Antrim Senior Football Championship previews
Relief more than elation was Martin McAuley’s felling when he captained the Cargin team to victory in the 1995 Senior Championship final against St John’s at Casement Park. Cargin had made the breakthrough in 1974 when the club won its first title by beating Sarsfields in the final, but around Toome there were doubts if they would get their hands on the McNamee Cup again. They had lost in the finals of 1987 to St Gall, ’89 to Rossa, 1990 to St Gall’s, ’93 to St Gall’s again and ’94 to St Paul’s so they were beginning to wonder if they would ever get over the line again.
“Cargin were a Division 2 team in the 1980s but once we made the step up to Division 1 we seemed to flourish. There was a good batch of players came through at that time, the likes of Michael Johnston, Ciaran O’Neill, Oran Gribben, the two Lynns, Niall and Stephen, all those players were coming through at the same time. We had never won any minor titles, and were beat in an Under 21 final. We might have won South West titles at different age groups but nothing at all at county level”.
Martin played on all five losing teams during that period and like the rest he had doubts at times about ever winning it, but he knew they had good players and they were winning league titles on a regular basis so they knew they could compete with any of the teams.
Some players have great ability to recall the details of championship runs, but Martin McAuley is not one of them. He couldn’t remember who they played in the run up to the final, it had happened so often in the lead up to 95 that he gets confused with them all. However he does remember the final and what happened on that day, seared in his memory is breaking his ankle during the game and having to be carried off the field. They wanted to take him straight to hospital but he knew Cargin were in with a great chance of winning. He was team captain and there was no way he was going to forgo the chance of lifting the cup, even he had to be carried out to get it on a stretcher. After losing the five finals there were a few of the older hands who had played on the 1974 team who would have handed out a bit of ‘stick’ to the players in the nineties and as Martin pointed out a couple of them would even have come down to the club on nights the defeated teams came home to show them their ’74 medals and “rub it up you a wee bit”
The men of ’95 who ended a 21 year famine for the Cargin club
“That’s why it was such a relief to get there in ’95. It meant a lot to the players but it overall it meant a lot more to the community and the club in general. In Toome football is all there is. We don’t have a soccer club, we don’t have a hockey club, we don’t have a hurling team. We live beside the water and we don’t produce any great fishermen or canoeists or that sort of stuff, so winning the championship made them proud. “
“On the day of finals we had tried everything. We all went to mass together. In ’94 we stopped at the graveyard on the way to the game. We were thinking some wee thing might make the difference. We had confidence in our own ability but nothing would go right for us in the finals.”
The thing that Martin feels helped get them over the line that day was a bit of controversy. “Our goalkeeper Fergal Kelly was player manager that year and when he named the team on Thursday night there were three fellows who were regulars on team who were dropped, completely out of the blue, which didn’t go down well in some circles. There was a bit of rumpus and they stormed out of the meeting. Of course I was the go-between and went to see them and got them back on board. I told them ‘look Fergal is the manager and he has picked his team and you just have to get behind it’. If he hadn’t won that day the focus would all have been on Fergal but things worked out well in the end. However I feel that bit of tension that the situation created helped up in the long run.
The Cargin line-out in the 1995 programme.
Kevin Doyle, who is now part of the management team was one of the young boy brought in that day. Kevin as far as I remember had just turned seventeen, but he was a prodigious talent who was out on the field playing football every day of the week. It was a big move to put a seventeen year old in there, but he played really well on the day. I felt he was oblivious to it all being such a big occasion and to Cargin’s record in finals, but he played really well on the day. As far as I remember he scored a point and was involved in a lot of the other scores. “
One of the St John’s defenders ‘laid one on him’ about ten minutes into the second half and got sent off but just around the same time I went up for a high ball and came down on my ankle and had to be carried off the field. They wanted to take me to hospital but I was going nowhere. I was in a lot of pain but you don’t want to leave an occasion like that.
We had some great players on the team that day the likes of Dessie McGuckin, ‘Harry’ McGuckin, Paul Craig, who give you everything he had, Ciaran O’Neill, JC Devlin. All those lads were big strong men and great players.”
When the final whistle sounded it was sheer relief and of course joyous ecstasy for the team and the Cargin followers. Martin was helped onto the field to receive the cup from county chairman Oliver Kelly.
While Martin’s recall on games and players won’t be used as his specialist subject if he happens to get onto Mastermind “to tell you the truth we played in so many finals at the time they run into each other” his memories of arriving back to Toome with the cup are clear as day.
“One thing really stands out for me. The father of one of our players Owen Kelly was a real Cargin stalwart who tragically was suffering from cancer and couldn’t go to the game. We drove straight down to his house on the way home and took the cup in for him to see. He was really ill by this time but the tears were rolling down his cheeks when we come in. That is one thing that really stands out for me.”
Of course there were celebrations afterwards, lots of celebrations, but the monkey was off their back now. Not that it was the end of final defeats for the Erin’s Own men for they lost the final the following year to St Paul’s and again in ’98 to St John’s, but they put titles back to back for the first time in 1999 and 2000 to cement their place as a great team of that era. Martin McAuley played in those finals and ended his career with three championship medals and enjoyed many great days in the green of Cargin. However that day in 1995 when he brought the McNamee Cup back to Toome was something very special.