By Brendan Hennessy
KCLR commentator Brendan Hennessy, a man with Belfast connections give his views on Saturday’s Christy Ring final between his native Carlow and Antrim. Brendan has commentated on sports like rugby and Gaelic football for a range of channels over the years in both radio and TV, but his first love is hurling and can’t wait for Saturday’s decider.
I am delighted to get the opportunity to write a few lines for the Saffron Gael in the lead up to the Christy Ring Cup final on Saturday, as my connection with Antrim hurling goes back a long way.
As a spectator from Carlow, I sat in the bottom of the Cusack stand with my father and my Belfast cousins and friends on all Ireland final day in 1989 (even though our tickets were for Hill 16 ) cheering on Antrim against Tipperary, I knew all of the Antrim players at that particular time and remember all the great names of that era , Ciran Barr was my favourite player and I also liked Sambo McNaughton.
St Patricks day 1989 is also another day I cheered on O’Donovan Rossa against Buffers Alley as my cousin Chris Condon was part of the Rossa team that took part in the AIB Club final, and here I am years later broadcasting all Carlow GAA games on Radio,and meeting great people like John Curly McIlwaine on my travels every week.
Gerry Rogan became a great friend of our family over the years and when the Rossa team travelled to play in the Siucra 11s in Carlow during the early nineties, a late session in our house did not help their cause in trying to win the tournament. I will say no more as the fella said.
My father still has a hurl that is pride of place in our home that Gerry Rogan gave to him back then.
So on to Saturday. Well both Antrim and Carlow have served up some terrific games in recent times with just the bare minimum separating them on each occasion.
Antrim have the experience of playing in Croke Park while for a lot of this young Carlow team, many of them are making their first appearance at headquarters including their talented Captain Marty Kavanagh from St Mullins.
Colm Bonner seems to have a clean bill of health as he was without some of his key players during the league and Christy Ring Cup in the early rounds against Antrim, Kildare, Mayo, and Wicklow.
Carlow have played well in all of their games but they did allow teams back into games after pulling away, if they are to defeat Antrim on Sunday they will need to score goals and keep up momentum when they gain it.
GAA is in a good place in Carlow at the moment ,as the footballers have gained a lot of attention and I suppose it’s just as well a big shock in overcoming the Dubs didn’t come to fruition , because if it did ,we would not here a thing about the Hurling final on Saturday .
There are only six senior hurling teams in Carlow and it is great credit to each and every one of the clubs for producing the standards they do.
St Mullins in the south of the county have completed 3-in-a -row last October and have produced many fine hurlers for the county teams over the years , Mount Leinster Rangers success was a marvellous achievement when they got to the All Ireland Senior Club final, after beating Loughgiel Shamrocks of Antrim in the semi-final. That came just the year after they won the All Ireland Intermediate final against Middletown of Armagh, again another great nursery for the County.
Carlow have bad memories of a heavy loss to Antrim back in 2006 but it is a different ball game now, as Carlow now have strength in depth Their objective back then was to get to play in Croke Park , and now Carlow’s objective is to win in Croke Park.
They know all too well that Antrim are a formidable outfit, and I feel we are about to witness one of the great games of Hurling in 2017, I think it will be very close yet again.
The new format for the 2018 Championship looks like it will get the go ahead , so if it does ,it will be great, as this allows both Antrim and Carlow to take part in the McCarthy cup from 2018 onwards no matter what the result is on Saturday.
This is great news for all involved and A great incentive for two great proud hurling counties, may the best team win and I look forward to meeting everybody on Saturday in Dublin .
I will be broadcasting the game on kclr96fm Radio for Carlow /Kilkenny and it is availble on kclr96fm.com if anybody wants full uninterrupted coverage in any part of the World .