1-2)

Subs: E Smyth for McKeague (51m), C McMahon for McTaggart (56m), Kevin McKeague for Crawford (63m)

Loughgiel: C O'Connell; T Coyle, N McGarry, S Dobbin; Declan McCloskey, D McMullan, T McCloskey; D McKinley (0-3), Daniel McCloskey; J McNaughton (0-4f), C McKendry, E McCloskey (0-1); S McGrath (0-1), L Watson (1-4, 1-0f, 1SL), S Casey (0-1)

Subs: B McCarry (1-0) for McKendry (40m), R McKee for Casey (40), O McFadden for T McCloskey (55m)

Referee: Darren McKeown (St Gall's)

Belfast Telegraph