The Town’s last title came in 1986

Ballycastle’s last Senior County title came back in 1986 when they beat St John’s in the final in Dunloy. Anyone who witnessed the Town tear through all their opponents that year would never have thought it possible that this famous club, who still sit second behind Loughgiel in the roll of honour, would not lift the Volunteer Cup again, for 36 years later they are still waiting. The win marked the end of an era for one of the greatest team of our times.  

Dessie Donnelly who was top scorer with 1-12 in the ’86 final win over St John’s

1986 was their eighth final in nine years (their ninth if you count the 1981 replay). They won the title in 1984, beating Cushendall in the final, but the Ruairis had gained revenge in 85, beating the Town by four clear goals in the semi-final on their way to lifting their second county title. When the sides met again the following year in Cushendall, in the quarter final of the 1986 championship Ballycastle were out for revenge, and with Dessie Donnelly leading the line they dethroned the ‘Dall in emphatic fashion, Dessie scoring a remarkable 3-7 in a 7-11 to 3-5 win. St Paul’s were the opposition in the semi-final in Casement Park and once again the Castle scoring machine was running on all cylinders, running up 6-23, with Brian Donnelly this time taking the scoring honours with 3-3.

Eddie Donnelly in action against St John’s in the 1986 final

The Ballycastle team still carried a massive scoring threat going into the 86 final, and three weeks earlier their players had scored 1-19 of Antrim’s total of 1-24 against Cork in the All Ireland semi-final defeat in Croke Park.  The final was set for Dunloy on August 31st against St John’s, the earliest final date I can remember. The Johnnies were trying to bridge a 13 year gap back to when they beat the same opposition in the 1973 decider at the same venue, but in a bad tempered game the Belfast men could never get their game going properly.

Once again team captain Dessie Donnelly was the man to do most of the damage for Ballycastle, hitting 1-12 in a 1-20 to 0-7 victory, and in doing joined brothers Kevin, Dessie and Brian and Eddie as he became the fourth of the Donnelly brothers to lift the famous trophy. Eddie and Kevin also set a record that day by winning their eight title, his first one coming 22 years earlier in1964 . With the early final they celebrated in style at the Lamas Fair.

Eddie McToal and Neill Peden of St John’s plus Paul McKillen and Peter Boyle of Ballycastle get ready to pounce as referee Martin Brogan throws in the ball to start the 1986 county final in Dunloy

They went on to beat Middletown of Armagh in the Ulster semi-final before accounting for a very good Lavey team in the Ulster final in Gulladuff. The champions gave Ballycastle their fill of it that day but the greater experience told in the end as again Dessie Donnelly got a vital goal in a 1-13 to 1-8 win.

The team that won the last county title for the Town back in 1986 were – Paul Smith, Kevin Boyle, Terence Donnelly, Pat Kinney, Kevin McShane, Liam Gallagher, Charlie McVeigh, Peter Boyle, Paul McKillen, Damian McAfee, Brian Donnelly, Edie McHenry, Dessie Donnelly, Eddie Donnelly, Olcan Laverty.

The St John’s team who played Ballycastle in the 1986 final

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