One more step for the Saffrons to book a final date

Joe McDonagh Cup – Round 4

Saturday November 28 at 1pm

Antrim vs Meath at Pairc Tailteann, Navan

Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)

By Brendan McTaggart

Ah sure, 2020 hasn’t been a bad year so far.  Unbeaten, promotion obtained and barring any disasters on Saturday, a final in Croke Park on the biggest day of the hurling calendar.

T’is grand being an Antrim supporter in this, of all years.

A brilliant display against a previously unbeaten Kerry side in this years McDonagh Cup last day out has the Saffrons with more than one foot in this years final and the Kingdom lying in wait for a potential fourth encounter of the year.

It would take a swing of 27 points over the matches at the weekend with Meath needing to beat Antrim and a Carlow win over Westmeath by an accumulative total of more than 27 points.  Possible?  Anything is possible.  It is 2020 and the year to expect the unexpected.  There’s a job to be done in Pairc Tailteann on Saturday and Antrim dare not take their eye off the ball against the Royals. 

Saturday will be the second time the sides will have met this year with Antrim playing on Pairc Ui Cheallaigh for the first time.  A 24 point win against a disappointing Meath side who had two men sent off before half time and a Man of the Match performance from Neil McManus.  Remember him?  It should be worth noting the Saffrons have got to this stage in the McDonagh Cup without the talismanic Ruairi Og man.

Domhnal Nugent in action during Antrim’s win over Meath in Portglenone

They had 12 different scorers under the late winter sunshine in Portglenone with goals coming from McManus (two), Eoghan Campbell, James McNaughton and Keelan Molloy.  The most impressive stat of the day belongs to the tally from play.  5-23 of their 5-27 tally came from open play while conceding just 1-7.

It was a big score racked up from Darren Gleeson’s side but it’s nothing new.  It’s a trend the Saffrons have continued to set throughout the year.  They have an astonishing ability to create goals from nothing.  An ability to break from rucks and carve open defences in the blink of an eye.  It’s something that has proven fruitful this year with 12 goals so far in the McDonagh campaign.  None have benefitted from this more from their style of play than Conor McCann.  The Antrim Captain has scored majors in each of his last six matches, seven green flags raised in that period.  An astonishing run to rival the best out there, he’ll be hoping he can keep that run going for a while yet.

A closer look at McCann’s performances and he’s truly led from the front.  A powerhouse on the edge of the square, a knack of being in the right place at the right time to take the plaudits but it’s his ability to win primary possession in the middle third that also helps his side.  If anyone would dare call McCann a poacher, they know little about the Saffrons this year.  He’s relentless.  He gives 100% commitment and brings 100% intensity every time.  He’s a leader.

Conor McCann kept his goal run going in the win over Kerry last time out, netting two against the Kingdom.

Meath have made a return to the McDonagh Cup after winning the Christy Ring last year.  Their campaign thus far has been fruitless but their last two outings against Carlow and Westmeath show they are a side who shouldn’t be taken lightly.  After a disappointing opening day 10 point defeat to Kerry, they pushed Carlow to the pin of their collar while it took a late goal from Luke Loughlin to give Westmeath a four point win last weekend.

The Saffrons have played Meath numerous times in the last few years.  Some good memories, some not so good and some that would scare the life out of you.  Those who were ‘lucky’ enough to have witnessed the Christy Ring final of 2016, both of them, will know exactly what I’m talking about.   Scoreboardgate.  I’ll say no more.

The other standout memory from clashes against Meath comes from Antrim’s first match in the McDonagh Cup, three years ago.  Pairc Tailteann again and a dodgy start.  Nigel Elliott attempting to score at the wrong posts is something you are likely to see in 2020 but it happened in 2017.  The Cuchullain, now in Australia, would go on and redeem himself with 3-2 in a man of the match performance and a brilliant overall display from the Saffrons. 

Something akin to that performance will do nicely on Saturday.  Something akin to how the Saffrons have been playing for the vast majority of 2020 will also do nicely.  Croke Park beckons, but there’s a job to do in Pairc Tailteann. 

The story so far….

Sun Oct 25

Kerry 1-20 Meath 0-13

Antrim 4-25 Westmeath 1-5

Sat Oct 31

Carlow 2-25 Antrim 5-16

Sat Nov 7

Carlow 1-22 Meath 1-21

Sat Nov 14

Antrim 3-18 Kerry 2-14

Sat Nov 21

Meath 1-19 Westmeath 2-20

When they last met….

Allianz Hurling League 

Division 2a 

Antrim 5-27 Meath 1-15 Sunday February 23, 2020

Saffrons Stroll to comfortable win 

Brendan McTaggart reports from Páirc  Cheallaigh, Port Gleann Eoghan 

Job done and the perennial banana skin avoided.  Antrim made it three from three on Sunday afternoon as they swept aside the challenge of Meath in Portglenone.  The Saffrons had 24 points to spare in a performance that was every bit as comfortable as it sounds.  The Royals had two men sent off for double bookings at the end of the first half but Antrim were already in control with a first half where they dominated the visitors and laid the foundations for a resounding league win. 

Keelan Molloy in action during Antrim’s win over Meath in the NHL in Portglenone in February

Darren Gleeson’s men had big performances all over the field in a fine team display.  Matthew Donnelly at full back rarely put a foot wrong while Eoghan Campbell and Keelan Molloy’s partnership in midfield continues to grow.  The Saffrons star man however was a simple call however.  2-9 over his 70 minutes work, 2-5 from play and a lung busting performance, Neil McManus was in top form for Antrim. 

An early goal from Keelan Molloy set the tone for the Saffrons as the crowd gathered into a sun kissed but cold Páirc Uí Cheallaigh. Despite playing into a substantial wind, Antrim showed fluency and cohesion belittling the fact it was three weeks since their last outing. 

The second Antrim goal came 10 minutes in.  Eoghan Campbell applying the finish and Dan McCloskey with the assist as Antrim opened a five point lead.  Meath were reliant on the free taking of Padraig O’Hanrahan for the majority of the game and more so in the first half while Antrim waited until the 25th minute before scoring their first point from placed ball.   

Neil McManus who scored two goals in the win over Meath in Portglenone in February

The lead was nine points when Alan Douglas saw red for a second booking as Meath grew frustrated at Antrim’s dominance.  Both sides had goal chances in the moments that followed, James Toher bringing the best out of Conor McAlister while James McNaughton was denied at the other end of the pitch but an already difficult task for the Royal’s was made a mission impossible with Luke Moran seeing red for a second booking. 

Both dismissals changed the complex of the game there after but the visitors couldn’t argue with any of the cards given.  Antrim held a deserving 11 point lead at the interval and a firm grasp on the two league points available. 

TEAMS 

Antrim: Conor McAllister; Phelim Duffin, Matthew Donnelly, Stephen Rooney; Gerard Walsh, Paddy Burke, Joe Maskey; Eoghan Campbell, Keelan Molloy; James McNaughton, Neil McManus, Michael Bradley; Domhnall Nugent, Niall McKenna, Dan McCloskey 

Scorers: Neil McManus 2-9 (2 f’s 2 ‘65’s); Eoghan Campbell 1-2; James McNaughton 1-2; Keelan Molloy 1-2; Domhnall Nugent 0-2; Niall McKenna 0-2; Aodhan O’Brien 0-2; Ronan Molloy 0-2; Gerard Walsh 0-1; Joe Maskey 0-1; Michael Bradley 0-1; Nicky McKeague 0-1 

Meath: Charlie Ennis; Séan Geraghty, Shane Brennan, Stephen Morris; Keith Keoghan, James Toher, Luke Moran; Mikie Mullen, Patrick Potterton; Damien Healy, Padraig O’Hanrahan, Jack Regan; Michael Burke, Alan Douglas, Éamon Ó Donnchadha 

Scorers: Padraig O’Hanrahan 0-8 (6 f’s); Nicholas Potterton 1-1; James Toher 0-2; Alan Douglas 0-1; James Kelly 0-1; Stephen Morris 0-1; Keith Keoghan 0-1 

Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin) 

Allianz National Hurling League – Division 2February 3, 2019

James McNaughton who was the star of the show in Antrim’s win over Meath in the NHL in Trim in 2019

Meath 2-15 Antrim 3-13

McNaughton snatches victory with last gasp point

John McIlwaine reports from Trim


A brilliant point deep into injury time by star of the show James McNaughton gave Antrim hurlers their first win in Division 2A of the National Hurling League in Trim today. When Meath’s Jack Regan fired a 20m free to the Antrim net two minutes into added time to bring his team level it appeared as if Antrim were to endure heart-breaking slip-up. However there was enough time for Antrim to reply and when the ball came in to Eoin Neill on the 45 metre line his pass found McNaughton who sprinted through on the right to fire over the winning score.

Meath manager Nick Fitzgerald and his players were left fuming, claiming Tipperary referee Johnny Ryan had indicated that Regan’s free was the last poc of the game. Antrim on the other hand felt that time was up even before Meath got their free and that they should have had the game wrapped up long before the late drama. 

The Meath manager added that “maybe that’s fairly typical of how the GAA view counties like Meath.” 

To be honest Antrim fully deserved the win and it would have been an injustice if they had gone home with anything less than the two points. They held a one point lead at half time after facing a strong breeze and driving rain, three brilliantly taken goals giving them the edge. They controlled most of the second half and after being pegged back to level on a couple of occasions they went three clear ten minutes from time. They had a few good chances of hitting the insurance point but squandered them, and it looked like they were going to pay the price. However McNaughton, who had been brilliant throughout the game, sent the Saffron fans home happy after a score right out of the top drawer.

MEATH: S McGann; G Murphy, S Brennan, S Morris; K Keoghan, S Whitty, J Kelly; J Regan 1-4 (1-0f), S Quigley; D Healy 1-0, P O’Hanrahan 0-6 (0-4fs, 0-1 ’65), D Kelly 0-3; A Douglas, M O’Grady 0-1, K Keena 0-1. 

Subs: E Ó Donnchadha for O’Grady (53mins), J McGeown for Quigley (63mins). 

ANTRIM: R Elliott; S Rooney, J Dillion, P Duffin; R Molloy, M Donnelly 0-1, C McHugh; S Duffin, C Boyd; N Elliott 0-1, C McCann, J McNaughton 1-8 (0-5fs, 0-1 ’65); E O’Neill 1-2, K Molloy, C Clarke 1-1. 

Subs: D McKinley for S Duffin (34mins), C Patterson for Boyd (48mins)

REFEREE: J Ryan (Tipperary)

Soddy hat-trick downed Dunloy in Countess final

DOWN MEMORY LANE

Back in 1989 Cushendun beat Dunloy B in the Countess of Antrim Cup Final (North Antrim Intermediate Championship) in Carey, a Dunloy team with a sprinkling of the team who would go on to make the breakthrough at senior the following season. On a wet and windy day ‘Soddy’ O’Hare danced his way around the Dunloy defenders to score a match winning hat-trick.

The Cushendun team who beat Dunloy B in final of the 1989 Countess of Antrim Cup. Hat trick hero Paddy ‘Soddy’ O’Hara is second from left on the front row.

Countess of Antrim final 1989

Cushendun 4-6 Dunloy B 1-9

Team captains Brendan Magee (Cushendun) and Malachy Elliott with match referee Tommy McIntrye before throw-in

A hat-trick of goals from corner-forward Paddy ‘Soddy’ O’Hara helped Cushendun to a Countess of Antrim Cup final win over Dunloy B in a game played in terrible weather conditions at St Patrick’s Park, Carey.

O’Hara found the net twice within thirty seconds in the first half to open up a ten point lead, and in the second half when Dunloy had reduced the deficit to just three he struck again to put the Emmet’s back in firm control.

On a damp, dark afternoon, with a diagonal wind making hurling difficult, both teams deserve great credit for serving up a really enjoyable game. The opening exchanges were scrappy, and at times heated, but when match referee Tommy McIntyre sent off two players (one from each side) after just ten minutes, the game settled into a well contested affair.

Tempers flare as both teams sort out a few early problems

Cushendun were first to score when Denis McHenry pointed from play in the fifth minute and they went two up soon afterwards when Gerard Scally sent over a 21 yard free. A flare-up in the tenth minute saw Cushendun’s Brendan Magee and Dunloy’s Michael Maguire make an early exit and when play resumed Dunloy hit back with points from Malachy Elliott and James McLean to level the scores at the end of the opening quarter.

The Emmet’s last line of defence is beaten as James McLean (out of picture) scores a Dunloy penalty

Soddy O’Hara first made his presence felt in the sixteenth minute when he pointed from play, a score that was to mark the start of a real ‘purple patch’ for Cushendun. Denis McHenry goaled with a great overhead strike minutes later, and though Eamon McKee temporarily stemmed the tide with a Dunloy point soon afterwards, the Emmets continued their onslaught with a McHenry point and two quick-fire goals from O’Hara. This put Cushendun ten clear with just ten minutes of the opening half remaining, and the game looked as good as over, but Dunloy battled back, and a goal and three points inside five minutes. Former Antrim and Ulster star James McLean was the man who did the damage when he rifled in a goal from a penalty, before adding two points from frees, and when Chris Kearns added a point just on half time there was just four between the teams at the short whistle.

Dunloy’s Damian McKee and Cushendun’s Brendan Magee battle for the ball.

On the restart Dunloy cut the deficit back to just two when Eamon McKee and Chris Kearns added points, but Gerard Scally eased the pressure on the Emmets when he pointed a free to put the lead out to three again. It was then that Soddy really proved his worth when popped up to complete his hat-trick as he fired home goal number three. Chris Kearns pulled one back for Dunloy but Gerard Scally replied with another pointed free in the 44th minute, which incredibly proved to be the last score of the game.

The remaining sixteen minutes produced plenty of action but in the worsening conditions neither team could raise a flag and Cushendun held on safely to collect the trophy.

Best for Cushendun were Dominic Magee, John McSparran, Eamon McKeegan, Laurence Magee, Emmet O’Hara, Dennis McHenry, Gerrard Scally and hat-trick hero Soddy O’Hara.

Dunloy were best served by Danny Quinn, Aidan McIlhatton, oe McAllister, Eamon McKee, Sean Mullan, Kames McLean and substitute Paul Duffin.

Cushendun scorers – Soddy O’Hara 3-1; Denis McHenry 1-2; Gerard Scally 0-2.

Dunloy scorers – James McLean (1-3); Chris Kearns 0-3; Eamon McKee 0-2; Malachy Elliott 0-1.

CUSHEDUN – D Magee, D McAlister, J McSparran, E McKeegan, D McKillen, L Magee, D McQuillan, L Woodburn, D Magee, E O’Hara, G Scally, B McKay, D McHenry, A Magee, P O’Hara.

DUNLOY – P Brogan, M McPoland, D Quinn, A McIhatton, J Cunning, J McAllister, D McKee, S Mullan, M Maguire, C Kearns, G Cunning, M Elliott, J McLean, J Dixon, E McKee.

Subs – P Cunning for Duffin

Referee – Tommy McIntrye (Loughgiel Shamrocks)

Ex Ballycastle hurler captains Donegal to Nicky Rackard Cup success

The football areas of the county may be in mouring tonight after their shock defeat to Cavan in the Ulster final, but the hurling fraternity in Donegal will be celebrating after their hurlers staged a brilliant fightback to beat Mayo in the final of the Nicky Rackard Cup in Croke Park.

Sean McVeigh playing for Ballycastle against North Antrim in the 2009 Antrim Senior Hurling Championship first round in Cushendall.

Those celebration will shared in Ballycastle and Carey as the Tir Chonaill team was captained by Sean McVeigh, son of ex Carey Faughs and Ballycastle player Cruiser McVeigh. He is also a cousin of former Loughgiel star, and current Antrim selector Johnny Campbell

The man himself actually played for the Town for a year in 2009 and scored 2-1 on his debut down in Ballygalget. He was plying his trade in forwards back then but today he was pivoting the Donegal defence at centre half back.

Sean McVeigh (arrowed) on the Ballycastle team who played in the Antrim championship back in 2009

Donegal came from eight points down to beat Mayo in a thrilling Nickey Rackard Cup final at Croke Park.

Late goals from Tipperary native Davin Flynn and full forward Ritchie Ryan helped the Tir Chonaill men to their third success in the fourth-tier hurling championship after they had looked down and out midway through the first half. A nine-point haul from Armagh native Declan Coulter was also central to the Ulster side’s victory.

There is another Antrim connection from that game. Sean Regan, who was midfield on the Mayo team is son of Johnny Regan from Cushendall and Anne Patterson from Cloughmills. His uncle Niall Patterson was of course the goalkeeper on the Antrim team who played Tipperary in the 1989 final and was the man who captained Loughgiel to their first All Ireland Club title in 1983.

Antrim native Austin hoping to play a part in Down success at the weekend

By Kevin Herron

Down hurling selector Tony Austin admits it is often difficult to come up against his native county and players that he has helped coach in the school settings.

The St. Mary’s CBGS PE teacher and Antrim native is involved in the Down set-up with Ronan Sheehan and will hope the Mourne -men can taste further success this season when they take on Kildare in the Christy Ring Cup Final at Croke Park on Sunday (4pm throw-in).

Having beaten Derry in the National League final to gain promotion Down are guaranteed to be part of the Joe McDonagh Cup next season and could possibly come up against Antrim.

Austin has faced his native county in the McGurk Cup this season and more recently in the recent U-20 clash between the sides last month in the Leinster Championship and admits to having mixed emotions.

“It was very, very difficult when we played in the McGurk Cup to actually come up against Antrim and being an Antrim man” admits Austin.

“A lot of the lads from St. Marys CBGS were on the Antrim team and to turn round and put yourself up against that challenge it was difficult to encourage the Down lads and shout at them to get the breaking ball in front of an Antrim man. But you just have to have a good work ethic about me and drive the lads on to get the best out of them”.

“They’re a smashing young team to work with and have a lot of potential in them- hopefully in the next number of years. We might have a number of challenges in the next couple of years against Antrim if we get the chance to come up and play against them. In the Christy Ring the two finalists go up to McDonagh and I would relish the challenge in the next couple of years to come up against the lads from St. Marys”.

Tony Austin with Down manager Ronan Sheehan

Austin has come up against a number of the lads he is now working within the Mourne county as joint manager of many of the St. Mary’s CBGS Mageean Cup teams with Eddie McToal.

In 2012 St. Marys claimed their 30th Mageean Cup success with a win over the newly amalgamated An Dun side under lights at Casement Park. A number of current Down stars played their part that evening under the guidance of Antrim native Micky ‘Wing’ McCullough and current Down manager Ronan Sheehan as Austin recalls.

“We played An Dun in the 2012 Mageean Cup Final when myself and Eddie [McToal] took the team”.

“Again, coming back to my breading and work ethic – I got a lot from Ed- anything ]I’ve ever got I’ve got from the best and Eddie was the Saffron man himself who represented Antrim at both football and hurling over the years”.

“A number of the current lads were involved that night, the Savage brothers were in that team and CT [Caolan Taggart] may have been involved. ‘The Wing’ [Micky ‘Wing’ McCullough] was involved with An Dun- another Antrim man and the current manager of the team on Sunday Ronan Sheehan was on the line that night”.

“It’s funny now the friendships you’re making with teams who would have been rivals over the years. Now they’re working exceptionally well for me and for the betterment of Down to bring their hurlers on. At the end of the day we would like to be there with the Rossa’s, Lámh Dhearg, St Johns and all those good teams”.

Austin will hope the tables have turned since that evening and he can play his part in helping Down to glory at GAA Headquarters this weekend although he acknowledges Kildare will provide a stiff challenge.

“We’ve a big challenge on Sunday against Kildare” Austin believes.

“We’ve played them on a number of occasions, they’ve beaten us and a number of other times we’ve had the edge on them. It’s a one-off game in Croke Park and it will be something special for our lads. I think we’ve won it once in five attempts so it’s a big, big game for us”.

“They’ve a tremendous attitude, they work hard and give you 110 percent. It’s nice to have another Antrim connection in Oisin McManus involved. Pat McManus was involved with me years ago and gave me my first hurling stick- he was the Rossa chairman along with Joe Quinn and they blooded me in Gaelic games at the Falls Park a long time ago. Pat gave me the experience of playing with Rossa since I was U-12 along with Joe Quinn. That’s where I built my work ethic and my essence of GAA on the Antrim men”.

Although Austin is an advocate of the pre-season McGurk Cup tournament he is also keen to see a return of the Ulster Hurling Championship in the not-so-distant future and believes the carrot-stick of playing in a newly renovated Casement Park would be a big attraction.

“I would like to see a return of the Ulster hurling Championship” says Austin.

“It would get you strong competitive games, Antrim have done a lot of smashing work to get back to where they should be and where they belong. Down would like to be back and competing with strong teams, Tyrone and Monaghan would be the same- they’re all putting a lot of effort to get hurling back into Ulster”.

“Why not give a chance for young lads to experience the Ulster stage- maybe in a couple of years Casement will be open and they will be able to turn round and put a game on at Casement. The McGurk Cup is brilliant and it gives us games, we’re not having to go down south to look for games. You’re getting quality games every other week and at the end of day the lads want to play hurling and be involved in strong competitive games”.

“Again I always have mixed emotions, it’s the hardest thing to go onto the opposite line to play against an Antrim team. A number of weeks we played the Antrim U-20s in Ballycran and a number of lads from the school were playing for Antrim like Daire Murphy and past pupils like Dominic McEnhill. It’s difficult to shout at the Down lads to beat an Antrim man to the ball. But after the game the lads were over to shake my hand and I was delighted”.

We at the Saffron Gael would like to wish Tony and the Down team every success on Sunday. Also good luck to Donegal in the Nicky Rackard Cup final