Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) v Na Piarsaigh (Limerick), Parnell Park, Saturday (2.00)
THERE’S a theory that in sport you often have to lose a final before you win one. But they respectfully disagree in Loughgiel Shamrocks. They lost six county finals in a row and then a semi-final before landing back to back senior titles.
For sure, they proudly cherish the distinction of being the only Ulster club to have won the AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior club championship crown back in 1983, but this is a new team looking to make their own history.
“It’s fairy tale stuff from where we’ve come from; getting to six finals and being beaten to getting back to back championships,” says Loughgiel ‘keeper DD Quinn.
“Last year was maybe more of bonus territory getting to an All-Ireland semi-final, but this year we are not looking at that we want to progress and get a step further and the next step is Paddy’s Day and it would be really nice. Every club wants to be there.”
Quinn made a string of fine saves against O’Loughlin Gaels last year but it wasn’t enough to stop the Kilkenny champs marching on.
This weekend Loughgiel and their passionate throng of supporters will be back in Parnell Park where they meet Na Piarsaigh and are hoping for better fortunes against the first time county champs from Limerick
“You can’t buy experience and after being in Parnell Park, it is a small ground and maybe we do have that advantage over Na Piarsaigh,” he says.
“What we took from last year was that boys from the South are good hurlers – but they are no better than the rest of us. Loughgiel train probably as hard as the rest of them boys and maybe don’t get as much recognition because you are form a club in Antrim. The experience hopefully will stand to us but we won’t know until the day.”
His real name is actually Michael Damian, but as a kid his older brother Joey found “DD” an easier moniker and for 32 years it’s all he has answered to.
His rich form with the club sparked an approach from new Antrim boss Jerry Wallace and after a four year county break he has decided to commit again to the Saffrons once the club run is over.
It’s a far cry from the frustration and deep soul searching he endured at the height of their sextet of county final heartbreaks.
However, help was at hand from Niall Patterson, a local shop keeper who was the burly star goalkeeper of the Antrim team that reached the 1989 All-Ireland senior final.
“Every day you do nets you will learn something and the more you talk to keepers the more you learn. I had a word with big Niall here a few years ago when I had no confidence and was doing no goalkeeper training and that’s what started me doing it.
“He came and I met him on a Wednesday on our own doing a bit extra and brought me on leaps and bounds. Just talking to him you learn so much and he talks about when he was playing and different situations and I learnt a lot off him,” praised DD.
Winning has become a habit for the club now. The Loughgiel senior team won four trophies in 2011, their U21s won the county tile and their camogie team reached an All-Ireland club final.
For a small but passionate hurling heartland an hour north of Belfast these are special days.
But then, DD reminds you that success or not – hurling would still be at the heart of what they do.
“It’s a way of life up here – you hurl or do nothing. Your friends hurl and it’s a nice bunch of fellas who stuck at it and are still there today who went through the six finals,” he explains.
“It was hard and hard to keep yourself going when beaten in six finals and then were beat in a semi –final. We ahd a few injures that year which maybe did us no harm either to get away from that final and maybe regroup again – maybe it was a blessing in disguise. But then if you are not in a final you can’t win it so even though we got beat in six finals in a row we still wanted a seventh.
“We just didn’t know how to get over the line. Until you get over that lien once the 2011 win was easier in your head because you had been there before and know now what it takes to win and what it takes to train all year to win a championship,” he adds.
Will the fairy tale continue this Saturday?