2020 Championship continues

Glory for Ardoyne and Moneyglass while county promotion hopes dashed

Yesterday we took a look at the 2020 Antrim Senior Football championship and Cargin’s ultimate success in the competition as they recorded an impressive three in a row with a win over neighbours Creggan in an excellent final in Portglenone.

Today we feature the Junior and Intermediate Championships and take a look at Antrim’s bid for promotion and their Ulster Championship game against Cavan as the county scene got underway again following a long shutdown owing to Covid-19.

We start with the Junior Football Championship where the participating sides were divided into two groups and games played on a league basis with the top two from each group qualifying for the semi-finals.

In group 1 it was Pearses and Ballycastle were the top two in the group, each side finishing on six points from four games, but Pearses topping the group on the head to head between both sides.

In group 2 things were a little less straight forward with Kickham’s Ardoyne, St. Comgall’s Antrim and O’Donnell’s all finishing on six points. It could not be finished using head to head as Ardoyne defeated St. Comgall’s, St. Comgall’s beat O’Donnell’s and O’Donnell’s defeated Ardoyne in the league section so score difference came into play.

Ardoyne and St. Comgall’s were handed the semi-final spots despite a protest from O’Donnell’s regarding the Antrim town’s side result against Mitchell’s which was turned down.

In the semi-finals St. Comgall’s were drawn against Pearses while last season’s beaten finalists, Ardoyne faced Ballycastle in the other semi-final

Action from St Comgall’s semi-final win over Pearses

Antrim Junior Football Championship, semi-final

St Comgall’s 1-12 Pearse’s 0-8

St. Comgall’s Antrim advanced to the final of the Antrim Junior Football championship when they defeated Pearses in the semi-final in Ballymena. Both sides had been halted in their progress following a protest by O’Donnell’s but matters were finally settled on the playing field with the Antrim town side running out seven point winners.

St. Comhghall’s hit 1-2 late in the opening half after Na Piarsaigh had Tom McFarlane Black carded and those scores were to prove decisive despite their opponents fight to the final whistle.

The New Lodge Road side gave it everything but just couldn’t find the goal that might have given them a lifeline as the Antrim Town side ran out winners to set up a meeting with Ardoyne next week.

Action from Ardoyne’s semi-final win v Ballycastle at Dunsilly.

Ardoyne v Ballycastle

In the other semi-final Ardoyne finished strongly to defeat a spirited McQuillan’s Ballycastle thus setting up a second meeting of the season with St. Comgall’s Antrim (who they had defeated in the group stages) in the final.

Gymco Antrim Junior Football Championship Final

Ardoyne withstand St Comgall’s fightback to take Junior title

Ardoyne 3-06-0-12 St Comgall’s

Kevin Herron reports from Hightown

Ardoyne regained the initiative late-on and survived the dismissal of Conor McLaughlin early in the second-half as they ran out 3-06-0-12 winners over St Comgall’s to claim the Gymco Antrim Junior Football Championship at Hightown on Saturday afternoon.

The North Belfast side were hard to stop early on and hit St Comgall’s with three goals inside the first quarter of the game thanks to Cormac Mullan, Conor McLaughlin and Aidan McNeill.

But early in the second-half McLaughlin was shown a straight red-card and St Comgall’s made the most of their numerical advantage and overturned a nine-point deficit to level the scores at 3-02-0-11.

The Antrim outfit couldn’t get their noses in front however and were forced to chase the game after Mullan ended a 40-minute scoreless period for Ardoyne who ran out 3-point winners at the conclusion to lift the junior title for the first time in eight years.

In the Intermediate Football Championship we had a similar format with the participating sides divided into two groups of six and the top two sides advancing to the semi-finals.

In group 1it was last year’s beaten finalists, St. Ergnat’s Moneyglass who topped the group winning all five of their games with Cuchullain’s Dunloy finishing second on 8 points.

In group 2 it was All Saints, Ballymena who completed their league campaign unbeaten with 10 points from five starts while St. Paul’s finished second on 8 points from the same number of games.

The semi-finals saw St. Paul’s drawn against Moneyglass under the floodlights in Ballymena while Dunloy faced All Saints under the Clooney light.

Larkin Cassidy Solicitors Intermediate Football Championship semi-final

Moneyglass 1-15 St Paul’s 0-15 a.e.t.

After all the months of lockdown and limited entertainment this year’s Antrim Championships are more than making up for the shortage.

Tonight saw newly promoted St Pauls travel down the M2 to take on a strongly fancied St Ergnat’s side at Quinn Park, Ballymena.

A large crowd turned out expecting a close game and no one left Quinn Park short changed. The game had it all. Drama, excitement, missed chances, pressure points…the lot.

In a game that swung to and fro throughout St Pauls thought they had snatched victory when Liam McLarnon kicked over three minutes into stoppage time but there was time for one more attack.

Moneyglass needed a leader and they found it in Jimmy McMeel when in the last attack of the night he kicked over an inspirational point to send the sides into extra time, though St Paul’s were left aggrieved when they had appeals for a free waved away seconds from the end.

In extra time it was St. Ergnat’s who eventually gained the upper hand to run out winners by three points. St Pauls will be devastated they didn’t put this one to bed but Moneyglass showed great resilience and now can look forward to another tough encounter with Dunloy in the final.

Intermediate Football Championship

Semi Final

Tuesday September 8

Dunloy 1-12 All Saints 1-9

Brendan McTaggart reports from Ahoghill

Dunloy’s annus mirabilis continues.  A weary side with most still licking their wounds from Sunday’s epic contest with Rossa sealed their place in the Larkin Cassidy Intermediate football final with a three point win over All Saints.

It was an accomplished performance from Anthony McQuillan’s side who controlled this contest and had a foot in the final by the time Caolan Gillan scored their goal from the penalty spot in the 42nd minute.  It put them 10 points clear of the Ballymena men but the Cuchullains had to withstand a rally from the Slemish Park side. 

Ballymena played with more urgency, fluency and pinned the Cuchullains in their own half as they got the bit between their teeth.  Time, however, was not their friend as Dunloy had enough on the scoreboard.

Antrim Intermediate Football Championship final

Moneyglass seal Intermediate glory in thrilling final

Moneyglass 2-09 Dunloy 1-08

Report by Gary Duffin

Moneyglass staged a fantastic second half comeback to beat Dunloy in Saturday’s thrilling Antrim Intermediate Football final at Dunsilly to clinch the title for the first time since 2004. When they trailed by four at half time last year’s beaten finalists must have felt this was not going to be their day once again, but a brilliant goal from substitute Ryan Doyle within a minute of the restart turned the game on its head and they pushed on to victory. Keelan Molloy hit back with a point to leave the game on a knife edge with time running out and it looked like it could go either way.

However this year the St Ergnet’s men were not going to be denied and big Seanchann Duffin sent the Moneyglass support wild with a fantastic point from well out the field.

It could still have gone either way but Paddy McCormick then sealed the deal when he got on the end of a wonderful counter attacking move involving the very impressive Conor Boyd and Fearghal Duffin to inflict the fatal blow on Dunloy, his goal expertly finished from a narrow angle.

County scene returns

It was back to the county scene on the 17th October when Antrim travelled to Aughrim to face Wicklow with promotion still within their grasp but the momentum they had built up with that excellent win over Limerick back in March had gone.

The home side dominated from start to finish with Antrim look a mere shadow of the side who had defeated Limerick prior to the lockdown.

Allianz Football League Division Four

Wicklow 7-11

Antrim 0-7

Antrim’s promotion hopes hang by a flimsy thread following this 7 goal mauling by a lively Wicklow in Aughrim today. The Saffrons went into this game knowing a win would almost certainly guarantee them a place in division 3 next season but the men from the Garden County failed to read the script.

Instead it is they who have put themselves right into the promotion race and on today’s performance they look more ready for a tilt at life in the higher grade than today’s opponents.

Antrim made six starting changes from the side who comprehensively defeated league leaders Limerick way back at the start of March, just before the lockdown with Odhran Eastwood who scored 2-3 in a man of the match performance in that excellent victory left on the bench.

In the event it was Wicklow tore up the form book to put themselves firmly in the promotion picture with a stunning 7-11 to 0-7 win over Antrim in Aughrim this afternoon.

Antrim’s promotion hopes had been firmly dashed but could still steal a promotion place if results in the final round of games went their way and they could gain a win over Waterford in their final game.

They received a further setback when Waterford refused to travel north, citing Covid-19 concerns but Antrim called their bluff with the game hastily rearranged in Haggardstown outside Dundalk.

A week later Allianz National Football League Division Four

Win over Waterford keeps promotion hopes haning by a thread

Antrim 2-14-0-13 Waterford 

Kevin Herron reports from Dundalk Geradlines

Antrim missed out on promotion to Division 3 of the Allianz National Football League but ended the campaign with a 2-14-0-13 win over Waterford thanks to goals in each half from Odhran Eastwood and James McAuley at Haggardstown this afternoon. 

The scenario was simple ahead of throw-in, Antrim needed to defeat Waterford and hope for a Sligo win over Limerick and a winner from the game between Wexford and Wicklow- not as easy set of permutations.

The introduction of Michael McCann in the 29th minute brought a bit of calmness to proceedings  while his brother Tomas gave the Waterford defence plenty of problems when he came into the fray with 20 minutes remaining.

However it was St. Enda’s man, James McAuley who just edged Mick McCann for the man of the match accolade, the sweeper setting up the opening goal for Odhran Eastwood in the first half and then getting forward for a second himself late in the game to kill off the Waterford challenge.

The win, although welcome proved in vain with Wicklow and Limerick gaining wins on the day to ensure promotion but the Saffrons had one last chance to save their season when they travelled to Breffni Park to face Cavan in the Ulster championship.

Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final  

Saffrons edged out by Cavan in Ulster Championship

Cavan 0-13

Antrim 0-9

At half time in this Ulster SFC quarter-final at Breffni Park Antrim looked in with a serious chance of causing an upset having out played and out fought Cavan as they produced their best 35 minutes of football for quite a time.

Superbly marshalled in defence, where they denied their more illustrious opponents time and space and sharp on the break, they led the home side by 0-6 to 0-5 at half time and might have been further ahead.

Michael McCann marshalled those around him to great effect and was at the heart of nearly everything they did while Paddy Cunningham rolled back the years with a couple of scores that would have graced any game.

During the second half Cavan, as expected came back strongly but when the Antrim management sit down to analyse where it went wrong in the second half they will surely point to the number of scoring chances their side wasted.

Cavan went on to win the Ulster championship, putting the Antrim performance in some sort of perspective but in the wake of the Cavan defeat Lenny Harbison stepped down as Antrim manager.

The former All Ireland club championship winner with St. Gall’s had served the county well over the past three years but missed out narrowly on promotion on each occasion, finishing third in all three years.

Out with the old and in with the new

We at the Saffron Gael wish Lenny all the best in the future and always found him helpful and easy to approach during his tenure as Antrim manager.

He has been replaced by Tyrone All Ireland winner, Enda McGinley who has appointed a strong backroom staff and expectations will again be high that Antrim can push on to better things with promotion again the priority.

We wish Enda and his backroom team of Stephen O’Neill, Sean Kelly and Stephen Quinn our support for the coming season and will be there to cover their games and lend our support to the Saffron cause.

2020 Club Football review

Patrick McIlwaine takes a look back at the Antrim club season and the Creggan U21 tounament.

Early March and the Paddy McLarnon Cup at Creggan, which had been rescheduled because of the early start to the county season, got underway with a good St. Eunan’s Ballyshannon defeating Carrickmore and Carryduff beating neighbours St. Brigid’s in a real cliff hanger.

The Creggan club had left no stone unturned to ensure that their tournament went ahead with Premier Electrics on board and completed three of their quarter-finals on the same day with Clann Eireann of Armagh accounting comfortably with O’Rahilly’s Latton and the fourth quarter-final set for Ahoghill on the Monday night



St Eunan’s (Donegal) 1-16

An Charraig Mhór (Tyrone) 0-11

St Eunan’s Letterkenny and Tyrone champions Carrickmore battle it out in the opening round at the Creggan tournament.

St Eunan’s were explosive from the throw-in at Creggan this afternoon and brushed Carrickmore aside on their way to an Ulster U21 Paddy McLarnon Cup semi-final.

The Donegal side were three points up inside two minutes as the strong Loughshore breeze sucked the ball back towards Niall McKenna’s goal on each kick out.

Despite Carmen settling towards the end of the half, the Tír Chonaill men led by double scores at the break and continued in the same vein without wind advantage to seal an 8-point win.

Paddy McLarnon-Premier Electrics U21 Football club championship

Liam Tunney

St Brigid’s (Antrim) 0-11

Carryduff GAC (Down) 1-09

Belfast rivals Carryduff of Down and St Brigid’s of Antrim produced a classic battle for the second year in a row

Carryduff repeated last year’s one-point victory over local rivals St Brigid’s to seal a place in the quarter final of the Paddy McLarnon Cup.

If last year’s encounter was a rollercoaster, this one had more of a dodgems feel to it as the sides engaged in a battle of wills amid unforgiving conditions on the Loughshore.

Paddy McLarnon-Premier Electrics U21 club championship

By Liam Tunney

O’Rahilly’s GAC Latton (Monaghan) 0-05

Clann Éireann (Armagh) 1-13

Clann Éireann of Armagh accounted for Latton O’Rahilly’s of Monaghan in their quarter final

Clann Éireann recorded a comfortable victory over Latton to reach the semi-final of the Ulster U21 Paddy McLarnon Cup at a windswept Kickham’s Creggan on Sunday.

St Canice’s (Derry) v Enniskillen Gaels (Fermanagh) – Monday, Ahoghill, 7:30pm

St. Canice’s edged out the Fermanagh champions under the floodlights at Clooney but that was as far as the tournament got with the club issuing the following statement during the week as Covid-19 struck.

It is very regretful that we have to issue this postponement of the 2019/20 Premier Electrics Ulster U21 Club Football Tournament Semi-Finals scheduled for this Sunday. We have received the message below from Antrim County Board and take our responsibilities seriously with regard to players, families and wider communities.

We will continue to take advice from our Governing Bodies and will seek to get the games played at an appropriate future date.
Go raibh maith agaibh

Antrim Leauges make a brief appearance

Division 3 of the ACFL had commenced the previous Sunday with Rasharkin defeating St. Patrick’s Lisburn by 2-8 to 2-7 in a game that looked like having a big impact on the season, both sides having been relegated from Division 2 at the end of the 2019 season.

The following Sunday the men from Dreen travelled to Pearses and were again triumphant, beating the North Belfast side by two points while St. Patrick’s suffered a surprising defeat at home to St. Agnes.

There was a round of games in division 1 and division 2 the same weekend but there would not be another ball kicked in earnest until Sunday the 19th of July as the dreaded Covid virus struck with a vengeance.

Like everyone else, we at the Saffron Gael found ourselves facing a dilemma. Would or could we continuing publishing or should we shut down until games commenced sometime in the future?

It didn’t take long to decide. Antrim Gaels needed something to keep them going during these difficult times so we put our heads together and came up with a number of ideas that were to prove very popular.

We asked clubs to select their best ever football and hurling 15 and the response was amazing with nearly every club responding. We carried features on championship successes of the past and again received a very positive response from the clubs and we are very grateful to all those who took time to send us that information.

Championship Round Robin lifts the spirits again

There is only so much looking back you can do however and it was like a child in a sweet shop I made the journey to Portglenone on the 17th July for a Reserve Championship game between the Casement’s and visitors St. Enda’s and the following Saturday to Dreen for a Division 2 Minor game between Rasharkin and Creggan.

The Antrim leagues had been re-launched in a group stage format which at completion would guarantee the top two sides a championship quarter final spot. The reduced fixture format worked well and those responsible for the making of the fixtures and ensuring their smooth running deserve great credit. 

There was a provision that there would be no promotion-relegation at the end of the season but the fact that the leagues would have a bearing on championship places meant that the majority of these games were played at real championship fervour and when the league sections were completed it was down to championship knockout.

In the Senior Football Championship Creggan and Portglenone emerged from a Group 1 which included St. Mary’s Ahoghill and produced some exciting games with Ahoghill starting brightly with a home win over Portglenone. The Casement’s looked on their way out when they lost their second game at home to Creggan but staged a great recovery to beat Creggan away and Ahoghill at home with Creggan’s emphatic win over Ahoghill in the final game ensuring that they topped the group.

In a Group 2 which also included three teams it was Lamh Dhearg who set the pace with three wins but with Rossa drawing with St. John’s at Rossa Park and again at Corrigan it was down to score difference with Rossa joining Lamh Dhearg in the quarter-finals.

Group 3 again provided a number of tight games but it was reigning champions, Erin’s Own Cargin who set the pace, winning all their games to top the group with an improving St. Mary’s Aghagallon joining them after good wins over St. Brigid’s and St. James Aldergrove.

In Group 4 it was St. Gall’s who edged out St. Enda’s on a head to head with both sides finishing on four points from three games. St. Enda’s were in the driving seat when they defeated St. Gall’s in the opening game at Milltown but St. Gall’s travelled to Hightown in round 2 and reversed the result. Gort na Mona were the other side in the group but lost the two games they played.

It was down to the quarter-finals now and straight knockout with holders Cargin proving too strong for Rossa at Clooney and Portglenone emerging in a real cliff hanger against St. Gall’s, which ended in near darkness at Dunsilly. The sides finished all square in a game that swung too and fro and it took penalties in the end to separate the sides.

 Lamh Dhearg edged out Aghagallon in another tight one at Corrigan while Creggan had too much for St. Enda’s in the fourth quarter-final with Dunsilly again the venue with the semi-finals throwing up a couple of very tasty pairings.

St. Enda’s was the venue for a repeat of the 2019 final where Cargin faced Lamh Dhearg while Creggan and Portglenone met for the third time in the second semi-final at Ahoghill.

Cargin edge out Lamhs in thriller

Lámh Dhearg 1-13-3-09 Cargin

Second-half goals from Ronan Gribbin and Pat Shivers ensured that Cargin put behind them an indifferent opening-half as the county champions survived a frenzied finish to book a place in the decider for the third successive season after a 3-09-1-13 win over Lámh Dhearg at Hightown this afternoon.

Lámh Dhearg were the dominant team in the opening half and bounced back from the concession of an early penalty- converted by Tomas McCann to lead 0-06-1-02 at the break.

But Cargin moved back in front through Gribbin and a third goal from Pat Shivers gave them breathing space.

A sweet strike from Paddy Cunningham ensured it was game-on again but tempers frayed as the clock ticked down with Cargin duo Michael McCann and Martin Kane being dismissed along with Lámh Dhearg captain Michael Herron.

The Toome men used their experience to see out time and advance to face near neighbours Creggan in a repeat of the 2018 final.

Ruiairi McCann goal turned the game in Creggan’s favour

Creggan 2-9 Portglenone 1-7

A goal from Ruairi McCann, 20 minutes into the second half turned this Senior Football Championship semi-final on its head as Kickham’s Creggan came with a late run to defeat Casement’s Portglenone at Clooney today.

With Casement’s holding a slender one point lead but with the wind behind them the Bannsider’s appeared to be gaining control but Creggan were awarded a free about 40 meters from the Portglenone goal and Ruairi McCann stepped up to take the resulting kick.

The Creggan number 10 had been in great form throughout the contest and had already scored six points(4 frees) so when he stepped up to take this one he looked set to send over the equaliser but his shot dipped at the last minute and ended in the corner of Ryan O’Neill’s net.

Portglenone looked stunned and before they could gather their thoughts and regroup Conor Small raced through for a second goal, minutes after being introduced as a sub and that was that as Creggan took control in the closing stages.

And so it was down to a second final in three years between neighbours and deadly rivals, Cargin and Creggan and there was a feeling in some quarters that Creggan had closed the gap on the champions since that easy forgettable 2018 decider which finished 0-5 to 0-4.

Kelly Park Portglenone was the venue for the final with a limited crowd permitted due to the continuing Coved restrictions and on an immaculate surface these sides served up an excellent final. If the 2018 final was easy forgettable then this one turned out to be an excellent decider and it took extra time to separate the sides.

Antrim Senior Football Championship (final)

Jamie Gribben celebrates after Ciaran Close’s goal sealed Cargin’s win in a classic final

Erin’s Own Cargin 1-22 Kickham’s Creggan 1-19 (aet)

When these two Loughshore neighbours met in the 2018 final it was a low scoring affair that was criticised by the media for its poor standard. However the 2020 version was a completely different matter as both team produced top class displays on a perfect surface at Portglenone as they produced a high scoring thriller that took extra time to decide.

‘The old dog for the hard road’, is the old adage and it certainly rang true in the final of a thrill a minute Antrim senior football championship decider at Kelly Park, as  a 72nd minute goal from Kieran Close proved the turning point in an absorbing contest.

The nimble 36 year old fired home from close range after being placed in the clear by Jimmy Gribbin to put a bit of daylight between the sides for the first time since the 7th minute.

Nothing had separated the near neighbours in an absorbing sixty minutes of football which thrilled the restricted attendance with the side’s level on six occasions.

A Tomas McCann point near the end of normal time looked to have ensured another title for the Toome men but Ruairi McCann replied at the other end to make it 0-16 to 0-16 and send the game into extra time.

Creggan led at the end of the first extra ten minutes as points from replacements, Paddy Coey and David Mc Guckin ensured a one point advantage but Mark Kelly and Jamie Gribbin combined to set up Kieran Close who finished to the net in style to put his side in the driving seat.

Further scores from Close, Pat Shivers, and Kevin ‘Kobo’ O’ Boyle saw Cargin move five in front but the Kickham’s replied with a late goal from replacement Odhran McLarnon to keep their fading hopes alive.

Michael McCann rose to collect the resultant kick out and send Kevin O’ Boyle on his way to raise white at the other end to ensure that there would be no way back for the gallant Creggan.

Cathal McOscar Photography

Cargin’s win completed a three in a row for the Toome side and a double double with their minors collecting their title with a win over St. Brigid’s at Dunsilly the previous day, a repeat of the 2019 final where the Toome lads defeated the South Antrim side at Corrigan.

Later in the week we will take a look at the Junior and Intermediate Championship and (ironically) as we head back into lockdown we will take another look at our county footballers as they completed their league and championship season for 2020.

Rasharkin mourns the loss of its ‘gentle giant’

Willie Hardy RIP

by Liam Tunney

St Mary’s GAC and the entire community of Rasharkin has this week been mourning the loss of one of its finest characters.

Born in the townland of Tamlaght, Willie Hardy attended Dreen School and after completing an apprenticeship at Proctor’s of Kilrea, opened Hardy Brothers in the early 1960s.

He was already making his considerable presence felt on the pitch at Dreen.

A talented footballer, he played his part in the club’s historic 1958 South Antrim league and Antrim junior championship double-winning season.

Willie kicked a point in the final as Rasharkin saw off Sarsfield’s, a win that propelled them into the senior ranks, where he would feature in four of the next five county senior finals.

Willie Hardy RIP, 4th from left on the back row on a Rasharkin team of the early 60s

Victory was to prove elusive, but Willie proved a memorable opponent for the team Rasharkin just could not overcome during that era; St John’s.

Mickey Gallagher, from that St John’s team, remembered him fondly.

“Besides the football, you had the families coming together as well. It was good craic,” he recalled.

“Sometimes you got a slap in the ear and sometimes you would give someone else a slap in the ear – it was good fun. You went out, you battered away and sometimes it got a bit rough.

“When the match was over, away you went and you were looking forward to the next time. That was the game and you just loved it.”

“Chris and John [Hardy] were very tight, but we called Willie the gentle giant, he was a big lump of a man. Good people and a good family.”

Peacemaker is a role that Willie found himself playing on a number of occasions. As well as keeping an eye out for his brothers on the pitch, he went on to become a referee.

In later life, he maintained a good level of fitness through his pursuit of golf and cycling, regularly embarking on 50-mile treks through North Antrim and South Derry.

He served as a senior selector, and maintained such a presence around the club as an ardent supporter and club sponsor that he could be simply recognised as ‘Willie’.

Willie Hardy withe the great Kerry legend Mick O’Dwyer

The outpouring of grief since his passing on Monday and the fondness with which he will be remembered is testament to his influence in the village.

His smile usually told you there was a yarn to be coaxed out, and he would pass on stories to consecutive generations that went through Dreen’s gates.

Willie will be greatly missed by his wife Grace, his sons, daughter, entire family circle and throughout the wider Rasharkin community.

“I would have had to play the peacemaker quite a lot,” he told me in a 2018 interview leading up to the club’s 75th anniversary celebrations.

 “I had the two brothers, John and Christy, that would have got into a few rows and I would usually get the nod to go and make the peace.”

There will be few nervous smiles among the Gaels up above as that formidable trio of Hardys is reunited.

Time to go and make the peace, Willie.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

2020 a year like no other

Today Patrick McIlwaine looks at Antrim footballers games in the early part of the season before it was all brought to an abrupt halt by the dreaded Covid 19

As we move into 2021 and look forward with hope for an end to Covid-19 we look back to 2020 and a year that has been rightly described as a year like no other.

Today we take a look back at the football and it was Antrim County footballers who got the ball rolling with a McKenna Cup game against Fermanagh in Ahoghill and it augured well for Lenny Harbinson’s Saffrons when his division 4 charges defeated a Fermanagh side who were playing their football in division 2.

The visitors looked to be heading for a first victory of the season as they led Antrim going down the home straight but a couple of superb goals from Paddy McBride turned the game on its head and gave Antrim a great start to the season.

Antrim beat Fermanagh in the opening round of the McKenna Cup in Ahoghill

The following Wednesday night Antrim travelled to Newry to face Down in the same competition and performed well but never really looked like adding the Mourne scalp to that of Fermanagh. Antrim made quite a number of changes from the side who defeated Fermanagh in Ahoghill with Creggan’s Oisin Kerr, Mark Gardner of Gaeil Baile Shiomoin and Eamon Fyfe of Glenravel making their county debuts.

The Saffrons matched the Mourne men for a good part of the contest but Down struck with first half goals from Barry O’Hagan and Corey Quinn to leave the visitors trailing by seven at half time. Both sides played the possession game and slow methodical build ups were the order of the night.

Aghagallon’s Ruairi McCann led the Antrim attack well as the visitors used the ‘Mark’ to good effect and Lenny Harbinson’s side were still hanging in there with nine minutes remaining when they trailed by only four points after enjoying a good spell on top.

Significantly though Down seemed to find an extra gear as the Saffrons started to tire and they hit a flurry of points to pull clear in the dying minutes with Barry O’Hagan, Corey Quinn and substitute Liam Kerr hitting some excellent scores.

Conor Murray in action against Down in the McKenna Cup game in Pairc Esler

Down went on to defeat Fermanagh to top the group and thus ending Antrim’s interest in the McKenna Cup but the general feeling within the county was that Antrim were in good shape going into their division 4 league campaign.

The following Saturday the Antrim U20’s entertained Louth at Dunsilly in their first outing in the league. Hugh McGettigan’s side were to go on to have an impressive season with a championship win over Derry at the Dub before suffering a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Tyrone.

Only a couple of points separated the Saffrons and the Red Hands in terrible conditions at Lavey and as Enda McGinley eluded to in his recent interview with the Saffron Gael, the side contained a number of players who should have a great future at Senior level.

Antrim won a hard fought opener against Wexford in Division 4 of the National Football League

It was down to division 4 and a league opener with Wexford in Glenavy and Antrim made an impressive opening to their league campaign with a good win over their Leinster opponents. It was nip and tuck during the opening half but a goal from Aghagallon’s Ruairi McCann early in the second half swung it Antrim’s way. The big man got on the end of a tantalising cross to palm to the net while the returning Paddy Cunningham showed glimpses of what Antrim had been missing during his lengthy absence from the Saffron jersey.

The final result: Antrim 3-10 Wexford 0-13

That game was on the 26th January and a week later Antrim travelled to Marievicz Park to take on Sligo, a fixture that had thrown up plenty of problems in the past and this one proved to be no different.

The Saffrons were edged out 0-15 to 0-14 by Sligo in really tight affair in Marievicz Park

Antrim went down 0-15 to 0-14 in a tight affair and were perhaps unfortunate not to take something from the fixture and it was one of a number of results that would ultimately cost them a promotion place come end of season.

Patrick McBride in action against London in Ruislip. On a day of horendous weather the Saffrons got home with four to spare.

Still it was still looking good for Lenny Harbinson’s men when they travelled to Ruislip to face London in McGovern Park. In a day that was not conducive to good football it was Portglenone’s Dermot McAleese who put himself into contention for a regular start in the side as Antrim prevailed to defeat the exiles 0-14 to 0-10.

Hugh McGettigan’s U20’s had been going well in the league but the Rossa man had one eye firmly fixed on the Ulster championship and a good crowd attended their quarter-final meeting with Derry at the Dub.

It’s rarely that Antrim start these games as favourites and this one was no different but the Saffrons made little of the underdogs tag to record an excellent win over the Oak Leaf boys to set up a semi-final meeting with hot favourites Tyrone.

On Sunday the 23d February it was back to National Football League action for Antrim and the visit of Carlow to Glenavy and the Leinster side looked there for the taking following a poor start to their league campaign.

Carlow, like Sligo have never proved to be an easy fixtures for Antrim however and their over physical approach rattled Antrim in a poor opening half where the visitors racked up a healthy half time lead.

Paddy Cunningham in action against Carlow at Glenavy where the home teams staged a great second half comeback to edge out the Leinster men.

Antrim rang the changes for the second half and the introduction of Odhran Eastwood and Michael McCann turned the game on its head with Eastwood hitting a number of excellent points to get the Saffrons back into contention and McCann bringing organisation and method around mid-field.

It looked like the home side would push on and take both points but in the end had to settle for a 0-11 to 1-8 draw but in a dog eat dog division promotion still looked within their grasp.

Antrim’s U20’s had raised a few eyebrows by defeating Derry in their Ulster Championship opener against Derry but now faced Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final and Lavey was the venue for a semi-final that would be played in artic conditions at the county Derry venue.

Antrim led at half time in thier U20 semi-final with Tyrone but ended up losing out by two points to the eventual Ulster champions in Lavey

The Saffrons matched the eventual Ulster championship all the way and indeed were carrying the fight to Tyrone at the death but the scores they needed just wouldn’t come and in the end they went down fighting to a very good Tyrone side.

Even in defeat there was much to take heart from in the performances of McGettigan’s side this year and Antrim showed that with the right preparation and commitment we are capable of competing with the best.

A runaway win against Limerick in Portglenone raised promotion hopes once again for Antrim

It was back to the National League as league leaders Limerick visited Portglenone on the 1st March and nothing less than a win would suffice for an Antrim side who had already dropped three points but it looked like a tall order against a Limerick side that had been setting the division alight.

On a beautiful March Sunday Antrim turned the form book on its head as they ran the visitors ragged with Odhran Eastwood again very much to the fore in attack as the Saffrons dominated from start to finish to run out 2-21 to 1-12 winners.

Antrim were very much back in the promotion race and there was a feel good factor within the county, our hurlers were beating everything in their path, and a win in their next fixture away to Wicklow would almost certainly guarantee promotion for the Antrim footballers.

There was a real buzz about the county as Lenny’s side prepared for the long journey South but, as in life, a week is a long time in football and on the eve of the visit we were informed that Covid-19 had brought a premature end to Gaelic games for the unforeseeable future.

Later in the week we will resume our look back at 2020 as the club action finally got underway before going back to the county scene. We will also take a look at the hurling scene in Antrim in 2020 and the magnificent achievements of our county hurlers as well as reviewing the club hurling scene.

James McVeigh- a tribute by Tir na nÓg PRO Aimee McAtamney

James McVeigh, Tír na nÓg Randalstown.

Boxing Day 2020, was a day that many Gaels woke up to the devastating news of the death of our dear friend James McVeigh. A life taken too early, in just 42 short years what a positive impact James had on so many.

Over the past couple of days, the testaments from all around the world have paid compliment to James’ personality, infectious smile and love of all things Irish culture, language, friends, family and GAA. James’ boyhood club was Kickham’s Ardoyne, where he was brought up by his loving mother Louise and father Jim and had the values of the GAA instilled in him from a young age alongside his brother Anthony and sister Clare. James took an early interest in coaching and getting the best from young boys and girls. His earliest success was with the Ardoyne U16 hurling team.

During his studies James devoted himself to Ulster University and became Chairman of the Sports Union. It was clear from the beginning that he had an expertise in many areas and took a keen interest in developing all aspects of the sporting clubs he was involved in.

Moving to England to continue his career in teaching, James became a member of the Erin Go Bragh and James Connolly clubs. He continued coaching and progressed to county level leading Warwickshire GAA to an All Britain U21 Championship in 2009. He also had success with the U16 and U18 teams. In 2002 and 2003, James won Intermediate Hurling titles with Erin Go Bragh. His uncompromising style demanded nothing but greatness from all involved, and in 2006 he helped to capture a historic Senior Hurling Championship. At James Connolly’s, his tireless work on and off the field reaped the rewards with many cup wins and perhaps more importantly the days out with friends. A spokesperson at James Connolly stated “The work James did within the club laid the foundations for all successes in the clubs future Senior history. He was an inspirational Gael, and empowered a wider group to take over after he left to go home. We were lucky to know him”. He was also a huge figure at Aston University GAA in Birmingham. The club consistently had no Irish players – or players of any GAA experience – but with James’ help, they fielded in BUCS championships consistently, including the launch of a ladies team. James created community spirit wherever he went.

James with members of the Camogie team at the Tir na nÓg Centenary Gala in June 2019

When James moved to Randalstown with his parents, Tír na nÓg, Antrim and Ulster gained an invaluable member who went above and beyond in everything he got involved with. He quickly got involved with coaching Antrim development squads before securing a job with Ulster GAA, where primary schools all around Ulster, and in particular Co. Antrim, experienced the love of GAA that James oozed. At the time of his passing, he was also secretary of South West Antrim. When asked to piece together these few words, I was asked what roles did James fulfil in Tír na nÓg. To be honest, it would be easier to state what James wasn’t involved in. He began with coaching Gaelic for Mother’s and Others, it’s fair to say his method was fun and craic, particularly their outing to the annual blitz in Malahide. James then stuck with the ladies and played an active role with the Senior Camogs, before taking the reigns of the underage structure within the club and re-grouping a sub juvenile committee. He identified particular underage teams who were struggling for numbers and single handedly began recruiting and took charge or assisted these teams until they too were excelling.

The children of Tír na nÓg had a genuine love for James, no task was too big for him and he regularly enjoyed putting on the blue suit of the underage mascot “Gorm”. Outside the 4 lines of the pitch or 4 walls of the committee room where he was actively involved in writing a club master plan, James was an enthusiastic character taking part in the club Strictly Come Dancing and dressing up as Princess Elsa to perform “frozen” in the club’s 2018 Lip Sync. It is true, James was larger than life and had such a welcoming smile. He had time for everyone within Tír na nÓg and further afield. Always keen to help develop the coaches and encourage others to complete their foundation and level 1&2 courses. In line with this, James started moving up the age ranks and coached the U21 team and brought a few senior men along with him to help inspire these young lads. For the first time in the club history, James led the U21 footballers to an All-County Final in November 2019. At the beginning of the 2020 season, James was appointed Senior Dual coach. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the men were kept occupied over this period with different fitness and skill challenges. With the games up and running again, James and JP put a plan in place. One young player asked him before the Intermediate Hurling Semi-Final ” How do you think we will get on in this game?” James replied in his broad accent “I’m only thinking about the final mate”.

James McVeigh (back right) as Tir na nÓg celebrate their win over Cloney Gaels in the final of the Antrim Intermediate Hurling Championship at Dunsilly.

On Saturday 12th September, James helped deliver a Hurling Championship that our club yearned for years and years. Emotionally charged, he acknowledged all the work done over the years by everyone involved in the club, not only in the recent years.

The tributes have flowed in over the past few days and as a club we have set up a “Book of Memories”. Please feel free to leave your personal memory of James, which we will present to the family in the weeks to come.

https://rememberancebook.net/book/james-mcveigh/

In accordance with government guidelines the Wake and funeral will be strictly private. Family flowers only, donations in lieu if so desired to Chest Heart and Stroke NI. To conclude, James first and foremost you were a friend to everyone. You have left a void in many people’s hearts and indeed within our club which will never be filled. For now, we will do our best to support your family during these difficult times.

Sleep tight our dear friend.

Aimee McAtamney

Tír na nÓg PRO

Funeral arrangements

James’ remains will be removed from his late residence, 127 The Meadows, Randalstown on Friday 1st January, at 9.30am to St. MacNissi’s Church for 10.00am Requiem Mass. Interment immediately afterwards in the adjoining cemetery.

The funeral can be viewed through the church webcam on https://www.mcnmedia.tv/camera/st-macnissis