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Rossa in bonus territory ahead of Dunloy test: Murphy

Callum McVeigh was sent-off for a second booking on Sunday so should be available for Saturday’s home game against Dunloy Callum McVeigh was sent-off for a second booking on Sunday so should be available for Saturday’s home game against Dunloy
By David Mohan

Bathshack Antrim Senior Hurling Championship Group One
O’Donovan Rossa v Dunloy Cuchullians (Rossa Park, Saturday, 2pm)

HAVING safely negotiated the preliminary round double-header against Ballycastle, Rossa are immediately into action in Group One of this year’s Antrim Senior Hurling Championship round robin when they host Dunloy on Saturday afternoon.

Collie Murphy’s side had built what proved to be an unassailable lead going into the second leg against Ballycastle on Sunday and while they may have lost the game by two points, they were still 12 points better over two games and now get the chance to test themselves against the previous two winners.

Having cantered to the Division One title this year, losing just once in the process, many have tipped Dunloy for this year’s title and they will travel to the Shaws Road off the back of their 1-14 to 1-13 win over Cushendall on Sunday evening.

However, it was far from a convincing performance from the 2017 champions who needed a late rally to edge home in a game that just never really got going.

Gregory O’Kane’s side have talent in abundance, but only played in fits and starts on Sunday with Conal Cunning knocking over the frees and Keelan Molloy possibly their best of the forwards, while the defensive unit were solid enough after a shaky start when conceding 1-2 early.

Cuchullians will be without the injured Deaglan Smyth this weekend and most likely for the rest of the year, while county forward Eoin O’Neill has spent the summer in San Francisco.

They will also be without Gabriel McTaggart who was red-carded late in the game against Cushendall, but they still have talent in spades with Nigel Elliott’s pace, Paul Shields’ reading of the game and Seaan Elliott’s craft all huge weapons for this vastly talented side.

Their tactics on Sunday seemed a little strange as they flooded the middle third when playing with the wind and played into Cushendall’s hands a little, so it will be interesting if they change that approach on Saturday.

Rossa will be well aware of the challenge they face, but they have come into form at the right time with Sunday’s loss – but overall win – their first defeat in six games as they advanced in the Championship on the same week they retained Division one status.

In effect, the Jeremiahs have been playing Championship hurling in each of those games as they simply had to pick up points and with a number of the walking wounded starting to return.

James Connolly is still a little off full fitness, but the introduction of Aodhán O’Brien and Conall Shannon from the bench on Sunday showed that Murphy’s side has options.

They will know they have to deliver a performance more akin to the first leg against Ballycastle rather than Sunday’s to take anything from Dunloy, but also go in with no pressure and Murphy is delighted to be in that position going in.

“We set a goal at the start of the year to retain our Division One status and to come through the two legs against Ballycastle,” said the Rossa boss.

“We achieved that and have had 15 competitive games so far this season.

“We now have another two so that’s 17 games and apart from Loughgiel away, I think we have been competitive in every game.

“Sometimes we didn’t get the rub of the green or didn’t have the bench but now it’s starting to turn for us. Everything is a bonus now.”

Both league meetings between the teams went Dunloy’s way, but Rossa had their moments in those games and with a number of young players in their ranks, they have gradually got to grips with life as senior hurlers as the season progressed.

One issue has been the number of big games played across both codes throughout the year and this evening (Wednesday, 8pm) they have a potential Division Two title-winning clash in the big ball against second-place Moneyglass (although they do have the safety net of a game in hand to finish the job at Tír na nÓg on Monday).

That puts extra demands on players and Murphy is just hoping they all come through unscathed, but he also feels his team are battle-hardened and can get up to the pace of the game given their recent run of important fixtures.

“I think the four games we had in the second half of the league – we had to win them,” he offered.

“They helped us get up to that Championship pace and our performance in the first leg was outstanding.”

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