“Memories of the All Ireland Camogie finals – By Eilish Cunning

With the permission of Dunloy PRO Paul McLean we share a lovely piece written by former All Ireland winner Eilish Cunning about playing in the All Ireland Senior finals of 1956 and ’57.

“Ive been asked to share my memories of playing camogie for Antrim in the All Ireland finals of 1956 & 1957. I was invited onto the senior Antirm panel in 1955 when we travelled all the way to Cork to play them in the semi final where we would lose to them by 4-01 to 0-03 at the Athletic Grounds. (Cork would go on to lose to Dublin in the final).

In 1956 we would go on and win the All Ireland Final against Cork, breaking a run of 8 All Ireland Final wins in a row for Dublin. I was playing at right wing midfield. In those days it was 12 a side – 3 midfielders, 3 half backs, 3 half forwards, 1 full forward and 1 keeper.Our goal keeper then was a 14 year old Teresa Kearns, the youngest ever player on a Senior team, and along with our Dunloy team mates Madge Rainey (captain), Winnie Kearns, Ethna Dougan and Agnes Dillon we formed a North Antrim grouping along with Grace Connelly (Loughgiel) and Moya Forde (Ahoghill).

Still hurling yet.
Eilish and her grandson Conal in her daughter Angela’s award winning photo

The remainder of the team were from Belfast. We met the great Dublin team in the semi final (who had just won the last 8 finals in a row) in Casement Park and I had the joy of playing on Kathleen Mills, the great Dublin player. A fantastic game between the side saw us win and epic game by 1 point on a score line of 6-02 to 6-01 and go into the All Ireland Final. The final was played in Croke Park against Cork on the 30th of September where we would win on a score line of 5-03 to 4-02. My most vivid memory of this game was when the ball was thrown in it broke to me and I pulled on it, only to miss and tear up a sod of the hallowed turf! The nerves had not settled! Dunloy club ran a function for us in celebration of our victory and they presented us with necklaces and earrings. Mine was a green one and they are displayed in the Clubrooms trophy cabinet. Dunloy also presented Grace Connelly a set as well as our neighbours to acknowledge her triumph. We were allowed to keep the O’Duffy Cup in Dunloy for 6 months with how many players we had on the panel. It was displayed proudly in the window of O’Brien’s shop – a fitting place to have it as it was owned by Rosaleen McCamphill, herself a former All Ireland Champion in the forties. I got Joe Magee, the local photographer, to take a picture of it of which I still have.

Eilish marked Dublin’s 15 time All Ireland winner Kathleen Mills (left) in the 1956 semi-final.

In 1957 Antrim once again reached the final after a tough semi final win over in Mayo on a 2-01 to 1-02 scoreline. This was the first time a camogie match was to be broadcast live on RTE. The great Michael O’Hehir came to visit us in the hotel and we all had to put on our gear to meet him – saffron gymfrocks, royal blue girdles, white t-shirts and black stockings. We were very impressed and in awe of how quickly he remembered all our names. I always felt I was to blame for us losing the final. It was a touch and go all throughout the game. In the dying seconds Moya Forde, who played at full back, was coming out with the ball and she lost her stick in a tackle. As she had the ball in her hand, I ran to her for a pass but she gave it an almighty kick over my head up the pitch. I turned, keeping my eye on the ball with my head in the air, proceeded to run straight into the upward swing of Annette Corrigan from Dublin. I was knocked out completely from this. At this point in the game we were winning by 2 points and the game was nearly over. The ball was thrown back in after I had gone off leaving us with no back in position and Dublin went up the pitch and put the ball in the net for a goal. Ill never forget the disappointment when I came back round to be told we were beaten by 2 points on a score line of 3-03 to 3-01. At the dinner in the hotel afterwards in Dublin (I think it was the Antrim & and Down association) they presented us with silver St Brigid’s crosses and mine is on display in the Dunloy trophy cabinet.

Eilish and Conal

I could write on for ever of the great memories and times playing camogie for Antrim, but this will do everyone for now.I could not go by though without mentioning Jamsie Kearns – great grandfather of our current Senior camogier Nicole O’Neill. Jamsie took us to training for the county in Belfast as none of us had a car and he also took Dunloy camogier’s as well at the same time. Without him taking the team there would not have been camogie for us nor would we have got to Belfast to represent the County. Its important to note for the record this great Dublin team would go on win the next ten All Ireland finals in a row defeating Antrim two more times in this period before Antrim would gain revenge in the 1967 final after in a replay. “

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