By Donal Cunningham
I have really enjoyed reading through all the various ‘Best 15’ selections from Antrim’s football fraternity and was looking forward to reading the hurling selections, but the reality and difficulty of this task really hit home when I received an unexpected text from John ‘Curly’ McIlwaine asking me for my own selection.
Firstly there are probably a lot more knowledgeable and qualified personnel than me to make a selection , my active memory of club games begins in the mid 70’s, so never witnessed the giants who went before then, legends like John Butler and Brendan ‘The Bear’ Donnelly (both RIP), Robbie Elliott, and Sparrow Harkin, I am just about old enough to remember the last couple of seasons of the late Paddy McShane, a man who personified all the great qualities of the Gael, but too young to accurately include Paddy or any of the above named greats in my selection.
Being involved for the last couple of seasons as part of the Senior team management, I will deliberately not include any of the current playing squad, there are definitely a few contemporaries, who would merit inclusion but will choose to restrict my selection to former players. In other words my selection is really for former players from about 1977 to 2015.
The principle of subjectivity has been well established by previous contributors, and no doubt this selection will incur as much disapproval as it does approval, but that’s the purpose (a bit of craic), so in that spirit I am happy to offer the following.
- – Paul Smyth
One of the automatic selections for this side, Paul was our goalkeeper for the best part of two decades. A brilliant shot stopper an intelligent reader of the game, and not afraid to marshal his defenders. At a time when his Antrim and Ulster peers were the likes of Jim Corr, Niall Patterson and Noel Keith, ‘Smythie’ was up there with the best.
2 – Eoin Colgan
One of the coolest and most stylish of defenders and could rob possession from his opponent just like a pick-pocket.
3 – Cormac Donnelly
In a recent online interview Dunloy and Antrim’s former goalkeeper Shane Elliott described Cormac as one of the best fullbacks in Ireland, and lamented a career ended prematurely by injury. I share Shane’s sentiments.
4 – Gerard ‘Fish’ McAuley
Every defence needs a warrior, ‘Fish’ was that warrior, ‘hard as nails’ and an incredible ball winner, the tougher the opposition – the more ‘Fish’ relished the challenge.
5 – Liam Gallagher/Paul Jennings
I am torn between these two, both fantastic servants for club and county, Liam on his day was untouchable, fellow defenders often remarked that when Liam was on form they had little to do, such was his dominance. Likewise, Paul never shirked a tackle and had the ability to pick the perfect pass after winning possession. A potential contender for a place in midfield also.
6 – Terence ‘Hippy’ Donnelly
Without doubt the best centre half I have witnessed in Antrim club hurling. While modern day hurlers pay a small fortune in gym memberships and on strength and conditioning, Hippy just had it naturally.
7 – Kieran ‘Pinky’ Kelly/Ronan Donnelly
Again I am unable to separate two wing half’s, and again both served Club and County well in a variety of positions,. Kieran had a majestically hard strike which he used to great effect. Ronan was a class act and a rock in defence, his positional awareness was second to none, strong and a great catcher. Both Kieran and Ronan deserved greater success for the club
8 – Stephen Boyle
An automatic choice, ‘Dingus’ was a really reliable and stylish competitor. Always one of the fittest in the squad and had a very distinctive tucked in solo run, never let the side down.
9 – Terence Barton
Barton was a serious hurler and well ahead of his time. He covered ever blade of grass on the pitch and could strike the ball as sweetly as anyone in full flight a line ball specialist and arguably our man of the match in the All Ireland Club final of 1980.
10 – Paul McKillen
Paul was undoubtedly one of Ireland’s greatest ever midfielders (and probably would want to wear the famous No 9 shirt), but despite his All Star award in that position ,when you have the luxury of the above midfield, you would reap greater rewards with Humpy in the three quarter line. There is little to be said about Paul which hasn’t already been. A long range point specialist, skills Paul finely honed with hours of practice in the fields behind Knocklayde View.
11 – Brian Donnelly
Another automatic choice, one of the best, Brian had a phenomenal work rate, his strong direct running style and his consistent willingness to receive the sliothar made him a constant threat. Brian knew how and when to take a score and would have ran through a brick wall if that was required.
12 – Peter (Porky) Boyle
Probably the most graceful and aesthetically pleasing hurlers to grace Antrim hurling, Porky was different class, if Brazilians ever played hurling this is what they would look like. A prolific scorer and a creative playmaker.
13 – Charlie McVeigh
Charlie was sometimes the unsung hero, powerful and strong and played in a variety of positions/ Charlie never let the side down and was at his most dangerous in the full forward line which was evidenced by his hat-trick of goals in the 1980 County final.
14 – Eddie Donnelly
Another legend. Eddie led the line brilliantly and always encouraged others. Eddie’s strength and skill were matched by his game-intelligence. An incredible catcher, when Eddie’s raised the hand, it was rare that he didn’t come away with the sliothar and a resultant score. His record of having played in 14 Antrim Senior finals and winning eight medals speaks volumes
15 – Dessie Donnelly
Another automatic choice, and in reality you could give Dessie any jersey, as Dessie lined out in numerous County finals and in a variety of positions. A 1989 All Star at left full back, Dessie was an artist, and his artistry with a stick has not been seen in Antrim since. Dessie was a deadly accurate free taker. On a morning walk last week, I met Dessie painting the gates of Pairc Mac Uilin, a dedicated club man.
Subs: All of who on their day probably merit selection includes Kevin Boyle, Kevin Donnelly, Seamus Donnelly, Michael McShane, Malachy Dallas, Gary Maybin, Alex Campbell, Stephen McGarry and Olcan Laverty.