In our continued coverage of Antrim’s 1970 All Ireland Intermediate final triumph, Denis O’Hara speaks with the Ballycastle legend Eddie Donnelly about his memories of that great campaign…. 50 golden years ago.
EDDIE DONNELLY was forced to endure a bout of high anxiety during Antrim’s countdown to the glamour 1970 All-Ireland Intermediate hurling final. He feared the worst, when suffering stinging hand damage in a county club tie against Belfast John’s.
The exceptionally powerful and influential centre-forward from Ballycastle dreaded missing the historic milestone match, when Antrim players were preparing to tackle an unknown factor in a talent-laden Warwickshire team of former southern county hurlers.
It was a close call for steady Eddie, who sustained a suspected broken finger during the club league clash against the Johnnies. He managed to gain the medical green light just in time for Antrim’s glory day of October 4, 1970.
Donnelly, an ever-reliable performer in the Antrim jersey for 20 years, was a key component in a strongly united county combination that swept through three high hurdles to reach the 1970 final. He had that special ability to pull the team forward through his tank-like robust runs and lethal finishing from centre three-quarters.
“Yes, I was really worried the finger damage would force me to sit out the All-Ireland final. I had to inform Antrim’s team manager Neilly Patterson, after I picked up the hand injury from a clash with Ger Cunningham of St John’s – the McQuillan’s club match held at Leyland Road shortly before the game against Warwickshire.”
A dynamic driving force in the Antrim attack, when the Saffrons overcame tricky ties against Down, Galway and Dublin, he added: “Fortunately, the finger wasn’t broken, and I didn’t have to withdraw from the Antrim panel. I was very relieved to be passed fit to play, as the hand healed just in time to join the Antrim action in Croke Park.”
A retired bank official, who surfaced as an outstanding talent as a 16 year old with the McQuillan’s senior team and hurled with distinction in 14 Antrim Senior finals – winning eight medals – he reveled in that 1970’s county landmark success.
Even though Eddie’s memory retention is not razor sharp he highlighted the All-Ireland quarter-final win (4-14 to 4-6) against Galway at Ballinasloe as THE crucial clash of the tournament.
The outstanding result gave the team members the confidence to march on and beat Dublin (3-15 to 2-11) in the semi-final, and then Warwickshire (4-10 to 3-6).
“It was a good tight, tough match against Galway. They had players who soon made the move to their senior side – such as Sam Storey. We had to get past that match. We had to play really well to win. We knew we had to produce our best that day. The semi-final against Dublin at Croke Park is not one I recall much about, while we were too good for Warwickhire in the final.”
Donnelly, named at full forward in Antrim’s hurling ‘Team of the Century’ in 1984 and a double All Star replacement in 1975 and 1977, brought all his experience and tenacity to the 1970 county success. He added: “Overall it was a brilliant run of victories, starting in the Ulster final against Down at Casement Park – then on to the difficult game against Galway.
“I do have one outstanding memory of the final against Warwickshire, and it is that of Niall Wheeler scoring a brilliant long-range point from around 100 yards. When I met Niall recently we joked about that score – the distance moving up by ten yards with every decade since. The point scored has increased to close on 150 yards! We had some marvelous times then.
“Niall Wheeler was a great wing back, and a year after our All-Ireland Intermediate victory he won an All Star replacement honour. Sadly, five members of the squad of 1970 are no longer with us – goalkeeper Johnny Coyle, our team captain Seanie Burns, Paddy McShane, Martin McGranaghan and Aidan McCamphill.”