Improve or face Ulster Hurling Final heartbreak!

Burts Joe Boyle shield sthe ball from Ma Maghas Daryl Connelly during their Ulster Championship game at Celtic Park.  (2510JB34)
Burts Joe Boyle shield sthe ball from Ma Maghas Daryl Connelly during their Ulster Championship game at Celtic Park. (2510JB34)

BURT ASSISTANT hurling manager Ray Durack has warned his players they must improve significantly if they want to bring the Ulster Junior Championship title back to Inishowen.

Michael Wilson reports

Durack was speaking after watching the Donegal champions stutter to an unconvincing victory over Derry City side Na Magha in Sunday’s semi-final at Celtic Park to set up a final against Antrim’s Kickhams Creggan.

Burt had been expected to brush the inexperienced Oak Leaf team aside with ease but found themselves trailing by three points at the interval. A Jonathan McGrath goal early in the second half finally turned the tide in Burt’s favour to run out 1-12 to 1-09 winners but Durack warned a similar performance against Kickhams will end in heartbreak.

“We made it extremely hard for ourselves in the semi-final,” admitted Durack who was taking charge of team affairs because manager Andrew Wallace was in America.

“I think we maybe came to the game thinking it was only a matter of turning up and playing Na Magha but we got our eyes opened. They really put it up to us. They were far more physical than we thought.

“We have played Na Magha a couple of times this year in challenge games but they have really come on in leaps and bounds. They put it up to us and we were quite shocked at half-time to be behind so we had a couple of harsh words and came into the game more in the second half, back to what Burt can play like. We were delighted - and lucky - to come out of that game with a win.”

Durack admitted it is not the first time this season the Inishowen men had struggled to raise themselves for a match they were expected to win.

“I think the players had a similar attitude in the Donegal league. We played Setanta in a league game and beat them handy enough but when it came to the county final it was the same, we won it by the skin of our teeth.

“It’s a bad thing to have too much of that type of attitude, thinking that it is done and dusted before you even tog out. We have our work to do now before the final. We play the Antrim champions and we won’t go in there with an attitude, thinking it’s just a matter if turning up.”

Despite the indifferent first half, Durack said he was more than happy with how the team responded second half although he had more than a little sympathy for the defeated Derry team.

“I thought once the Na Magha goal went in first half that the floodgates might open. I thought we might fall apart but fair play to the boys, they knuckled down and started working backwards and at half-time we kopped on to ourselves about what was ahead of us. Lucky enough we came out second half and did what we had to do.

“The backs worked extremely well all through the game but great credit to the Na Magha back line as well, they were first to everything in the first half and I feel sorry for them because nobody deserved to lose that game.”

With Burt also involved in the Ulster Junior Football Championship, it has already been a fantastic season for the Inishowen club but success, as Durack admits, has brought its own problems.

“Whenever the final is going to be fixed for, I don’t know. The problem we have is that 90% of these fellas are involved in the Ulster Junior Football Championship as well so they could be playing football Saturday and hurling on Sunday.

“I don’t know what is going to happen, we have a lot of work to do. The evenings are finished now which means it’s hard to get training but we’ll just have to knuckle down and get on with it,” he added.

Meanwhile Donegal’s footballball and hurling was rewarded at the GAA/GPA All-Star awards night in Dublin on Friday night with three players picking up All-Stars and Niall Campbell getting the Lory Meagher Hurler of the Year award

Neil McGee, Karl Lacey and Kevin Cassidy were honoured on the night. McGee was picking up his first All-Star after a great season in the No. 3 jersey, while Karl Lacey (unlucky not to be nominated for Player of the Year) was, as expected, given the No. 6 jersey.

But there was further acknowledgement of a great year for the county when Kevin Cassidy picked up his second All-Star at right half-back. He had won his first back in 2002, in his first season playing senior football. Last summer he retired from intercounty football, but was persuaded to come back by Jim McGuinness and his decision has been justified.

Neil McGee has been Donegal’s most consistent player over two seasons and his award was fully merited, while Karl Lacey had a fantastic year, playing his football from centre half-back.

The night was the most successful from a Donegal point of view since the All-Ireland winning year of 1992, when they got seven All-Stars. All the other awards have come one at a time. Karl Lacey is making history by becoming the first player from the county to win three. His other awards came in 2006 and 2009, while Kevin Cassidy joins Martin McHugh as the only other player to have more than one award.

Dublin had the biggest representation on the night, winning six All-Stars