Forty years ago on Monday (June 1st) Ballycastle McQuillans made history when they became the first Antrim team to play in an All Ireland Club Hurling final where they took on Galway champions Castlegar in the decider at Pairc Tailteann in Navan. Their brilliant win over Crumlin of Dublin in the semi-final had set the Ulster champions up for a final appearance, initially fixed for Croke Park, but that was changed at the last minute, and Navan was venue.
Although it had been going since 1971 the club championship was still finding its feet back then and it has to be said it was not top of the agenda among the Croke Park hierarchy. When Ballyhale Shamrocks won their eighth All Ireland title back in January this year it was a high profile game, which went out on live TV but back then it was a different story. You just have to look at the match programme for the final to find out how little the authorities cared for the competition. The front cover was hand written – I kid you not – hand written. I wonder in the history of the GAA has that ever happened at any other time.
The point I am trying to make is that the four provincial winners were not treated with very much respect. Ballycastle had won their county title almost nine months beforehand and their provincial eight months, and I would imagine the other three semi-finalist were much the same. Not and ideal set-up to give teams the chance to prepare properly, I’m sure you would agree. The semi-finals were played the week before and it is that historic win over Crumlin of Dublin we are featuring here today.
In their own county championship title holders Ballycastle had beaten Glenariffe in the opening round before surviving an almighty scare against Loughgiel in the semi-final in August. The Shamrocks appeared to be on course for the win when they went in at the break leading by 3-4 to 0-6, one of the goals coming inside thirty seconds from Mick O’Connell. Full forward Brendan Laverty struck for two more goals before the break as the Shamrocks made good use of the wind to head into the Pearse Park dressing rooms at half time with a seven point lead.
Man of the match Peter Boyle lifted Ballycastle spirits when he pulled a point back early in the second half, his fifth of the game, and when his partner in crime Eddie Donnelly added another soon afterwards it was clear the Shamrocks seven point cushion was far from secure. As it turned out the Town dominated the second half to such an extent that Loughgiel could only manage two more points, and just one of them from play. ‘Porky’ Boyle went on to give and exhibition of score-taking, ending with nine to his name, while Eddie Donnelly grabbed five, and his younger brother Brian three, as they hit a second half total of 1-15 (the goal coming from Charlie McVeigh) to run out winners by 1-21 to 3-4.
Waiting for Ballycastle in the 1979 final was Cushendall who had made a historic breakthrough in the semi-final when the beat Rossa at Fr Maginn Park, Glenravel to book their place in the final for the first time.
In that final champions Ballycastle proved too strong for this emerging Cushendall side and an early goal from Eddie Donnelly set them on their way. Shane McNaughton and midfielders Liam McKillop and Dominic McKeegan showed well for the Ruairis but the skills of Peter Boyle, Brian Donnelly and Eddie Donnelly kept the Town on top and they lead by five at the break.
Donal McNaughton pulled a point back for Cushendall early in the new half, but a second goal from Eddie Donnelly and points from Brian Donnelly and Peter Boyle put the champions in control and they pushed on to win by 3-15 to 0-11, the third goal coming from tenacious corner forward Olcan Laverty.
Ballycran provided the opposition in the Ulster final and tough opposition it was when the sides met in horrendous conditions in Carey. It was a real battle of wills between two evenly matched teams and there was nothing to separate them at the end of a the first half which ended on four point apiece. Ballycastle opened up a three point lead midway through the second half and appeared to be gaining the upper hand but the Down champions closed to within two again with just ten minute left. The pressure was on once again as the men from the Ards went in search of what would have been a winning goal, but Stephen Boyle settled in the final minute with a well struck point from a free to give his team a 1-11 to 1-8 win and their second Ulster title.
The Ulster champions certainly got plenty of time to bask in the glory of their victory as it was another five months and two weeks before they saw action once again. They were drawn to play the Leinster champions Crumlin of Dublin in the next round, but their Leinster final against Camross of Laois wasn’t played until the March 23rd 1980 and it was four weeks after that Ballycastle got their chance. Croke Park was the venue and the Dublin champions were hot favourites to advance to the final, but Ballycastle had other ideas and they turned the form book on its head as they became the first Ulster club hurling team to win in Croke Park in the club championship and the first to reach and All Ireland final