Dunloy's Conal Cunning: Slaughtneil are the standard bearers

Dunloy represent the established order in Ulster club hurling and, prior to 2016, had won 10 titles to Slaughtneil's zero
Dunloy's Conal Cunning: Slaughtneil are the standard bearers

STANDARDS TO BE MET: Conal Cunning of Dunloy ahead of the AIB Ulster Club SHC final which takes place this Sunday at 1.30pm at the Athletic Grounds. Pic: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

After hammering Portaferry in the AIB Ulster club SHC semi-final, Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane was asked about taking on old rivals Dunloy in the decider.

"We have beaten them the last three times we have played them in the Ulster championship and I know that has been very sore on them," offered McShane.

Very sore, that's putting it mildly. Dunloy represent the established order in Ulster club hurling and, prior to 2016, had won 10 titles to Slaughtneil's zero. These days it's all about the south-Derry club, however, and if they beat Dunloy in Sunday's decider, like they did in 2019, they will already have made it half way to Dunloy's haul. That is not something that sits well with the four-in-a-row Antrim champions.

"Slaughtneil have set a standard that we know we didn't get to in the last four or five years," acknowledged Dunloy and Antrim attacker Conal Cunning. "We know now where that standard is and where we have to be. They are a class team, no doubt about it. You have to play your best and things have to go your way as well if you want to beat them."

The bad news for Cunning and Dunloy is that Slaughtneil, whilst ageing in one sense with veteran dual player Chrissy McKaigue still a key figure, are in the process of blooding a new batch of stars, like Peter McCullagh, Ruairi O Mianain and Shea Cassidy. Having pushed Ballygunner and Ballyhale Shamrocks to within five points in recent All-Ireland semi-finals, it has been suggested that Slaughtneil may even be stronger again this season.

"They maybe play a different style of hurling than what we are used to, which doesn't suit what you do," said Cunning. "Their use of the ball is very good. We have watched them a number of times on tape and live as well and we know they are very good. We would argue we haven't performed to our best against them, maybe only in patches the last four or five years, and if you are consistent for 60 minutes at this level then it's not going to work out for you."

Dunloy haven't played a competitive game since October 16, when they beat Cushendall in the Antrim decider.

"That gap is not ideal because you're not sure how your form is," said Cunning. "Yes, our form might have been good in the county championship but there are no guarantees that that carries over into Ulster. We just hope that we have been doing the right things in training."

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