Shamrocks made the breakthrough 37 years ago today

Thirty-seven years ago today, April 24th 1983 Loughgiel Shamrocks made history when they became the first Antrim and Ulster team to win the All Ireland Club Hurling Championship when they beat St Rynaghs of Offaly in the All Ireland final replay at Casement Park. The teams had ended level the week before and the replay was set for Casement Park the following Sunday. It is a day written large in the minds of Shamrocks fans, but this historic breakthrough was far from plain sailing for the men in red and they went into most of the games during that campaign as rank outsiders.

To mark this historic occassion I ask Seamus ‘Crow’ McNaughton to write down his thoughts about the win, and the journey, and – after a bit of persuasion – he duly obliged

Loughgiel captain Niall Patterson receives the Tom Moore Cup after his team’s win over St Ryangh’s at Casement Park.

The Road to Casement………

37 years ago today, Seamróga Lochgaol made history when they brought the Tom Moore Cup to Ulster for the first time ever.  No Loughgiel Gael will ever forget that day or indeed the preceding week in Croke Park when the Shamrocks drew with St Rynagh’s Offlay to secure a replay in Casement Park Belfast. But let’s not forget the hard road to Casement – it took a lot of soul searching, commitment and hard work to get there.  To many it seemed like an impossible dream as just a short 9 months before, the Shamrocks had been defeated in the first round of the Feis Cup by Glenariffe, putting on a very poor display.  Such was the disappointment in the Parish that some people were even suggesting digging the Hurling Field up and planting potatoes in it. 

Niall Patterson introduces the Loughgiel team to Bishop Cathal Daly, himself a Loughgiel native, before the replay in Casement Park

Despite the doom and gloom in the area, and while morale in the team was low, hearts were big and Neal Patterson, Dan Carey, Danny McMullan and Liam McGarry regrouped to bring the team together and instil some hope that they could be County Champions again.   The Championship campaign started with a win over Sarsfields, then County Champions (and favourites by a country mile), Cushendall in the semi-final..  That win set up a final meeting with one of the greatest Ballycastle sides ever (who should have won the Tom Moore in 1980, when beaten by four points by Castlegar of Galway in the final).  The Shamrocks got off to a great start that day and it set them up for victory and were deserved County Champions at the end of the game.   Winning the Ulster semi-final, against Clontibret of Monaghan set up an Ulster Final against Ballygalget down in Ballygalget.  The Shamrocks came through another tough game by 1.9 to 9 points to seal the Ulster title.  Suddenly an All-Ireland title became a real possibility in the minds of the Shamrocks players and the campaign started in earnest.  Training sessions over the winter in Fr Healy Park in dark, wet, freezing weather, under floodlights provided by a few cars, only served to strengthen the team commitment and sprit. In February 1983, the Shamrocks, underdogs again, defeated red hot favourites Moycarkey-Borris of Tipperary (despite conceding a goal in the opening minutes) to secure a place in the All-Ireland Final. 

Dominic ‘Woody’ McKinley battle for possession with a St Rynagh’s defender as team mates Brendan laverty and Aidan ‘Beaver’ McCarry, and St Ryan’s Aidan Foggarty, look on

Due to a dispute in the other semi-final, between Kiltormer of Galway and St Rynaghs, the Shamrocks had to wait until 17th April to meet the Offaly champions in the final.   Heading to Dublin on the Saturday night the team stayed in the Clarence Hotel beside the Liffey, waking up early on Sunday morning for Mass and then onto a puc-around in the Phoenix Park before heading to Croke Park.  A hard fought match ensued where the Shamrocks were clearly the better team but at the end were fortunate to get a draw when Pádraig Horan hit a dubious free wide on the Hill 16 end to finish the game on level terms. The teams were all set to go back to Croke the following week, but the National Football League final between Down and Armagh was down for decision at headquarters and that threw a spanner in the works. Antrim county chairman Hugh McPoland argued that since the drawn game was played against a Leinster team, in Leinster, that Loughgiel should have the right to play the replay at the home of Ulster hurling, Casement Park, and in fairness to St Rynagh’s they agreed to come north the following weekend.

The Final in Casement on 24th April 1983 will be forever etched in the memories of the 10,000 Shamrock, Antrim and Ulster supporters who were blessed to be there.   At the end of the match the Shamrocks were winners by 2-12 to 1-12, Aiden McCarry and Brendan Laverty getting the goals, and the Tom Moore Cup had arrived in Ulster for the first time, something that seemed highly unlikely nine months earlier after that Feis Cup defeat by Glenariffe.    

Loughgiel’s Sean ‘Tinkle’ Carey commisorates with St Ryangh’s goalkeeper Damian Martin after the game.

 A nice touch a few months later, due to the foresight of  Rasharkin GAA was to bring  Kiltomer of Galway to play a match against the All-Ireland Champions, in the opening of the new Pitch at Dreen. The Shamrocks won that encounter, which meant at they had beaten St Rynagh’s of Offaly, Kiltomer of Galway and Moycarkey-Borris of Tipperary – the 3 Provincial champions – in the one year.

 It just goes to show that with faith, hope, commitment and a few good men you can achieve anything in a very short space of time.

Writing in the Irish Times on Tuesday 26th April 1983, Paddy Downey stated that Loughgiel Shamrocks’ victory over St Rynagh’s was one of the most notable events in nearly 100 years of competitive Gaelic sport.

So in these dark days remember brighter days will come and we’ll all look forward to playing and watching our national game again and appreciating the important things in life.

Loughgiel scores v St Rynaghs.

A. McCarry 1-3, B. Laverty 1-1, S. McNaughton 0-3, P. Carey Jnr. 0-2, P. Carey Snr. 0-1, A. McNaughton 0-1, M. O’Connell 0-1.

Loughgiel’s official team photo, taken a few weeks after the final

The team who made history that fateful day in Casement Park was

Niall Patterson, Martin Carey, PJ O’Mullan, Sean Carey, Eamon Connolly, Paddy McIhatton, Aidan McNaughton, Mick O’Connell, Gerard McKinley, Aidan McCarry, Brendan Laverty, Dominic McKinley, Wee Paddy Carey, Big Paddy Carey, Seamus ‘Crow’ McNaughton.

The Loughgiel team with the trophies they won during the 1982/83 season at a function to celebrate their success.

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