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Plan to unleash Elliott paid off in style, beams O'Kane

Dunloy 3-16 Cushendall 2-15

Silver lining: Dunloy’s Keelan Molloy celebrates after scoring yesterday
Silver lining: Dunloy’s Keelan Molloy celebrates after scoring yesterday
Dunloy captain Paul Shiels lifts trophy
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

The names hardly ever change and the Antrim hurling final is usually decided by one of them, as an Elliott came off the bench for Dunloy with 20 minutes remaining tasked with producing something special and young Seaan nailed two goals in the 59th and 61st minutes to bring the Volunteer Cup back to his club for the 13th time.

It was a brave call for Cúchullains manager Gregory O'Kane to make, but he outlined his reasons after sitting the 19-year-old plumber down at training on Thursday night to tell him he would be a late introduction.

"He's only out of minor. He was flying in training and we just felt we could get him in when the spaces started to open up, and it worked," said O'Kane.

The manager, a hugely-respected figure in Antrim hurling, lost his mother and father within the space of eight weeks between November and January, and added: "Hurling has always been good to me and there was probably never a better time to be involved in hurling.

"And these players are fantastic; they deliver for you and I've a wonderful management team too. With a group around me like that, they help me a lot."

Until Elliott's first goal, the contest was in the balance. Dunloy's 10 first-half wides showed they had played plenty of hurling, but at times it looked as if Cushendall were about to disappear over the horizon after a harmless Fergus McCambridge effort was lost in the low sun by goalkeeper Ryan Elliott and dropped into the net.

With Neil McManus on his frees and Arron Graffin a late replacement, they were plugging holes at the back but managing it quite successfully.

Frees from Conal 'Coby' Cunning helped weather the storm for Dunloy but in the last attack of the first half Nigel Elliott got onto a puckout and drove a bouncing ball past Cushendall goalkeeper Conor McAllister to leave them 1-8 to 1-9 down at the break.

Dunloy had many brave performances on the day, but few acts were as courageous as Phelim Duffy throwing himself at a goalmouth scramble in the 43rd minute.

A minute later, Dunloy finally regained the lead they lost half an hour earlier but Cushendall put two over straight away.

With two minutes left, following a Ryan McCambridge wide, the puckout travelled down the Fair Head side of the pitch.

Substitute Gabriel McTaggart caught it and sent Seaan Elliott away. He has pace to burn and nobody was back to catch him as he netted.

His older brother Nigel was the next to present him with a pass and while he missed his catch, he recovered, danced his way around a rolling maul of a tackle, threw the ball in the air and batted it to the net one-handed.

They had to withstand a furious last flurry of punches from Ruairí Óg, who had a shot saved, hit the post and saw a goal disallowed, before they heard the last glorious peeps from referee Colm McDonald's whistle.

"Every week, every month they're becoming more athletic and they're developing," added manager O'Kane of a group largely coming off the back of four successive triumphs at minor level.

"They are (mostly) 21 years of age. In terms of 2017, I felt we'd improved again and we just needed to get back to a county final. If we get there we always feel we can win them."

He cited last year's semi-final ambush by Loughgiel as a huge learning curve for both himself and his players.

"Last year was probably the best lesson we got," he said.

"It was hard at the time but it was a good lesson. Every day is a learning day. Every day you think you're on top is the day that you can be toppled. But in terms of 2017, I'd say we've improved."

Dunloy now go on to play Down champions Ballycran, who beat Portaferry in their final.

DUNLOY: R Elliott; P Duffin, C McKinley, A Crawford; E Smith, K McKeague, R McGarry; P Shields 0-1, R Molloy; K Molloy 0-1, C Brogan, N Elliott 1-1; E O'Neill 0-1, C Cunning 0-9, 7f, N McKeague 0-1

Subs: C Kinsella for Crawford (34m), S Elliott 2-0, for N McKeague (40m), S Dooley for Brogan (52m), G McTaggart for R Molloy (57m)

Yellow cards: Kinsella (39m)

CUSHENDALL: C McAllister; M Burke, P Burke, S Delargy; F McCurry, E Campbell 0-1, A Graffin, S Walsh; N McCormick 0-1, S Walsh; N McManus 0-10, 8f, F McCambridge 1-1, R McCambridge; P McGill 0-1, A Delargy 0-1

Subs: D McNaughton for Walsh (41m), C McNaughton 1-0, for S Delargy (49m), E McKillop for Graffin (57m), D Delargy for F McCambridge (60m)

Yellow: McManus (47m), McGill (63m)

Referee: Colm McDonald (St Gall's).

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