Posts by thesaffrongael

Photographer and GAA writer who has been covering hurling, football and camogie for almost forty years

St Louis edged out the Tower in a classic semi-final in 1988

Mageean Cup preview

St Louis won their first Mageean Cup title in 1988 with a runaway win over St Mary’s in the final in Glenariffe, but in the semi-final they were pushed all the way by Garron Tower at the same venue. Many of the Tower players on that team look back on this game as the one that denied them their chance of winning a Mageean medal, but St Louis, with the Gillan brothers Niall and Brian, whose father Dan had been a member of the Tower’s winning sides in the 1960s, denied them, Brian scoring 3-3 in a man of the match performance, while Niall grabbed a goal

My match report in the Ballymena Chronicle read……………….

St Louis pip the Tower in thrilling semi-final

St Louis 5-5 St MacNissi’s 3-8

By John McIlwaine

St Louis qualified for the final of the Mageean Cup when they beat St MacNissi’s Garron Tower by 5-4 to 3-8 in a cracking semi-final in Glenariffe, and now go forward to meet holders St Mary’s CBS in the final.

It may sound a much overused cliché but it is a pity there had to be a loser in this game. The Tower gave it everything they had as they turned in their best display of the season, but they squandered several chances during the second half when they had an abundance of possession. St Louis on the other hand were most economical in their use of the ball, none more so than right half forward Brian Gillan who scored 3-3.

But it was in defence that St Louis excelled, particularly in the second half. In full-back Declan Heggarty and centre back Kevin McCann they had two real stars that kept the opposition at bay when it seemed at times the Tower were taking control. McCann in particular really dominated his area, particularly in that second period, and though St MacNissi’s tried a few different permutation in attack they could not curb his effectiveness.

The Tower made an encouraging start and were ahead after three minutes when full forward Luke McBride found the net after a goalmouth scramble. In their first threatening attack St Louis showed their scoring power when centre half forward James McMullan fired to the net to level the score, but the Tower retook the lead with a point from McMullan’s Glenariffe club mate Shane McDonnell, who sent over a great point.

Brian Gillan opened his account with a goal in the 11th minute to give St Louis the lead, and though Rory McEldowney pulled one back from a free, Gillan increased the St Louis lead with point in the 14th minute and a goal in the 19th. Randall McDonnell and James McMullan exchanged points to keep the gat at five, but the Tower finished the half strongly in the dying minutes of the first half.

Brendan Wheeler knocked over a point in the 27th minute and then corner forward Aidan O’Neill took full advantage of a goalkeeping slip to fire to the net to close the gap to the minimum. However just on half time Brian Gillan sent over a point at the other end to give St Louis a two point cushion at the break.

The Tower came out with all guns blazing in the second half. With Shane McDonnell and Rory McEldowney dominating midfield they had the better of the exchanges in the first ten minutes. McEldowney kicked over a point in the 34th minute to cut the gap to the minimum and four minutes later Randall McDonnell brought the sides level with another well taken point. James McMullan had good effort for goal well saved by Frank McCaughan in the St MacNissi;s goal, before the Tower took the lead through a Conor Arthurs pointed free in the 43rd minute.

One minute later James McMullan soloed through the Tower defence and his cross was volleyed to the net by Brian Gillan to give St Louis back the lead, but Conor Arthurs responded with a goal at the other end to put the Tower back in front with only seven minutes left to play.

However that was to be the last time the Tower led and within a minute Niall Gillan showed that anything his brother can do he can do better as he fired home his team’s fifth goal. Not to be outdone Brian added a point one minute later to put St Louis two ahead, and though Conor Arthurs pulled a point back for St MacNissi’s that was as close as they would get as St Louis held out for a historic victory.


St Louis – Brian Gillan 3-3, James McMullan 1-1, Niall Gillan 1-0

St MacNissi’s – Conor Arthurs 1-2, Kuke McBride 1-0, Aidan O’Neill 1-0, Rory McEldowney 0-2, Randall McDonnell 0-2, Brendan Wheeler 0-1, Shane McDonnell 0-1


G McGrath, A Quinn, D Heggarty, T McKeown, C Connolly, T McKeown, D Fyfe, T McAuley, K Kearney, K Quigley, J McMullan, B Gillan, G McCollum, J McGale, N Gillan.


F McCaughan, C McNeill, N McAuley, RP Campbell, R Ferguson, P McSparran, P Campbell, R McEldowney, S McDonnell, G Delargy, L McBride,  C Arthurs, B Wheeler, R McDonnell, A O’Neill. Referee – Brenan McGaughey (Ruairi Og)

The Tower’s glory years

Danske Bank Mageean Cup final preview

Friday 9th December at the QUB Dub :

St Killian’s Garron Tower v St Louis Ballymena

Focus on St Killian’s by Seamus McAleenan

The Danske Bank Mageean Cup final this Friday is unique in that it will be the first time none from St Patrick’s Maghera, Cross & Passion Ballycastle nor St Mary’s CBGS Belfast will feature. It is also the first ever meeting of St Killian’s Garron Tower and St Louis Ballymena in a final.

This will be just the second time that St Killian’s has contested the final of the blue riband event in schools’ hurling. However before St Killian’s emerged from the amalgamation of three schools on the east Antrim coast, St MacNissi’s College on the Garron Tower was closely linked to the establishment of hurling in Ulster schools.

1953-4 St MacNissi’s Garron Tower team picture.
Back: Fr Paddy McKavanagh (coach), Liam Vaughan (Ballymena), Jim McGrath (Fermanagh and later Belfast St Agnes club player), Francis McRory (Ballymena), Anthony Logan (Dunloy), Brendan MacAuley (Cushendall), Bernard O’Kane (Coleraine), Stanley Parfitt (Belfast St Agnes).
Front: Dan Gillan (Loughgiel Shamrocks), Denis O’Hara (Cushendun), Mickey Young (Newbridge), Willie Devlin capt (Glen Rovers Armoy), Carl O’Neill (Ballymena), James Brown (Glenravel/Dunloy), Tom Gillan (Loughgiel Shamrocks).
Three players missed the picture call – Patsy Black (Glenariffe), Jim Mitchell (Glenariffe) and Neil McKillop (Cushendall).

Almost exactly a century after Lady Londonderry constructed her summer residence on a ledge overlooking the Sea of Moyle, the Diocese of Down and Connor purchased the site to open a second diocesan seminary as St Malachy’s College Belfast had become overcrowded.

Garron Tower is surrounded by glens hurling clubs Cushendun, Cushendall, Glenariffe and Glenarm where young lads who would become “day boys” would take their hurl with them everywhere they went on the small farms in the area. There would be hurls in the new school that opened in 1951 and this triggered the start of inter-colleges’ hurling competitions the following school year.

Although many of the Christian Brothers’ schools played hurling at different levels prior to 1952, only St Malachy’s and St Mary’s CBGS Belfast were pushing for a competition. Now with the addition of a third school and occasional participation from the Red High in Downpatrick and other schools, the Ulster Colleges’ Council was encouraged to start a hurling competition on the same basis as the MacRory Cup that had been running for a quarter of a century at that point.

For the first 11 seasons the prize was the Ulster senior Shield and for five of those 11 seasons St MacNissi’s Garron Tower were the outright winner. They also shared the 1954-55 and 1958-59 titles.

Photograph taken in front of Garron Tower includes:
Paul Fagan, James Heatley, Tom McDonnell, John Keenan, Colm Osbourne, Dónal Murphy, Paddy Delargy, Brian Rainey, Seamus Higgins, Matt Maguire, Seamus McCamphill capt., John Hamill, Geordie Wheeler, Oliver Keenan and Eddie Donnelly
Missing from photograph : Kevin Donnelly, Eneas Black and Colm McGuckian


In those years the competition was played on a round-robin basis with no final; whoever won the league, collected the Shield. For a couple of years only St MacNissi’s, St Malachy’s and St Mary’s CBGS entered and therefore each team played home and away.

In the early years it was played in the summer term until St MacNissi’s and St Mary’s CBGS lost to each other in the summer of 1955 and, as there was no time to fix a play-off due to exams, two sets of medals had to be presented.

The following season, the Colleges’ Council gave the competition a time-slot – September – so that it would be done and dusted before the MacRory Cup started. However within a couple of years a second title had to be shared by St MacNissi’s and St Malachy’s.

The pair were supposed to play a winner-takes-all final game on October 9th 1958. However Pope Pius XII died that week and the two diocesan colleges of Down and Connor were directed to postpone the match. The MacRory Cup started immediately after the papal funeral and a time-slot couldn’t be found for a re-match for the hurlers.

Sadly that was the end of St Malachy’s as a force in hurling, but St MacNissi’s went on to win the title for three years in a row 1960-62, the first and last captained by the McCamphill brothers, (Fr) PJ and Séamus with Francis Connolly in the middle.

Others to feature in those teams included future Antrim footballer Oliver Keenan and county hurlers Eneas Black, Kevin Donnelly and Brian Thompson. Brian would later go on to coach teams in Cross & Passion and the Thompson Shield is presented in his memory after his untimely death around 15 years ago.

The death of Bishop Mageean in 1962 prompted the students of Dromintine College outside Newry to present a Cup in his honour and it was to replace the senior shield for the 1963-64 season. Except that it didn’t!

The Mageean Cup wasn’t yet available when the final game of the round robin series was played on October 12th 1963 in Casement Park. St MacNissi’s beat St Michael’s Omeath by 5-6 to 2-1 and, as they had it from the previous year, the senior shield was presented to the winning captain Oliver Keenan.

1963-64 was also the first year that the Ulster senior champions represented their province in the Croke Cup, the semi-final of which was played in Croke Park on 19th April 1964. St Peter’s Wexford beat St MacNissi’s by 8-7 to 2-5 with Eneas Black (1-4), Colm Donnelly (1-0) and Eddie Donnelly (0-1) scoring for the Ulster champions.

St MacNissi’s Garron Tower who were the first winners of the Mageean Cup in the 1963/64 season. Included in the photo are- Brian Rainey, Tom McDonnell, Hugh Osbourne, Michael Nugent, Paddy Delargy, Oliver Keenan capt., Colm Donnelly, Eneas Black, Laurence Darragh, Colm McGuckian, John Keenan, Eddie Donnelly, Ernie Dowds, Kieran McMullan, John Hamill, John Keenan, Kevin Donnelly and Michael Nugent
The 1963-64 team taken with the Ulster Shield the day they won what was the first Mageean Cup final. The trophy was not ready on time so the Shield was presented on the day. The photo above this one, take at the Tower, includes both trophies

Prior to their visit to Dublin, a team photograph was taken in Garron Tower. It is the first time that the Mageean Cup appears in front of a winning team. Incidentally the Senior Shield was also placed in the team photograph and that marks the last photograph of the Shield after 11 years as the top prize.

Sadly that was also the last time that the Mageean Cup was to visit Garron Tower.

Brian Rainey, who featured in goals for the Tower in both the 1962 and 1963 teams, transferred to St Mary’s CBGS to become a day pupil the following year and he was a key member of the first team from the Glen Road to win the competition outright. He remains the only player to win Mageean Cup medals with two different schools.

Rainey also won a Rannafast Cup medal with St MacNissi’s in the 1963-64 season and that football success was probably one of the reasons the Tower’s hurling fortunes took a dip. The boarders had always favoured football over hurling. With success in the Rannafast, assisted by some hurlers including Eddie Donnelly, they went on to contest MacRory semi-finals on a couple of occasions in the years that followed.

Meantime St Mary’s became a force in hurling and won the next 15 titles in a row, collecting All-Ireland B titles in 1971 and 74. The 1969-70 season was the only one in which the Tower came close to breaking the sequence.

They beat St Mary’s in the first game of that series, but lost the final game to the Red High in Downpatrick. That meant a three-way play-off. The Belfast side took advantage and defeated the Tower in the “final” in Loughgiel by 8-7 to 4-3. Incidentally current Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian wore the purple and gold in that final.

Hurling dipped dramatically after that in St MacNissi’s. With St Louis Ballymena and Cross & Passion becoming co-educational, boys now had a chance to attend schools in their own area instead of boarding or making the longer bus journey to the Antrim coast. Boarding numbers also declined and for close on a decade, St MacNissi’s couldn’t field a senior team.

They came back into the Mageean in the mid-1980s with a team that included, inter alia, BBC Sports presenter Mark Sidebottom. Under the stewardship of Tommy Lismore they gradually build at underage level and launched a bid for the top prize in the early 1990s only to lose three successive finals, the first to St Mary’s and then two in a row to Maghera.

The Garron Tower team who were beaten by St Louis in the Mageean semi-final in Glenariffe in 1988. St Louis went on to win their first title two weeks later, beating St Mary’s in the final at the same venue.

Those teams included future Antrim star Conor “Monty” McCambridge and also Pádraig McIlwaine and Michael McAlister who returned to their alma mater as teachers and are involved in the current Mageean Cup bid.

There were only two further appearances by St MacNissi’s in a final. The first came in 1995 when they came up an agonising two points short of St Mary’s Belfast with a team that featured Karl McKeegan, Johnny McIntosh and Micky “Monty” McCambridge.

A decade later Neil McManus, Aaron Graffin, Paddy McGill and Darren Hamill were in the team that was beaten in Casement Park by St Patrick’s Maghera who went on to bring the All-Ireland O’Keefe Cup to Ulster for the first time in 32 years.

St Killian’s began life in the Casement Cup which they collected in 2011 and five years later they made their only appearance in a Mageean Cup final going down heavily to St Mary’s Belfast.

Perhaps Friday 9th December 2022 will bridge a 59 year gap and see the main hurling title make a return journey to its first resting place overlooking the Sea of Moyle.

Gaelfast All Stars was a great event

The Gaelfast football All Stars received their awards last week at a great night at St Mary’s University Belfast. Players who had been selected from the highly successful Year 8 and Year 10 football tournaments back at the start of the school year were honoured for the top class performances on the field.

County chairman Ciarán McCavana addressed the players and their parents before St Mary’s Prinicipal Peter Finn welcomed all who had attended and praised the work that Gaelfast had done in organising such a great tournament.

Antrim Games Development manager Alfie Hannaway spoke about  ‘The Story So Far’ and about the work the Gaelfast team were doing to build our games in Belfast and throughout the county and about the great success of the Antrim Schools Cup and Shield competitions for Year 8 and Year 10 students. Overall 22 Schools took part at 10 different venues which culminated in the finals at Dunsilly.

St Mary’s CBGS won the Year 8 competition, while Edmund Rice College were winners of the Shield. St Malachy’s College took the honours in the Year 10 tournament with De La Salle winning the shield. Overall 1123 players took part with 526 All Star nominations, which gives some indication of the task the Gaelfast staff had in selecting those who went forward.

John McGuckian from the Saffron Business Forum wrapped up the speeches before making the presentations to the winning captains of the Cup and Shield competitions and the Year 8 All Star jerseys were handed over by county star Pat Shivers and the Year 10 awards which were done by Pat’s county colleague Paddy McAleer.

Overall I highly successful evening which will leave a great impression on all who attended.

Bert Trowlen was there for the Saffron Gael to capture some historic images.

John McGuckian of Gaelfast presented the team trophies to the four winning captains

Pat Shivers presented the Year 8 All Star jerseys


Brendan McTaggart looks back on Sunday’s game as Dunloy dethroned Slaughtneil to take the Four Seasons Cup back to Pearse Park for a record equalling 11th time in their history.

“It’ll be the longest two minutes of your life, Brendan.”  A word from behind me at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday as the fourth official showed how long injury time would be allowed at the end of the hour.

The notes were almost being forgotten about at that stage.  I was up and down off my wee stool more than usual.

Dunloy without Shorty, Slaughtneil with Jerome McGuigan and Gerald Bradley back in their team.  How would we react to playing a game of this magnitude without our ‘Pirlo’?

Word had reached me during the previous week that Shorty was struggling, I might have lit an extra candle just for our genius.

Brendan seems to be happy with the outcome as he greets Coby Cunning at the final whistle

By now when it comes to these games, I’m a creature of habit.  Reach the venue ridiculously early with the same passengers in the car.  There’s always a selfie to post on social media before we set off and my oul fella is always sitting or standing with my girls while I’m pitch side.  Everything was there, apart from the selfie which was only remembered when we navigated our way past the ‘Cow Clap’ competition in the car park!  That was it, a Dunloy defeat and the selfie or lack thereof was my excuse.

It’s ok to look back on it now, when I was in amongst the throws of it, I just wanted the game over but what a day Sunday was.  Was I confident Dunloy would win?  No but I had the belief that they could.  A hope that they would.

There were big calls to be made with the selection and to have Conor Kinsella partner Eoin McFerran in midfield was probably the biggest of them all.  Coming into a game against the seasoned experience of Cormac O’Doherty and Shane McGuigan and with Gerard Bradley and Chrissy McKaigue never far away, Dunloy showed a hunger and desire in that middle third that they have never reached before.  Wango and Kinsella ran themselves into the ground.

Starting Anton McGrath in the front six was massive.  A cub with all the ability in the world and all the natural class that oozed from his dad before him but raw when it came to playing in the Ulster championship arena. Another call that was vindicated with his performance, especially in the first half.

Wee Jimmy’s saves, the reactions to get something onto the rasping drive from Brian Cassidy was outrageous.  Morale boosting for Dunloy, confidence draining for Slaughtneil.  Followed soon after by Nigel’s major to put daylight between the sides for the first time just on the stroke of half time.

Five points up at half time, I was asked if I was confident yet?  No because I knew there was a kick in Slaughtneil.  A reaction to being out-hurled in the first half.  They are a proud side who have rubbed shoulders with the best in the club scene in recent times, they were always going to come out and hit another gear in the second half.

I said in my report that the winning of the game came down to Dunloy’s response and ultimately it did but by God my heart was beating just a small bit faster 15 minutes into the second half.

It wasn’t the most pure of hurling games but it was one for those who love the battle.  Those who love the fight, the intensity and tenacious side of the game.  Dunloy’s defence was superb, in the first half especially.  Creating turn over ball and as I was reminded by a friend from west of the Bann after the game, when was the last time Slaughtneil didn’t manage to reach 20 points in a game of hurling?

Slaughtneil came roaring back in the second half and Dunloy kept their scoreboard ticking at the other end. Coby with touches of magic and brilliance throughout, his point from wide on the right and scores from Snoozer, Decky Smith and Nicky McKeague inspirational.

The death was a dog fight.  Slaughtneil going for goals and the Dunloy defence putting their body on the line.  Each ball played like it was the last.  Every man in green and gold stood a foot taller in those closing stages and hurled without fear, knowing they had to do whatever it took to see the game out.

Phelim Duffin, Dunloy’s quiet man but he like many around him was immense in those last few plays.  Duffin threw himself in front of Brendan Rodgers drilled effort for goal and I’m pretty sure that after the adrenaline wore off on Sunday he’s feeling the effects of a sliotar travelling at rapid speed meeting his torso.

Those two minutes did seem to last a lifetime.  But to be honest, at that stage I had finally got confidence.  As that second half wore on, the way Dunloy hurled, I knew they had it in them to finally get over the line against Slaughtneil.

Looking back again, in a game that was decided in small margins, Dunloy won enough of the big moments to deserve the win.  Asking something different of a brilliant Slaughtneil team that we hadn’t asked before.  Met fire with fire and showed a presence of mind in the cauldron arena that was the Athletic Grounds to remain composed and trust what they were trying to do.

I have lived through Dunloy’s glory days of the 90’s and Noughties, I’ve been to every final won and lost.  Savoured the memories of those epic wins in the past but there was something about last Sunday that was different.  It seemed to mean more to the club, more to the Village, more to me.  

This current crop of players needed this Ulster championship to be made comparable to the teams gone by in Dunloy’s history.  They needed to show that this current group of players had what it takes to defeat a team the calibre of Slaughtneil.  It vindicated the belief that’s been shown in them by the club and by the Village.

A trip to Croker now lays ahead for the semi-final and memories of the past come flooding to mind. Athenry twice, Portumna twice, Sarsfields twice (one replay) in Dunloy’s past and a decent record against those sides who come from the West.  Dare to believe?  To dream?  Ah we’ll let the hangovers settle before we go down that rabbit hole….

St Louis first Mageean success came in 1988

Mageean Cup Preview

St Louis 7-11 St Mary’s CBGS 1-0

When St Louis made the Mageean Cup breakthrough back in 1988 they did it in emphatic style by beating 3-in-a-row chasing St Mary’s Belfast in a one sided final in Waterfoot.

Although they were dominant throughout the game St Louis did not take command of the game until twenty minutes in when Gary McCollum scored the first of his five goals. The corner forward went on to add two more before the break and with his Loughgiel clubmate Brian Gillan adding four points the Ballymena School went on to lead by 3-5 to 0-0 at half time, against a shell-shocked St Mary’s side.

St Louis with the Mageean Cup in 1988

When the sides met in the league section earlier in the league the Belfast side had come from eight down to win the game, so there was still hope as the second half resumed, but despite stubborn resistance from Terry Grego, Hillary McDaniel and Declan Barr there was to be no turnaround this time.

In truth it was decided in the opening minute of the new half when Niall Gillan got St Louis fourth goal Gillan and McCollum added further goals to stretch the gap even further while Ronan Boyle grabbed a late consolation goal for St Mary’s. Man of the match Gary McCollum brought his personal tally to 5-4 as he grabbed his team’s seventh.

James McMullan and his Glenariffe supporters after the game

In a strong defensive performance team captain Declan Hegarty and Glenravel’s Kevin McCann were well supported by Conor Connolly of All Saints and Dermot Fyfe of Glenravel, Tony Connolly and Kieran Quigley of All Saints and James McMullan of Glenariffe.

Brothers Brian and Niall Gillan done so much to help St Louis claim their first Mageean win, just like their dad Dan and uncle Tom had done for Garron Tower in winning their first Mageean back in 1952

St Louis

Gerad McGrath, Adrian Quinn, Declan Heggarty, Trevor McKeown, Conor Connolly, Kevin McCann (0-2), Dermot Fyfe, Tony McAuley, Ciaran Kearney, Kieran Quigley, James McMullan, Brian Gillan, Gary McCollum (5-4), Brian McGale, Niall Gillan (2-0).

Subs used. Neill ‘Vic’ McCann, Garry ‘Bean’ O’Neill, Paddy Hamill, Ciaran Richmond, Gerard Richmond.

St Mary’s

Michael Kennedy, Ciaran McCartney, Hilary McDaniel, Paul McDowell, Damian Linton, Terry Grego, Denis Kearney, Charlie McLarnon, Colm McGuinness, Kevin McKernan, Jimmy Wilson, Patrick Dobbin, Eugene Farley, Declan Barr, Donal Kennedy.

Subs used. Ronan Boyle (1-0)

Referee – Tom Donnelly (Gael Uladh)