BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DANNY Cullen says the Donegal hurlers must build on their Nicky Rackard Cup success of this year and ensure the development of the small ball game in the county continues.
The stylish Setanta player was named as the Nicky Rackard Player of the Tournament last Friday night at the GAA/GPA All-Star Awards banquet in Croke Park after setting the competition alight with some classy displays at midfield.
As Ray Durack’s team defeated Roscommon in the Croke Park final in May to win the Nicky Rackard Cup for the first time, Cullen hit three points. There was so much more about Cullen’s display aside from his scores. Cullen’s prints were all over everything that was good about Donegal’s play and he was an inspired performer during the earlier rounds.
“I’m happy with how I’m playing, but I wouldn’t worry about my own game so long as the team is winning and getting over the line,” Cullen, a teacher at St Patrick’s in Navan, told the Donegal News this week.
“It’s all about winning those medals.
“It’s great to get an award at the end of the season. It’s always an indication that you’ve been doing something right during the year.”
Cullen returned to the Donegal set-up for the last couple of League games in 2012 having spent some time in Australia – and he was on top form in 2013 as Donegal surged to their first-ever Nicky Rackard success.
They had a thrilling final win over Roscommon, goals by Paddy Hannigan, Sean McVeigh and Paul Sheridan securing a cracking 3-20 to 3-16 win.
Cullen said: “We hadn’t played a game like that before. We’d been in Croke Park before and had some success, but this year’s win was definitely the best of the lot. That final against Roscommon is one of the best games of hurling I was ever involved in.
“The standard was unreal and some of the scoring was top notch. It was special to win the Nicky Rackard.”
Cullen was a member of the Cuala club in Dublin for a time and also played top level hurling while he was at college in Galway.
While Donegal will again play in the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2014, Cullen insists they have to re-set the bar next season, especially with their endeavours to win promotion in the League, with Donegal operating in Division 3A.
He said: “Donegal hurling is moving in the right direction, but we just have to continue on. We raised the bar this year, so we have to keep it moving. Sometimes you see counties winning competitions and don’t push on. It’s vital we don’t fall into that trap.
“It’s important that we keep it going and have a good League in 2014 to progress to the next level again. We have to keep the development going now and make sure we keep advancing Donegal hurling.
“Hurling is very strong in Donegal. Looking at underage hurling, you have St Eunan’s and Buncrana as the strong teams. In the near future these teams will be really pushing at senior level – and that can only be good for Donegal hurling.
“You’ll have a lot more competition that just Burt, Setanta, MacCumhaills, so that will make for a better Championship and a better standard in the county.”
Cullen’s talents were also recognised when he was called up to the Ireland squad to play in the Shinty internationals against Scotland; something he feels has upped his ante by another notch.
“You have hurlers from the likes of Kilkenny, Tipperary and Antrim, so there are serious hurlers in the set-up,” he said.
“That has to help you. I was lucky enough to get on a lot of ball in the trial and getting on the squad was massive; playing with Jackie Tyrell, Brendan Maher and these guys. It was a great experience being around them, learning tips and tricks off them.”