When Dunloy were football Champions

Like most of you I suspect, I would always have regarded Cuchullain’s Dunloy as a hurling club who have always played football and, certainly in my time hurling has been regarded as the premier game in the North Antrim club.

It hasn’t always been that way however and back in the early 1920’s the Cuchullain’s were a force to be reckoned with at the highest level in Antrim football winning Senior Football championships in 1924, 25 and 26 to complete three in a row and again in 1931, 35 and 36.

The Dunloy football success story goes back a year earlier however when the breakthrough came and they won the Junior Championship on the 18th November 1923, defeating O’Rahilly’s in Dunloy in the final.

By virtue of that win in 1923 Dunloy entered the SFC the following year and against all the odds they reached the final where they came up against the great James Stephens. James Stephens at the time were regarded as one of the top teams in Antrim and had already collected six senior titles and Dunloy would have been regarded as outsiders when the sides met at Corrigan Park.

The match was played in wet conditions on June the 8th and it seemed to be going the way of the city side when they led by three points midway through the second half. A late goal drew the sides level and in extra time Pat Cunning scored the winning point to give the Cuchullain’s their first senior title.

Pat Cunning, who was one of the stars of the game described it as one of the toughest games he had ever played in and recalled the intense excitement in the village that morning as the team assembled in the Band Room prior to the journey to Belfast.

The Dunloy panel that day were: B McNally, W Brogan, J Brogan, W Molloy, R Reilly, J Dillon, J McFerran, H McCamphill, B Cunning, P Cunning, Fr. Cullen, C Kearns, D McKillen, J Hendron, D Brogan, HJ Drain, P McGuckian, P McCamphill.

Dunloy went into the 1925 championship as defending champions and they defeated Larne in the semi-final and went on to meet O’Connell’s in the final. Dunloy enjoyed home advantage for the final and led by six points at half time in almost perfect conditions.

The city side came strong in the second half but the Dunloy defence stood firm with Jack Myles Pat Cunning and John McFerran in brilliant form to run out winners by three points. That final was played in a field at the bottom of the New Road.

“Irish News” 11th August 1925

The County Antrim Football Final between Dunloy and O’Connell’s was played in ideal weather conditions in a field at the bottom of the New Road in Dunloy.

O’Connell’s started brilliantly, pressurising the home team for the first ten minutes of the game and scored the opening point with a lovely shot from Murray. John McFerran and Jack Myles were strong in the Dunloy defence however and O’Connell’s could not maintain that initial force. Dunloy then got into their stride and by the interval led by six points.

In a vigorous second half, both teams played for all their worth and hard knocks were all too frequent. Saddler was outstanding in O’Connell’s defence but, despite the visitors’ desperate efforts to pull the game out of the fire, they had to admit defeat.

Despite a three hour journey to Dunloy, O’Connell’s gave a worthy display and, had it not been for the excitement getting the better of some of their players, a replay may have been necessary. Starring for O’Connell’s on the day were Saddler, Cosgrove, Murray, Boomer and McDonald. Gillan in goal brought off a brilliant save in the second half.

Any of the few shots that came towards B McNally in the Dunloy goal found him on the alert. The magnificent display by Myles in the Dunloy defence secured him a place in the county team against Cavan. He was valuably assisted from the other backs especially Brogan.

McFerran in the middle line also featured brilliantly and was always found backing up the forwards’ attack.

Patsy McGuckian was unusually off colour. J Brogan played a great game, his placing of the ball was very noticeable. The forwards Cunning, Reilly and Kearns played vigorously from start to finish. Fr. Cullen was always found in attack and in defence D Brogan was responsible for some great moves.

1926

Dunloy reached their third final in a row in 1926. The final was a repeat of the 1924 final and was played in Corrigan Park. The score was Cuchullain’s 0-5-James Stephen’s 0-4. The game was played in very wet conditions and this suited the more experienced and much stronger Cuchullain’s side. After trailing by four points at half time, Dunloy eventually gained control.

Points from P Cunning, and D McKillen, midway through the second half, kept the Cuchullain’s in contention.

C Kearns was the hero when he goaled with five minutes remaining to give them a one point victory. This win completed a hat-trick of victories for Dunloy. The achievement was marked by the fact that the county team who defeated Tyrone that year included 14 Dunloy men in their side.

As a result of that success various invitations to play tournament games were accepted from clubs as far away as Donegal.

1927

Dunloy were back in the final in 1927 but lost to a strong Rossa side

1928

Dunloy continued to challenge for football honours in the years that followed and came close to extending their run to four in a row but O’Connell’s gained revenge for their 1925 defeat by beating Cuchullain’s in the final after a replay.

Cuchullain’s failed to make home advantage pay in the first game and were lucky to be level at full-time with Barney McNally in goals making a series of outstanding saves over the hour. In the replay in Corrigan Park Dunloy introduced three new faces in Archie McGowan, Fr. O’Neill and James Kearns and dominated most of the possession.

They led by three points until midway through the second half with all the points coming from Pat Cunning who was the best player on the field. O’Connell’s hit back with a goal and two points to take the lead. Dunloy pressed hard in the closing stages but were unable to turn good possession into scores.

1929

Dunloy were beaten in the North Antrim final by Lamh Dhearg, Toome who went on to take the county title,

1930

Dunloy were beaten football finalists again in 1930, this time losing to Rossa and it was double disappointment for the Cuchullain’s with O’Connell’s beating them in the hurling final.

1931

Dunloy were back in the football final in 1931 where they faced comparatively newcomers, McKelvey’s. The game was played on the 12th July. This historic date must have had an influence on some of the players and officials, as records show the game was abandoned because of a dispute! With Cuchullain’s leading by 0-6 to 0-2 McKelvey’s scored. The Cuchullain’s umpire signalled for a point while his opposite number raised a red flag.

Players and spectators became involved in the dispute. County officials decided the issue by ordering a replay which Dunloy won.

1932

It was back into another final in 1932 and Dunloy were firm favourites going into this game against an Ardoyne side who were playing in their first final. It didn’t work out that way however with the North Belfast men taking the honours.

1933-1934

Dunloy were back in the final in 1933 and 34 but success eluded them in both deciders, losing to St. Gall’s and O’Connell’s respectively. Cuchullain’s came back to claim the SFC crown in 1935 and 36 but lost the 37 final to Ardoyne and the 38 final to Gaedhil Uladh.

Defeats to O’Donnell’s and Sarsfields in the final of 40 and 41 brought an end to a superb period for the footballers of Dunloy. They still compete successfully in the league and championship in Antrim but in recent years have played in division 2 of the league and competed in the Intermediate championship.

A fresh crop of young players have merged in recent years with success at minor and U21 level but hurling has taken over as the number one sport and the Cuchullain’s have enjoyed their fair share of success on the hurling front.

The men from the village are well capable of claiming another success at senior level on the football field and if they can get their strongest side on the field then an Intermediate title is well within their capabilities in the not too distant future.

    

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