GAA: Athenry manager preaches caution

It doesn’t seem like six years ago in Dunloy, but it was. That day when St Mary’s Athenry, overwhelming favourites not just for the semi final but the All Ireland, were brought down to earth by north Antrim spirit.

It doesn’t seem like six years ago in Dunloy, but it was. That day when St Mary’s Athenry, overwhelming favourites not just for the semi final but the All Ireland, were brought down to earth by north Antrim spirit.

Tenacity, resilience, these are words which we have learnt to associate with Antrim clubs in this competition.

"They just wouldn’t give up," their opponents, usually victorious, say after coming through the tough encounter. Dunloy and Cushendall have ensured Ulster club sides are never underrated.

And with just a little smidgen of luck, they might have gone all the way.

More true of Dunloy than Cushendall, with 1995 and all that.

However, the Antrim men will have to pray luck doesn’t desert them tomorrow, because they need all of it they can get. Athenry have gone from strength to strength since conceding that heart breaker of a goal.

Four county and two All Ireland titles illustrate that. Few are betting against Athenry keeping their iron grip on the Tommy Moore Cup.

But, naturally, their manager Pat Nally is preaching caution. "There is an element of unknown when facing Northern teams. The dedication of these lads is beyond reproach and the appetite is still there."

Those who saw Eugene Cloonan in the Galway final will testify to the hunger still dwelling in Athenry bellies. Cloonan, if he reaches anything like his county final form, will be almost impossible to contain. Dunloy remain upbeat, they haven’t put in 172 nights in the Glens for nothing.

"We are going into Sunday, 5/1 outsiders," says selector Tony Shivers. "But that doesn’t deter us. This year more than any other, we have left no stone unturned. For some of this team, this is the last throw of the dice."

A lot of the Dunloy names are the same as six years ago. Gary O’Kane, Gregory O’Kane, Sean Mullan and Seamus McMullen, all survivors of the last meeting and each important to the Antrim cause.

McMullen has been a revelation since moving into attack this year. But, he faces one of the most imposing half back lines in hurling.

Brian Feeney, Brian Higgins and Paul Hardiman have been the building blocks for the Athenry success, their defensive work and delivery to the attack will hold much sway on the outcome of the game.

And then there is the C factor. As the best club side in the country, how complacent will Athenry get.

Not at all, says Nally. "The fact that Dunloy beat us six years ago should give our players a motivational edge. They are extremely keen and have prepared hard for Sunday."

The feeling lingers, though, that the only way Athenry will be beaten is if they beat themselves.

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