Extract from “Down the lane” on 1994 Minor Championship winning side.
At the weekend we featured the achievements of Sean Stinson’s in winning the 1995 Minor Football championship at a time when South West sides were beginning to dominate a grade where South Antrim clubs had dominated for years.
I have fond memories of attending underage games and reporting on them during this period and games between Rasharkin and Stinson’s around this time were riveting contests with very little between them. Back in Novemeber I attended the Rashakin dinner in the Elk Bar and spoke to some of the players and management of the 1994 team who were special guests at that dinner and it was clear just how important a part that win played in the club’s history.
Today however we take a look back to Rasharkin’s breakthrough in 1994 and their achievement of lifting the Minor Football Championship in a year where they dominated juvenile football in the South West. Former Rasharkin player and Ballymena Guardian reporter, Jim Smyth attended the game and this is his report.
While 1994 had its share of disappointments for St. Mary’s Rasharkin; for the underage teams it was, undoubtedly, the most rewarding year in the history of the St. Mary’s Club. The U-14, U-16 and minors all shared in the glory of underage Divisional title successes. The pinnacle was reached on 29th September courtesy of a stylish and emphatic victory over Lamh Dhearg in the County Minor Football Final. The minors had begun the season with high expectations based on the previous year’s Laverty Cup success and their claims were further strengthened with an unbeaten run on the way to winning the 1994 South-West League competition.
Their Championship campaign got under way at Shaw’s Road with a convincing first round win against McDermott’s. St. Enda’s provided little opposition in the quarter final played at Casement Park where a facile 6-20 to 1-4 victory set the scene for a semi-final encounter with Championship favourites, St. Paul’s. The Shaw’s Road team had dominated the competition in recent years but were rocked by two goals from Barry McMullan and one from Denver O’Boyle which saw the Dreen lads run out deserving 3-14 to 1-10 winners.
The Final, against Lamh Dhearg, was played at Casement Park on September 25th and would be the Club’s first appearance in a decider since losing to Rossa in 1967. On this occasion, the St. Mary’s team took the honours after a superb team performance. Former St. Mary’s player, Jim Smyth, reflected on a memorable afternoon in his weekly Guardian column:
Rasharkin are the Champions
Rasharkin 2-10 Lamh Dhearg 0-6
By Jim Smyth
“‘We are the Champions, we are the Champions’, was the cry of exuberant youth, as the St.Mary’s Minor footballers, and every juvenile in the village, did the lap of honour in Casement Park on Sunday afternoon. Indeed, it would have been hard not to feel proud of the young men and, as a former Rasharkin player; it did feel good to see an excellent bunch of players rewarded. From the moment Ryan Dunlop put Alan McNeill through on a dashing solo run from the throw-in, there was never any doubt about the outcome of this game. This indeed was a class point and what a pity they didn’t avail of eight easy chances they missed in each half. Sixteen more points perhaps would have been the difference in the sides. There were anxious moments on the side-line when Mickey Smyth scored for Hannastown in the fourth minute and when Ryan Dunlop’s sixth minute free was wiped out by an Eamon McCloskey Lamh Dhearg point. Barry McMullan, from a free in the eleventh minute, put Rasharkin ahead again to be caught but it was frustrating to watch absolutely brilliant fielding and constructive approach play breaking down. Still they lived through the misses and Ryan Dunlop, a player of excellent ability and still a Minor next year, got number four with six minutes to the break. Ryan McAleese got the fifth and Dunlop secured a 0-6 to 0-2 interval lead when he pointed from a free. A recurring hamstring injury saw the brilliant centre half-back, Paul Hasson, take up full-back duties and the equally polished full-back Declan O’Boyle go to the left corner. But perhaps the move of the match, and a game won at that, was switching corner back Aidan Dunlop to full forward where he demonstrated good skills, something defenders find hard to do when asked to put scores on the board and Dunlop did manage to get one. But for me the heart of this side was the “Bermuda Triangle” the McNeill, McAleese, Dunlop triangle in the middle of the Park, was as threatening to the Hannastown side as the Bermuda three-sided figure was to both ships and aircraft. These three, along with Barry McMullan, were the nucleus of the best Minor football team I have seen in a long time. “After the restart there was another lapse in concentration but nothing of major concern. Tony Stanley and Paul McCabe put a couple of points on the board, Rasharkin replying with only one from Aidan Dunlop for a 0-7 to 0-4 scoreline. The punch-line came in the thirteenth minute of the game when corner forward Denver O’Boyle experienced a half minute of football he will never forget. Accepting an Aidan Dunlop pass he beat the Hannastown keeper all ends up and then, from the kick out rose high to punch home a long speculative midfield lob. This certainly, from a Rasharkin point of view, was wonderful to savour and instantly there was an air of calmness among four restless sideline officials! Certainly these goals clinched it for the Rasharkin lads and, what remained was simply playing out time. Hannastown got a couple more points from Paddy O’Hara (15th) and Mickey Smyth (18th) while Rasharkin finished in a flurry, Ryan Dunlop pointed a 45 (20th), Barry McMullan converted a free (23rd) and left-half forward, Owen Quinn, making a name for himself with the final point in a top class game. I’m told Rasharkin didn’t play as well as they can. What they did pleased me greatly but what a pity so many excellent chances were missed. Quite honestly they should have won this game by at least another dozen points. Congratulations lads on an absolutely excellent job.
“Rasharkin – Mark McFerran, Chris Hasson, Declan O’Boyle, Aidan Dunlop (0-1), Shane Doherty, Paul Hasson, Donal Doherty, Alan McNeill (0-1) and Ryan McAleese (0-1), Brendan McCamphill, Ryan Dunlop (0-4), Owen Quinn (0-1), Paul McMullan, Barry McMullan (0-2), Denvir O’Boyle (2-0). Sub: Jonathan Doherty for Paul McMullan.”
Scenes of unrestrained joy greeted Michael McLaughlin’s final whistle and the presentation of the Minor Championship trophy to team captain, Barry McMullan. Rasharkin went on to claim their third trophy of the season and preserved their unbeaten record with a closer than expected win over Ballymena in the Laverty Cup Final. The All Saint’s team put up a tremendous battle in an effort to lift the trophy and were only denied by injury time points from Ryan Dunlop and Barry McMullan. The final score was 2-14 to 4-6.
The minor’s first foray into the Ulster arena saw them record a convincing 2-13 to 1-9 win over Armagh champions, Silverbridge, in the Ulster Club Minor Football Championship hosted by St. Paul’s Club in Belfast. Rasharkin dominated the first half and reached the interval 2-8 to 0-3 ahead. While the South Armagh side did stage something of a comeback, St. Mary’s held on for a 2-13 to 1-9 win. A memorable season ended on a disappointing note on Boxing Day when they lost 3-18 to 0-4 to Derry Champions Bellaghy in the semi-final.
The 1994 minor side was managed by Sean McTaggart and Mickey McAleese, ably assisted by Dan Doherty, Stanley Dunseath, Anthony McMullan and Mickey Hegarty.