A rub of the green and the day is Dunloy’s

IF Dunloy are to win their first All-Ireland club hurling title today, they must do something they have failed to do three times, beat Birr.

1995 final, first meeting, a draw, after the Antrim champions had been in the driving seat, leading at the break with the benefit of the elements still to come; replay, concede two early goals, challenge over.

Roll forward seven years, semi-final last year, Dunloy again in the driving seat at the break, three points ahead, fail again.

Fluke goal conceded, goal chance flukily saved at the other end, lose by four points, Birr collect third title. So, to beat Birr, what do they have to do?

First, conquer the fear of heights.

"1995 we messed it up against Birr the first day, didn't perform the second day," says club chairman Pat Cunning.

"We had our chance to put them away, but I'm convinced it was psychological, fear of winning, in the second half. One of those things, re-lived a few times."

Re-lived also the loss last year, another one that got away. Now, according to captain Gary O'Kane, apart from Birr, there remains one major obstacle between Dunloy and glory. "Just that final hurdle, self-belief."

Can they do it? Looking back on their respective semi-finals, the head would have to say no. Dunloy's fully-deserved win over Munster champions Mount Sion was impressive, but not in the same league as Birr's dismissal of Athenry.

Two years ago, on their way to winning their third title, Athenry trounced Dunloy in the semi-final,.

Tripped up later in the Galway championship, but were back in the big-time again this year.

Their promised showdown with Birr in Ennis, however, turned out to be as one-sided as the OK Corral, and in a dominant display Athenry were crushed, 0-15 to 0-6.

All the Birr big guns looked sharp, from Joe Errity on the edge of the square, blotting out the threat of Eugene Cloonan, through Brian Whelahan at centre-back, Niall Claffey seeing off Joe Rabbitte, Johnny Pilkington and Barry Whelahan in charge at midfield, the giant Hanniffy brothers, Simon Whelahan and Declan Pilkington doing the damage up front.

It's a hoary old one in sport that you get what you deserve, but of course this is so untrue.

Dunloy, this Dunloy team, deserves an All-Ireland title. To date, fortune hasn't favoured them but so often the breaks, luck, call it what you will, is a product of being tentative, lack of belief.

This year, Dunloy have brought a Tipp-man, Gerry O'Neill, on board, and already in the luck department, the dividends are there.

Against Mount Sion, final moments, game tied, Dunloy were awarded a highly-dubious in-range free that in other years they almost certainly wouldn't have got, or might even have been awarded against them.

Overall they were the better side, but that pointed free was the change in luck that decreed they reach today's decider.

Luck alone won't be enough, but let no-one doubt the hurling credentials of this Dunloy side.

Five of the Antrim side that ran Tipp so close in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final were from Dunloy, the skill levels of the O'Kanes, Gary and Greg, the Richmond brothers Liam and Paddy, a match for anyone in the game.

McMullen, McGuckian, McGhee because Antrim hurling is so seldom to the fore, these are not names that dominate hurling's sports pages but in every aspect of the game, they are more than just proficient.

What O'Neill has done is take that ability and put extra pace on it, speeded up their hurling, their thinking. And worked on their confidence.

"If we'd got the rub of the green, we could be sitting with two titles, going for three," says a determined Sean McLean, joint team manager.

"There's a fine line between success and failure, a very fine line. But nobody can take from us, from 1990 to 2003, we've contested seven All-Ireland championships, never been disgraced. Our day is coming, and hopefully it's this year. Their heads are right."

That's the feeling here too.

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