Mageean Cup history – Have you a story to tell?

ULSTER Schools’ GAA Council is intending to publish a history of the Mageean Cup to mark the 60th anniversary of the competition in a couple of years’ time.

The Cup was presented to Ulster Colleges in 1963 by the staff and students of Dromantine College, Newry in memory of Most Reverend Daniel Mageean, Bishop of Down and Connor (1929 – 1962) and St MacNissi’s Garron Tower were the first winners. 

Council Treasurer Sean McGourty says the decision to research and publish a history is a direct response to the enthusiasm that greeted the publication of the story of the MacRory Cup in 2014.

“We got tremendous feedback from the publication of “The MacRory Cup” seven years ago. We sold 4,000 copies quite quickly and the book was very well received not only by our schools but indeed by the general GAA public.

“Now we feel the time is right to mark 60 years of the Danske Bank Mageean Cup with a similar type of enterprise,” said McGourty who coached his own school De La Salle College in Belfast to two finals a couple of decades ago.

“For a lot of Antrim hurlers down the years the Mageean Cup was the launch pad to their inter-county and senior club careers with many of the 1989 All-Ireland final team holders of Mageean Cup medals.”

However McGourty goes on to say that, despite its relative youth, researching the Mageean Cup history could be a lot more problematic in comparison to the MacRory Cup competition which is just a few years short of its centenary.

“There was a huge amount of research undertaken long before the author JA Walshe sat down to write the MacRory Cup book. But for the most part there was documentation available in the form of match reports and photographs in the winning schools.

“It is fair to say that during that period the Ulster Schools’ Council allowed the hurling schools to organise games between themselves and only got involved when medals were needed.

“Hurling was played at that age level in fewer schools and often there was no actual Mageean Cup final. Often in the 1960s and 1970s there was a mini league which St Mary’s CBGS Belfast won easily.

“So with no final and often one-sided games played on a week-day there would have been little coverage in the local or regional press and that would have been reflected in the schools themselves. There are many winning teams that were never photographed at all.”

During the 1980s the competition expanded with Armagh CBS, St Patrick’s Maghera and St Louis Ballymena all winning their first titles and with that expansion came a more organised approach to the staging of Mageean Cup finals.

The MacRory Cup and other football competitions evolved out of the need to keep boarders in the diocesan seminaries occupied over weekends. It quickly gained a prestige and the winning team was photographed in school with the trophy soon after the final.

Hurling on the other hand tended to be played in day-schools run by the Christian Brothers encouraged by men from hurling counties through Munster and south Leinster. In the 1930s for example Abbey CBS represented Down in inter-county hurling at minor level, winning a couple of provincial titles and appearing in All-Ireland semi-finals.

However few of these Christian Brothers’ schools extended to Sixth Form and therefore they could not compete at senior level. Hence there were hardly any schools in rural Ulster able to play for the Mageean Cup.

St MacNissi’s College Garron Tower was opened in 1951 mainly to cope with the overflow from St Malachy’s College, the diocesan seminary. The day pupils there played mainly hurling while the boarders competed in football. Indeed the school won the 1964 Rannafast Cup in between lifting the first two Mageean Cup titles.

That inaugural Mageean Cup competition in 1963-64 included St Mary’s CBS, St Malachy’s College and St Michael’s College, Omeath. Ballycastle’s Eddie Donnelly was a key member of the winning Garron Tower team.

The two other schools in north Antrim, Cross and Passion Ballycastle and St Louis Ballymena, started life as girls’ schools and only began admitting boys around the time that the Mageean Cup was getting up and running.

Ballycastle’s first win didn’t come until 1977-78 and, like St MacNissi’s, they also completed back-to-back titles with Brian Donnelly and Olcan McFetridge in the team. However it took the school another 15 years before a third title arrived, while St Louis Ballymena’s only win before 2015 came in the 1988-89 season.

The competition was dominated by St Mary’s CBGS Belfast who collected 16 of the first 20 titles and it wasn’t until the emergence of St Patrick’s Maghera in the early 1980s that the Glen Road school was really challenged on an annual basis.

Currently the Mageean Cup is enjoying its most competitive phase with five different winners during the last five seasons.

The Ulster Schools’ Council is keen to hear from players who participated in the Mageean Cup, to record their memories of the competition, of the finals and how the team was prepared in individual schools. They would also be very interested in photographs of winning teams, indeed any photographs of games during the first three decades.

If anyone can provide assistance they should contact

CPC Ballycastle who won the last Mageean Cup final played in 2019

Emmet’s are first up to the plate once again

Once again Cushenun Emmet’s were the first club to donate to Saffron Gael this season. Club treasurer Paul McSparran and committee member Liam Mulholland were at my door on January 2nd to present the cheque, but I forgot to take a photos of the hand over, so when Paul was in the area yesterday I got him to call and we did the pic. Thanks once more to the Emmet’s for their continued support and a special thanks to Paul who once again presented us with his referee expenses for the year, a lovely touch I have to say.

Cumann na mBunscol support the Saffron Gael

Our picture shows Henry Duffin presenting a sponsorship cheque on behalf of Cumann na mBunscol Aontroma to Saffron Gael’s John ‘Curly’ McIlwaine

Cumann na mBunscol Aontroma are hugely appreciative of The Saffron Gael for the fantastic coverage of our games. Despite the temporary halt to our regular programme of activities and games due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cumann na mBunscol have been using this time to work alongside Gaelfast to further enhance the quality and quantity of Gaelic Games provision at primary school level in Antrim. Throughout this work we continue to recognise the importance of maintaining the rising the profile of our games in all primary schools across the county and nobody does this better than Curly, Paddy and the team at Saffron Gael.

Cumann na mBunscol Aontroma

Lamh Dhearg minor hurlers made history in 1992

Lamh Dhearg 1992

1992 was a special year for Lamh Dhearg Hanahstown as they completed a remarkable double by winning the Minor Hurling and Minor Football titles in the same year. Winning the football title may not have been regarded as an upset for a football based club, but collecting the hurling title for the first time was a truly remarkable achievement.

With current county Secretary, Frankie Quinn at the helm the boys from Hannahstown got their campaign underway with a convincing win over St Gall’s at Milltown, running up a big score in the process. The quarter-final saw them pitted against Rossa, always one of the big hitters in this grade. The boys in red had home advantage and with Donal O’Hara giving a fantastic display they made their way through to the semi-final.

Teams were starting to sit up and take notice of these new kids on the block. Their semi-final opponents were Cushendall, a club who were ruling the roost at senior level at the time, but the boys from the Glens were no match for the Lamhs on this occasion as they booked their place in a minor hurling final for the very first time.

Competition favourites Loughgiel were the opponents in the final. These two sides had met at Feile and Under 16 level in the years leading up to minor grade and thought the games had been closely contested the Shamrocks had come out on top. The went into the final as favourites to come through once again but on a historic day for Hannahstown boys, they upset the odds to write their names in the history book, their hero of the hour Gary Agnew turning in an outstanding display in goals.

Tomorrow we will take a look at the minor footballers achievement but today here is the report of the hurling final which appeared in the Ballymena Guardian at the tome


Lamh Dhearg 2-10 Loughgiel Shamrocks 2-8

The Lamh Dhearg team who made history by beating Loughgiel in the 1992 Antrim Minor Hurling final. Back row, L-R: Frankie Quinn (manager), M McGuigan, D Toland, C Carmichael, D Fegan, K Elliott, M Matthews, G Agnew (capt), D O’Hara, R Murray, P Maxwell, T Stanley. Front row, L-R: O O’Neill, P Tumelty, B Elliott, M McKenna, R Herron, G Murray, P McGuigan, E Kane.

In a welter of excitement the young hurlers of Hannahstown Lamh Dhearg wrote their names in the record books when they withstood a late rally by Loughgiel Shamrocks to take their first ever title as Casement Park on Sunday.

In a game that was exciting from start to finish the Hannahstown boys, from a parish more famed for its football prowess, showed just how well hurling is advancing in the club as they produced a polished display.

The final five minutes were heart-stopping as the Lamh Dhearg fought to defend a lead given to them by a brilliant goal from substitute Paul Maxwell in the 55th minute. The Shamrocks laid siege on the Lamh Dhearg goal looking for what would have been an equalising goal, but they were denied twice by outstanding saves by goalkeeper and team captain Gary Agnew, who pulled off two remarkable saves. The Shamrocks were denied twice by Agnew’s brilliance, and once by the crossbar as they battled to get back in the game, but a resolute Lamh’s defence held out to seal the win and take the title for the first time.

Playing with the breeze Loughgiel looked the more assured team early on and after PJ O’Mullan pointed them ahead from a free, corner forward Paddy Donnelly drilled the ball to the net to give the north Antrim boys a four point cushion.  Donal O’Hara settled the Hannahstown nerves with a point and when Kevin Elliott added one from a narrow angle it was clear they were not going to be overawed.

A point from PJ O’Mullan, following a great ground clearance by corner-back Joey McKendry, put Loughgiel a goal clear once again and when the stylish Aidan McCloskey added another from play the Shamrocks were four to the good. McKendry denied Lamh Dhearg a goal when he made a great clearance off the line, but the Hannahstown boys were having a good spell and two neat point from Kevin Elliott and one from Gary Murray brought them back to within a point.

PJ O’Mullan was proving a real handful for the Lamh Dhearg defence and he stretched his team’s lead to three with two well taken points, but just before the break midfielder Owen O’Neill gave the Lamhs a great boost when he fired the ball to the Shamrocks net to send the teams in at half time on level terms.

On the restart PJ O’Mullan gave Loughgiel back the lead with a point from a free, but Lamh Dhearg were soon back on terms when Michael McGuigan pointed from play. O’Mullan restored the Shamrocks advantage in the 42nd minute but once again the Hannahstown boys found a reply, this time through Donal O’Hara.

Loughgiel appeared to have made the breakthrough when right half forward Emmett McFadden goaled with fifteen minutes to go, but they were only able to raise one more flag in the final quarter as the Lamh Dhearg defence got on top. Patrick Tumelty started the Lamh Dhearg fightback with a point in the 50th minute and after Donal O’Hara had cut the gap back to a single point Tumelty struck again to bring things level.

Four minutes from time substitute Paul Maxwell send the Lamh Dhearg fans wild when he rifled a grounds shot to the Shamrocks net to put his side three clear. The tension was palpable as Loughgiel went in search of an equalising goal. They dominated possession but Gary Agnew was proving unbeatable in the Lamh Dhearg goal, and on the one occasion he was beaten PJ O’Mullan’s well struck shot from a 20 meter free rifled back off the crossbar. Still the game was in the balance and when Loughgiel full forward Aidan McCloskey cut through on goal it seemed they could still salvage the game. However Gary Agnew had saved his best to last and he somehow got his hurl to McCloskey’s goalbound shot and turned to over the bar to seal the title for the boys from ‘Up The Hill.’

Agnew was the star of the show but he was ably assisted at the back by stand in full back Raymond Herron, corner back Declan Toland plus half backs Carmichael and Elliott, who performed heroics at times. Patrick Tumelty and Owen O’Neill held sway at midfield, while in attack Donal O’Hara, Kevin Elliott and substitute Paul Maxwell were the stars.

Terence O’Mullan did well in goals for Loughgiel while in defence Joey McKendry had a great game, closely followed by Art Connolly, Colm McCloskey and Brendan McMullan. Up front PJ O’Mullan was the main man, though Aidan McCloskey and Emmett McFadden also did well.

Hurling Board Chairman Gilly McIlhatton presents the cup to Lamh Dhearg captain Gary Agnew while county chairman Oliver Kelly looks on

Lamh Dhearg scorers – Kevin Elliott 0-3; Donal O’Hara 0-3; Owen O’Neill 1-0; Kevin Maxwell 0-1; Michael McGuigan 0-1; Gary Murray 0-1.

Loughgiel scorers – PJ O’Mullan 0-6; Paddy Donnelly 1-0; Emmett McFadden 1-0; Aidan McCloskey 0-2.

Referee –  Dessie Gallagher

Dunloy will say farewell to a man who served them well

James McLean RIP

By John Curly McIlwaine

James McLean will be laid to rest in his native Dunloy after Requim Mass tomorrow (Wednesday), just a few hundred yards from where he grew-up in McClelland Park, down the Station Road. He passed away on Monday morning in his home in Bellaghy Park, a few hundred yards out the Bellaghy Road.

During his 67 years on this earth he made the journey up the Bridge Road many thousands of times, be it on his way to school at St Briget’s PS, worship at St Briget’s Church or to hurl at his beloved Pearse Park. So much of his life circled around that area of the village and helped shape him into the man he was.

Tomorrow he will make that journey for the final time.

James McLean shakes hands with Loughgiel’s Eamon Connolly at tend of a championship game between the two North Antrim rivals in the mid eighties

James McLean was born in Dunloy in 1953 and grew up playing hurling and football for the club. Hurling was of course his first love and he was a member of the Cuchullains team who beat Rossa in the final of the Minor Hurling Championship in Loughgiel in 1971. Five years later he played on the Dunloy team who qualified for Antrim Senior final, where they were well beaten by a very good Rossa team in Casement Park.

James McLean (3rd from left – front row) on the Antrim team who played Galway in the 1981 All Ireland quarter final in Croke Park.

A highly skilful hurler he played for Antrim and Ulster through to the early 1980s and for the club up until the mid-eighties, just missing out on the club’s great breakthrough in 1990.


With the Cushendall captains and his linesmen before the 2005 Antrim Senior Hurling final

After hanging up the hurl he got involved in refereeing, something he again put his heart and soul into, and rose through the ranks to inter-county level, the pinnacle of his county career coming in 1999 when he was the man in the middle for the Galway v Kilkenny All Ireland Minor Hurling semi-final in Croke Park. Of course he continued on at club level for many years after that and took charge of the 2005 Antrim Senior Hurling final between Cushendall and Loughgiel in Casement Park. He would have done many more had his home club not been so dominant in that era.

He was involved in his club committee at different times but in 2009 he took over as North Antrim Board chairman and served on the board in other positions for over a decade. He was also a county committe member as was Ulster delegate for a couple of years. Two years ago he was elected club chairman, something he was very proud of, and he had the honour of seeing the club collect the last two senior hurling titles.

When Dunloy beat Cushendall in the Antrim Senior Hurling Final back on September 13th they became the first club to win the new Fr Fitzpatrick Cup. After the initial bout of celebrations had died down and photos had been taken with the new silverware James McLean went to the boot of his car to retrieve the old Volunteer Cup, which Dunloy had won the previous year. He took it out onto the pitch to hand it back to county secretary Frankie Quinn who was taking it back to the county offices for safe storage. However when the fans and players saw the old trophy they all wanted their photos taken with the ‘Big Ears’ one last time, and so the cycle of celebration photos started all over again. James finally regained possession of the historic silverware and handed it safely back to Frankie. Little did we think it would be one of the last official duties he would carry out for the club.

A few short weeks later the grave news filtered through about his terminal condition and we knew there would be no more great days in the sun for a man who gave so much for club and county. His lovely wife Bernie and their children helped nurse him through that final journey as we waited knowing there would only be one outcome.

Those of us who knew James will mourn his passing, but it pales into insignificance in comparison to what Bernie and the family are feeling. To her, their sons Dario, Brian and Alan plus daughters Orlagh and Alisha, to his brothers Tom and Cyril plus sister Katleen Anne and the wider McLean family we offer our sincere condolences.

With the current Covid restrictions we won’t get the chance to give him the send-off he deserves, but we will be with his family in spirit on that final journey.

James (back left) on a Dunloy team v Ballycastle at Leyland Road in the mid eighties