Fifty golden years ago today Antrim hurlers made the breakthrough

Fifty years ago today, October 4th 1970 Antrim won the All Ireland Intermediate Hurling title when they beat Warwickshire in the final at Croke Park. The game was to have been played a few weeks earlier at Casement Park, a week after the Saffrons beat Dublin in the semi-final. However Warwickshire refused to travel and after a lot of negotiations it was finaly fixed for Croke Park. The men in Saffron, who had beaten really good Down, Galway and Dublin teams on their way to the final, proved too strong for the exiles and cantered to a fifteen point win.

We first published this article back in May, during the early days of the lockdown. At the time it was hoped that the virus would be behind us and that the celebrations planned to mark the 50th anniversary could go ahead. Unfortunately that has not been the case and it doesn’t look the players and officials connected with this great team will get the chance to come together this year. However hope springs eternal and when this awful virus is behind us they can meet up again to talk about that famous day in Croke Park 50 golden years ago.

Antrim captain Sean Burns lifts the Intermediate Cup after his team’s win over Warwickshire

Antrim make hurling history at Croke Park

Antrim 4 -18    Warwickshire 3 – 6

Antrim’s day of glory was climaxed by hordes of Saffron followers swarming onto Croke Park to chair their heroes to the winners’ rostrum and who could blame the over-joyed fans. This was the day awaited for decades when an Antrim side would at last overcome the final obstacle to break a frustrating chain of dismal failures.

Composed and completely convincing, Antrim lived up to their overnight arrival at new found enthusiasm. They strolled onto the pitch bubbling with confidence and displayed little sign of nerves, except for a few momentary lapses in the defence and smartly put the cross-channel side in their place.

Warwickshire tried hard to come to terms but were rarely able to match the Ulster Champions in any department. And to be quite fair, I’m sure that Antrim players must have been somewhat surprised at their relatively easy access to near complete control throughout the hour.

Anti-Climax

After three strenuous encounters against Down, Galway and Dublin their last hurdle to that previously elusive championship reward was something of an anti-climax.

With the wind in their backs Antrim immediately settled down to make full use of their advantage and were never expended following two snap points by midfielder Sean Collins and long-serving Paddy McShane.

Warwickshire were permitted occasional attacking times but were a well-beaten team, even as early as the interval when they were trailing by 12 points. As most hurling enthusiasts, however, are well versed in the uncertainty of this game, the champions of Britain were not completely out of the fight.

But just to make sure that the exiles were not permitted to gain any real measure of consolation Antrim grimly retook control and crashed into a 18 points lead in the 40th minute through a Brendan McGarry goal.

Antrim’s Brendan McGarry

Of no avail

Warwickshire tried a variety of switches and changes but to no avail. They were up against a far superior side and nothing could deprive Antrim of deserved victory.

The new champions took a forgivable breather to allow Warwickshire to bring their score sheet to a more respectable status in the last ten minutes, but this was after a crackerjack goal by burly Eddie Donnelly in the 49th minute. By this time the cup was well and truly in the hands of Antrim who must be rated the overnight sensations of the hurling scene.

For too long they have been regarded as a bunch of gallant losers, but after yesterday’s display they will command a greater respect among the giants of the game. Their historic victory must be classed as only the beginning of a new era for hurling in the North.

Long-awaited

At last Antrim have gained a long-awaited confidence and through dedicated training the necessary teamwork and determination has developed. Cleaver running off the ball is now combined with a fluent slickness in striking. It was almost incredible to witness the cool anticipation of Antrim players when they went into the tackle.

That oft-exploited ‘Southern’ half flick of the stick held the answer to the best efforts that Warwickshire could serve up. I would personally praise the team as a whole despite the obvious individual efforts.

Both teams an backroom boys come in for the plaudits and this combined sense of purpose, never before evident on such a scale, has now brought Antrim back into the senior grade and on to possible further glory.

This season will, however, be remembered as the term of true fulfillment of long-awaited promise.

Earlier in the season the boys hinted at great thing to come when they defeated Kildare in the division two league final. Yesterday was the crowning glory to prove the Ulster inferiority complex in hurling confrontations with Southern might is now a thing of the past.

Johnny Coyle makes a vital save

Veteran goalie Johnny Coyle brought off a few inspired saves following an early bout of uncertainly while in front of him the full-back line of Elliott, Donnelly and Hamill settled down to overshadow the expected threats of skillful players such as Danagher and Quinn.

But the real stars of the defence were wing half-backs Nial Wheeler and Aidan McCamphill. These two were, without fear of contradiction, in a class of their own.

Once again McCamphill – featuring a new mobility and assurance – acted as sweeper up while Wheeler’s cold-eyed catching and exceptionally long clearances set the quick-silver attack on a stream of rewarding moves.

Antrim players joine team captain Sean Burns on the steps of the Hogan Stand as they receive the trophy

Fitting reward

Team Captain Sean Burns gained fitting reward of holding aloft his first top-flight trophy after an exhibition of hurling at its very best. He produced every move in the book and of all the players involved in this day of triumph he was the hurler supreme.

Not one given to overelaboration, Sean maintained a high standard to snappy striking and clever anticipation while his youthful partner Sean Collins provided Antrim with centerfield superiority.

Up front the big man in every sense was Eddie Donnelly on the ‘40’ mark. The powerfully built Ballycastle player showed no sign of handicap following a recent hip injury.

Eddie thundered through the Warwickshire defence with relative ease and capped a brilliant performance with a picture book goal in the second half. His club mate by the hard-tackling Warwickshire backs combined in the forward frolics while Andy McCallin, although not at his superlative best, had the opposition defence in a tizzy at times.

Brendan McGarry, Seamus Richmond and Aidan Hamill fitted into the clever pattern of an attack which was unstoppable both in marksmanship and inventiveness.

This proud moment for Ulster and Antrim hurling will undoubtedly be a cherished memory and will prove, I’m sure, a milestone on the road to greater achievements.

To all the players concerned and not forgetting stonewall centre half Tony Connolly who had to retire with an injured hand after scoring a long-range goal, I would say a personal thank you for this long awaited breakthrough to the top.

The Warwickshire team

HISTORIC HOUR IN DETAIL

Antrim began their assault to break the long barrier of frustration with a mature authority and midfielder Sean Collins, a lanky Belfast docker, set the pattern with an expert long-range point in 30 seconds. Two minutes later, a brilliant clearance by corner back Chris Elliott was lofted over the bar by full-forward Paddy McShane.

Warwickshire full of fight, tried to penetrate a surprisingly jittery Antrim defence and Charlie Crowe tapped over a 21 yard free in the fourth minute after full forward Jim Quinn had been upended. Play fluctuated with both keepers coming to the rescue before Andy McCallin pointed from a free in the eighth minute following a foul on McGarry.

Warwickshire lacked conviction at the front – a fact borne out when Crowe failed to convert a close in free and Antrim’s superiority gradually began to take effect. Goalie Breen did well to halt a great effort by Sean Burns before the Antrim skipper cracked over a point from a 70-yard free in the 12t minute.

Seconds later McCallin stretched the lead to four points from a free and then Warwickshire dangerman Danagher, adequently held by Elliott, pointed from a lobby Tom Ryan.

Short-lived

The cross-Channel side’s jubilation was short lived when Antrim wing half Nial Wheeler, aided by the breeze, scored a free some 100 yards from the Warwickshire goal.

Veteran of the Antrim side – goalie John Coyles – cut off a great effort by Gantly before the Ulster Champions grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. And the man to do it was centre half forward Eddie Donnelly. In the 17th minute Donnelly was fouler and McCallin fluffed the 30-yard free. Andy’s shot ran to Dilliane but he made up for the mistake by blocking the exile’s shot to flick the ball to Donnelly.

Panic set in to the Warwickshire defence which was given a hurried reshuffle, with Liam Dalton pulling back to the full back spot. But it was all in vain as Antrim surged forward with unstoppable fervor.

Confusion

Quick thinking Brendan McGarry distracted ‘keeper Breen as Tony Connolly’s 90- yard lob sailed to the net in the 20th minute. Now in a state of utter confusion Warwickshire gallantly tried to curb a superior foe, but without any great measure of success.

Andy McCallin set off on a spellbinding solo run down the centre and when almost certain to score was upended by a flying hurley stick. His short pass however, did not work this time with Donnelly. Goalie Breen picked off the ground eight minutes from the interval and Andy made to mistake to tap over point number seven.

A weak clearance by Coyles gave Hogan a chance to fire home Warwickshire’s first goal in the 24th minute – a sharp reminder that the cup was not yet on its way North. Antrim retaliated with a point by Donnelly from a lick Richmond pass and Warwickshire made it tit-for-tat from a free by Danagher.

McCallin and Hamill linked up well on the left-wing with diminutive Hamill whipping over a brilliant point. Rossa club mate Collins added another free from a 60-yard free before Burns and Donnelly collected two more to give Antrim a comfortable 2-12 to 1-3 half time lead.

Another point

Just after the restart corner back Larry Moore pulled rather crudely and dangerously across Antrim full-forward McShane. The result was another point from a free by deadly accurate McCallin.

Hamill added another in the 35th minute and was later followed by another from ironman McShane.

In the 40th minute the game was virtually over when McGarry palmed the ball to the net following a defence-splitting move by Donnelly, McCallin and McShane.

Warwickshire replied with two pints before Donnelly really put them in their place in the 49th minute. Wheeler’s short pass was first-timed by dynamic Donnelly to the net.

With an advantage of 19 points, Antrim naturally cruised a little – sometimes a costly lapse. Their temporary complacency gave Warwickshire the chance to blast home 2 shock goals by Gantley and reserve Jim Byrne.

Two minutes from time, Richmond brought Antrim to life again with an excellent point.

Scores, teams

Hogan replied and Antrim finished off their finest hurling hour with points by irrepressible Donnelly and long-striding Richmond.

Antrim Marksmen – E.Donnelly (2-3), Tony Connolly (1-0), B.McGarry (1-0), A.McCallin (0-4), S.Burns, S.Richmond, A.Hamill, S.Collins, P.McShane (0-2 each), N.Wheeler (0-1).

Warwickshire scorers – W.Hogan (1-1), F.Gantley (1-0), J.Byrne (1-0), C.Danagher (0-2), S. O’Keefe, D.Dillane, C.Crowe (0-1 each).

Antrim – John Coyle, Chris Elliott, Kevin Donnelly, Eamonn Hamill, Nial Wheeler, Tony Connolly, Aidan McCamphill, Sean Burns (capt.) and Sean Collins, Seamus Richmond, Eddie Donnelly, Aidan Hamill, Brendan McGarry, Paddy McShane and Andy McCallin.

Subs – Aidan Connolly for Tony Connolly, J.P.McFadden for A.Connolly.

The Antrim squad. This pic was taken on the day they beat Dublin in the semi-final
Back row from left:Joe McCallin, Andy McCallin, JP McFadden, Eddie Donnelly, Seamus Richmond, Johnny Coyle, Kevin Donnelly, Leonard (Boo) Vernon, Aiden Connolly, Martin McGranaghan, Brendan McGarry
Front from left: Barney Campbell, Aiden McCamphill, Willie Richmond, Eamon Hamill, Niall Wheeler, Sean Burns (Capt), Aiden Hamill, Sean Collins, Paddy McShane, Tony Connelly, Chris Elliott.

Warwickshire – Dan Breen, John O’Brien, Pat Grimes, Larry Moore, Mick Hanley, Liam Dalton, Tom Ryan, Jim Moynihan and Des Dillane, Charlie Crowe, Finbarr Gantley, Willie Hogan, Con Danagher, Jim Quinn and Vincent Coffey.

Subs – Jim Byrne for Quinn, Seamus O’Keefe for Crowe and Pat Shiels for Coffey.

Ref– Jimmy Hatton (Wicklow).

Apart from the players many of the men involved in what was a great year for Antrim hurling are in these photos. Men like forward thinking Hurling Board Secretary and selector Frank Smyth, Jim McClements and Danny McMullan. Len O’Connor from Glenariffe and Fra McCann from Sarsfields, who are not in these pics, were also selectors

Liam Harvey, long serving Antrim Official: ‘This is a great day for Antrim hurling. They played magnificently. O never had any doubts about their ability.’

What they said

Seamus Clarke, Chairman of the Antrim Hurling Board: ‘This was the day which justifies the faith of the faithful hurling men in Antrim. I congratulate the players and all concerned, particularly Justin McCarthy who gave the players faith in their own ability. Tomorrow night (Monday) the Ballycastle Urban Council will give a Civic Reception and Dinner to the players and officials. Now we can take our rightful place among the great hurling sides in the land. This is the proudest day of my life’.

Al McMurray, county secretary: ‘The lads were simply magnificent. Their victory was clear cut and makes up for the disappointment of the postponed final. I thought the ten minutes after half time saw Antrim at their best. This was really power hurling and even better than in a senior final’.

Justin McCarthy, the Corkman who has worked wonders as advisor to the Antrim team: ‘They are a great side and played well within themselves. There was real sweetness about their play. Mind you, Warwickshire are also a good side, but they lacked the fluency or spirit of Antrim. The way these Antrim lads have improved since the Galway game is fantastic. There is no knowing their real capabilities if they set their mind to the task’.

Frank Smith, Secretary of Antrim Hurling Board: ‘What can I say except that they were magnificent’.

Neil Patterson, Antrim team manager: ‘ I congratulate all concerned. This was a terrific display. I have been connected with Antrim hurling as player and official for longer than I care to remember, but this is my proudest day. This is the greatest set of players ever. This title can be the stepping-stone to greater things. I am so excited I could just cry’.

Selector Fra McCann: ‘It was a great game and a great victory, Warwickshire played hard, but they just had no answer to our boys’.

Joe Mullan, Secretary of the Down Hurling Board: ‘This is a great day for Antrim and Ulster hurling. They played like a well trained and groomed team. I congratulate them on a magnificent victory’.

Frank Corr, South Antrim Secretary: ‘I thought it was a great game, full of good hurling. Our boys showed a great appetite for the game and played with great understanding’.

Lou Maloney, Warwickshire player who missed the game due to a broken ankle: ‘Antrim were much the better team and used the wide expanses of the park to the limit. They backed each other up very well too. I thought their period of dominance after half time really won the game’.

Former Antrim star, Jimmy Walsh commented: ‘This was one day I would not have missed for a fortune. I was really proud of the side. For years I have been almost ashamed of Antrim’s attempts in inter-county games. At last we are on the right road thorough this wonderful team which has everything’.

Ex-county player and former selector John Flanagan added: ‘I believe this is only the beginning. There are very few teams today that could live with this Antrim side and I sincerely hope that the great work done by them will not be wasted. Their success is a true reflection of dedicated teamwork preparation’.

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