By Kevin Herron
A couple of weeks ago Rossa and Antrim legend Ciaran Barr returned to his native Belfast to present awards at Rossa’s presentation evening at the Balmoral Hotel.
Barr was awarded a hurling All-Star in 1988 and the next year went onto captain Antrim in the 1989 All-Ireland final against Tipperary – as well as represent Rossa in the club final.
Currently based in Dublin, Barr was delighted to be invited to present awards and believes it is a fundamental part of the GAA.
“I think it’s a fundamental thing in the GAA to do with community, family, the connectiveness that you have to the sport that you played and also the people that you played with” believes Barr.
“O’Donavan Rossa is my home club, it’s my original club – I ended up playing for St Vincent’s in Dublin, I played for Seoul Gaels in Korea and I coached both in St Vincent’s and Seoul and also in Raheny- where I live in Dublin”.
“Your home club is the club that you started with and its always where you’re going to have your deepest connection. It’s a privilege and an honour to be asked back to do anything and to help out in any way. O’Donavan Rossa has a very long and interesting history and to be part of that is an honour”.
Barr came through the ranks from juvenile level to senior with Rossa before his departure to Dublin and pinpointed the feel good factor at the Shaws Road club- in his time there.
“I had the most fantastic time playing as an underage player and as a senior player for O’Donavan Rossa” Barr reflected.
“I never had any issues with anybody, I was coached very well and treated very well, we always had lots of fun and it was done in the right way. We played in the right way, we respected the coaches, opposition and referees- it was done in the right way and only when you get older and you’ve a chance to reflect and look back on that; do you see different standards and different ways of doing things. I think now, I would say that I’ve had a privilege to be involved in O’Donavan Rossa as a child an adult and to come back and do anything is no problem- it’s a privilege to come back”.
1989 was a year that Barr vividly remembers – especially Rossa’s All-Ireland campaign, which culminated in a defeat to Buffer’s Alley, Wexford at Croke Park on St. Patrick’s Day.
“A couple of the Murray’s were on the panel, Donal [Armstrong] and I played from the start, Ger Rogan was on panel and Collie Murphy as well. It was a funny year- in 1989 I got married, I moved down to Dublin to live and I’ve been there on and off for the last 30+ years and I ended up in two teams that got beat in two All-Ireland finals- a lot was packed into one year” recalls Barr.
“I can remember getting to the All-Ireland club semi-final and we beat Patrickswell in Patrick’s Well- which was a huge upset. I wasn’t particularly surprised at that, I thought we had a really good team and a well-balanced team. Now-a-days people talk about a goalkeeper being such an important position- we had a goalkeeper called Paddy Quinn”.
“Paddy Quinn was in his late 30s and played in midfield for Rossa and Antrim- he was an exceptional hurler and had been cajoled and convinced to comeback out of retirement to be our goalkeeper. We had that absolute rock in terms of control of the play, where to put the ball and how to deal with things. Nowadays we talk about goalkeepers in that way, we didn’t know it- but we had a guy who was just a first-class hurler as a goalkeeper, and it made a huge difference”.
“I can remember the emotion and excitement of winning the semi-final and the whole build-up to an All-Ireland final to a club like Rossa- a very small club within the city. It still is, it’s not a huge club and in those days, it was a couple of families – the Hamills, the Carabine’s, the Gormley’s, the Murray’s and the Barr’s. It was just a fantastic experience for the club to get to that final. In a sense- we did well, and should we have won it that day? We were as good as Buffer’s Alley and there wasn’t much in it. We could have won that game and it’s a pity”.
Barr believes there was a huge difference between the club final and representing Antrim on the first Sunday in September and won’t forget a trip to Hill 16 after the game.
“When you get to an All-Ireland hurling final, it’s a different experience completely” admits Barr.
“What people don’t release I guess until you play in one is the occasion that it is, people travel from all over the world to go back to the All-Ireland final. They put the final in their diary 12-months ahead, they always come home to it and always go to it”.
“The whole event, ceremony, the occasion and the festivity of it is huge- and you don’t release that when you’ve never been in one. When you are in one and you get carried along by it, sometimes the game becomes secondary to the occasion and that’s what happened to us. Tipperary, people forgot had been beaten in the final the year before- that team was now back in the final and that was the difference on the day.”
“In terms of an experience – I will never forget two things. One is I was very disappointed after the final whistle that we hadn’t won, and I remember Oliver Kelly- county chairman at the time, he grabbed me and said you have to go up to Hill 16. In those days you didn’t do that, everybody used to crowd onto pitch and there were loads of Tipp people on the pitch. Oliver said- no you have to take the team up to Hill 16 and we went up as a group to Hill 16 and I can still remember a sea of yellow- it was completely Saffron the whole thing and it was the most amazing thing”.
“I’d friends and I couldn’t see them but afterwards and in the next days and weeks-people said we were on the Hill. Some of the fella’s I went to school with on the Hill and said it was brilliant to be there for Antrim being in the final and that’s what I remember of the year”.