Ballycastle denied by Castlegar in historic All Ireland club final

Forty years ago today (June 1st) Ballycastle became the first Ulster team to play in an All Ireland Club Hurling final when they took on Galway champions Castlegar in the decider at Pairc Tailteann, Navan. It was also the first time, and the only time up until Cushendall played Sarsfields in the 2006 decider that both Munster and Leinster champions did not compete on the big day.

After beating Leinster champions Crumlin decisively in the semi-final
Ballycastle travelled with high hopes, despite pundits making the Galway champions red hot favourites. In this battle between the Connollys and the Donnellys there was little to choose between the sides for most of the game and with just minutes remaining just a point separated the sides.              

However the Connolly backed Castlegar finished strongly with two late points to become the first Galway team to win the Tommy Moore Cup.

The report of the game used here appeared in one of the Galway papers and quite understandably has a slight Galway slant to it but ask anyone who was there that day and they will tell you that there was little or nothing to chose between these two fine sides on the day.

The programme for the 1980 All Ireland Club final with its hand written cover

All Ireland Club Senior Hurling final – June 1st 1980

Castlegar (Galway) 1-11 Ballycastle (Antrim) 1-8

Castlegar Crowned Champions

By Bob McDonald

They used up all the clichés on the way home from Navan on Sunday People spoke of an historic victory for Galway hurling and just reward for Castlegar’s dominance of the hurling scene here over the past two years. Others even had the cheek to suggest it was John Connolly’s first and last All Ireland medal. No doubt the big centre half back would have his own opinion about such a supposition, but he couldn’t argue with the fact that Sunday’s victory over Ballycastle must rank as one of the sweetest victories in his illustrious career.

And the Castlegar supporters knew fine well just what it meant to their heroes to bring the Tommy Moore Cup back to Galway. It was a magnificent victory and it was fitting that each of the fifteen Castlegar fifteen produced memorable performances against an excellent Ballycastle outfit, whose skill and honest endeavour might have reaped them greater rewards against lesser sides.

But on the day the Galway men were unbeatable but even the most objective supporters could not help be caught up in the sheer excitement and closeness of this hard fought game. Castlegar proved they were worthy champions when they came back from three points down at a stage in the opening half to lead by a point at half time. They survived a gruelling five minutes spell on the resumption when the ball rarely, if ever, left their half, but finally they gained the upper hand and stormed into attack to confirm their winning margin.

And there was coolness too when five minute from time Castlegar were awarded a penalty which if scored would have put the game beyond doubt, but Joe Connolly showed a cool head to fire the ball over the bar – discretion being the better part of valour.

Three factors decided the outcome of this game. Castlegar’s ground hurling was far superior to that of their opponents (the only are in which they had a distinct advantage). Time and time again a Ballycastle man was first to the ball, only to have it knocked away with a clever flick, but that was the only difference as far as hurling skill went. Then when the going got tough at midfield where Tom Murphy and Seamus Fahy were well beaten by Ballycastle’s Terence Barton and Stephen Boyle, Joe Connolly dropped back from centre-forward to help out, and when he wasn’t there brother John stayed up from the half-back line. The final, and probably most telling factor was that the Castlegar backs who were absolutely brilliant in containing a fast and dangerous set of forwards, hell ben on playing their hearts out to the bitter end.

Castlegar started the game on a somewhat shaky footing and had it not been for Joe Connolly’s excellent free taking, they might have found themselves in deep trouble. The early stages of the game developed into something of a free-taking shoot-out between Connolly and Ballycastle marksman Peter Boyle. In fact no fewer that seven of Castlegar’s first half points came from Joe Connolly frees, the other one, a real beauty, came from big brother John from way out on the right wing.   

But Castlegar had to survive some moments before they went in at half time with a one point lead and one stage they trailed by three after Olcan Laverty took advantage of a defensive slip-up to fire home the Ballycaste goal. The goal came after fifteen minutes and might have been a hammer blow for lesser sides. Goalkeeper Tom Gorgan delayed fractionally over a clearance and was blocked down by a Ballycastle forward and as the ball broke Laverty lashed it high into the Castlegar net. That left the score 1-4 to 0-4 and the Galway side seemed to have it all to do, but to their credit they responded magnificently. The defence closed down every Ballycastle move as soon as it began, while at the other end Joe Connolly continued to pick off the points and his team battled back to lead by 0-8 to 1-4 at half-time.

The opening period of the second half saw an incredible period of pressure from Ballycastle, and equally incredible defence from the Castlegar backs. Although the ball hardly left the Castlegar half for the opening five minutes the Ballycastle forwards never got a clear shooting opportunity. The backs harried, hassled and harassed the Ballycastle forwards. Time and again the Ballycastle men were first to the ball but they were soon closed down and the scoring opportunity was gone. Eventually the Galway men lifted the siege and a beautiful movement involving John and Joe Connolly left Jimmy Francis with a simple task to take his point.

A minute later Joe Connolly won possession out on the wing and dropped the ball in around the Ballycastle square where corner-forward Liam Mulryan doubled the ball to the net, for the telling score of the game. Ballycastle battled back and three more points from the Peter Boyle and one from Terence Barton cut the gap back to a point but Gerry and Joe Connolly hit back with points in the dying minutes to seal the win.

CASTLEGAR – T Grogan, T Murphy, P Connolly, J Coady, G Glynn, John Connolly (0-1), M Glynn, T Murphy, S Fahy, J Francis (0-1) , Joe Connolly (0-8-all frees), P Connor, G Connolly (0-1), M Connolly, M Connor, L Mulryan (1-0).

Subs – P Burke for Connor (half time)

BALLYCASTLE – Paul Smyth, Kevin Boyle, Kevin Donnelly, Gerard McAuley, Seamus Donnelly, Terence Donnelly, Dessie Donnelly, Terence Barton (0-1), Stephen Boyle, Brian Donnelly, Phelim Watson, Peter Boyle (0-7), Peter Dallat, Eddie Donnelly, Olcan Laverty (1-0).

SUBS – John McHenry, Charlie McVeigh, Paul Kelly, Brendan Donnelly, Mickey Dallat.

Referee – N Duggan Limerick  

History makers Ballycastle cruised past Crumlin to make a little bit of history

Forty years ago on Monday (June 1st) Ballycastle McQuillans made history when they became the first Antrim team to play in an All Ireland Club Hurling final where they took on Galway champions Castlegar in the decider at Pairc Tailteann in Navan. Their brilliant win over Crumlin of Dublin in the semi-final had set the Ulster champions up for a final appearance, initially fixed for Croke Park, but that was changed at the last minute, and Navan was venue.

Although it had been going since 1971 the club championship was still finding its feet back then and it has to be said it was not top of the agenda among the Croke Park hierarchy. When Ballyhale Shamrocks won their eighth All Ireland title back in January this year it was a high profile game, which went out on live TV but back then it was a different story. You just have to look at the match programme for the final to find out how little the authorities cared for the competition. The front cover was hand written – I kid you not – hand written. I wonder in the history of the GAA has that ever happened at any other time.

The point I am trying to make is that the four provincial winners were not treated with very much respect. Ballycastle had won their county title almost nine months beforehand and their provincial eight months, and I would imagine the other three semi-finalist were much the same. Not and ideal set-up to give teams the chance to prepare properly, I’m sure you would agree. The semi-finals were played the week before and it is that historic win over Crumlin of Dublin we are featuring here today.

In their own county championship title holders Ballycastle had beaten Glenariffe in the opening round before surviving an almighty scare against Loughgiel in the semi-final in August. The Shamrocks appeared to be on course for the win when they went in at the break leading by 3-4 to 0-6, one of the goals coming inside thirty seconds from Mick O’Connell. Full forward Brendan Laverty struck for two more goals before the break as the Shamrocks made good use of the wind to head into the Pearse Park dressing rooms at half time with a seven point lead.

Man of the match Peter Boyle lifted Ballycastle spirits when he pulled a point back early in the second half, his fifth of the game, and when his partner in crime Eddie Donnelly added another soon afterwards it was clear the Shamrocks seven point cushion was far from secure. As it turned out the Town dominated the second half to such an extent that Loughgiel could only manage two more points, and just one of them from play. ‘Porky’ Boyle went on to give and exhibition of score-taking, ending with nine to his name, while Eddie Donnelly grabbed five, and his younger brother Brian three, as they hit a second half total of 1-15 (the goal coming from Charlie McVeigh) to run out winners by 1-21 to 3-4.

Waiting for Ballycastle in the 1979 final was Cushendall who had made a historic breakthrough in the semi-final when the beat Rossa at Fr Maginn Park, Glenravel to book their place in the final for the first time.

The Ballycastle team who beat Cushendall in the 1979 county final

In that final champions Ballycastle proved too strong for this emerging Cushendall side and an early goal from Eddie Donnelly set them on their way.  Shane McNaughton and midfielders Liam McKillop and Dominic McKeegan showed well for the Ruairis but the skills of Peter Boyle, Brian Donnelly and Eddie Donnelly kept the Town on top and they lead by five at the break.

Donal McNaughton pulled a point back for Cushendall early in the new half, but a second goal from Eddie Donnelly and points from Brian Donnelly and Peter Boyle put the champions in control and they pushed on to win by 3-15 to 0-11, the third goal coming from tenacious corner forward Olcan Laverty.

Ulster final

Ballycran provided the opposition in the Ulster final and tough opposition it was when the sides met in horrendous conditions in Carey. It was a real battle of wills between two evenly matched teams and there was nothing to separate them at the end of a the first half which ended on four point apiece. Ballycastle opened up a three point lead midway through the second half and appeared to be gaining the upper hand but the Down champions closed to within two again with just ten minute left. The pressure was on once again as the men from the Ards went in search of what would have been a winning goal, but Stephen Boyle settled in the final minute with a well struck point from a free to give his team a 1-11 to 1-8 win and their second Ulster title.

The Ulster champions certainly got plenty of time to bask in the glory of their victory as it was another five months and two weeks before they saw action once again. They were drawn to play the Leinster champions Crumlin of Dublin in the next round, but their Leinster final against Camross of Laois wasn’t played until the March 23rd 1980  and it was four weeks after that Ballycastle got their chance. Croke Park was the venue and the Dublin champions were hot favourites to advance to the final, but Ballycastle had other ideas and they turned the form book on its head as they became the first Ulster club hurling team to win in Croke Park in the club championship and the first to reach and All Ireland final

Eddie Matthews RIP

By Terence Mulvenna

Eddie Matthews (3rd from right on the back row of this team from the 1970s

We at the Glenarm club were deeply saddened on Wednesday morning when news broke of the passing of Edward (Eddie) Matthews. Eddie was a past player, past Chairman, life member, one of our club Trustees and a great friend to us all. We offer our heartfelt condolences to Bridie, Jacqueline, David, Deidre, daughter/sons-in-law, grandchildren and the wider family.

Having returned from working at sea, (in his words, “the seven seas”) Eddie Matthews played for Glenarm from the late 60’s, right through the 70’s, and into the early 80’s. Among the silverware he collected were Intermediate championship, 1976 & 1981 and the Countess of Antrim, early 80’s. Most of his playing career was spent wearing the No 3 jersey, a position he took great pride in. Tough and uncompromising Eddie was never one to shirk away from confrontation on the pitch, but on hearing the final whistle he was first to extend the hand of friendship, a friendship that took him into the hearts of many Gaels through Antrim and further afield.

Eddie Loved the game of hurling and travelled far and wide to see it played, be it by his home club or a team from the other end of Ireland. Prior to being struck down by Parkinsons Disease he had attended 49 All Ireland Hurling finals on the trot. Sadly the half Century was not to be.

Mary Queen of Gael, pray for a good and decent man.

Eddie Matthews (back left) oon the 1976 Intermediate Championship winning team

The Saffron Gael journey started three years ago today

The men of 1970. Tomorrow, May 29th, the Saffron Business Forum had planned to honour this great team at their annual Business Lunch at the Crown Plazza Hotel. Covid 19 has put paid to that but hopefully before this year is out they can be back together again to talk about their great campaign of 1970 when they won the Division 2 League title and the All Ireland Intermediate Championship

The journey started three years ago today with the announcement of the Saffron Gael website. The following evening we covered our first game, the Under 21 Hurling final between Dunloy and Loughgiel in Armoy. Since then we have published a further 4,298 stories, covering games in hurling and football, both male and female. The Covid 19 pandemic has affected all of our lives and has hit hit this season very hard, but we soldier on hoping some day in the not to distant future to get back out to a game…..any game. In the mean time we will continue to post stories from the past, not what we all want to see, but it is an opportunity to preserve our county’s history. Thank you all for your continued support so far an hopefully when this is all over we will meet again on the green fields of Antrim, and further afield and celebrate properly the game we all love. A special word of thanks to all our sponsors, without whom this would not be possible. I would also like to thank all the Saffron Gael team who have written reports, taken photos and tavelled the length and breadth of the country to keep this campaign going.

The Antrim team who played Tyrone in the 2009 Ulster Senior Football final in Clones
The men of ’89. The Antrim team who played Tippeary in the 1989 All Ireland final
The Antrim team celebrate on the steps of Croke Park as team captain Mairead McAtamney lifts the O’Duffy Cup after he team’s win over Tipperary in the 1979 All Ireland Senior Camogie final

Strong Second Half Performance Sees Antrim Through

Antrim Minor hurlers followed the success of their U21 counterparts when they collected the Ulster Minor championship with a good win over Derry in Owenbeg on he 21st July.

Ulster Minor Hurling Final 2014

                                             Antrim 0-17  Derry 0-9

A srtong second half performance saw Antrim overcome the dogged challenge of a battling Derry in the Ulster Minor Hurling Final at Owenbeg last Sunday. The sides were level at half time but after the break the young Saffrons found anoither gear to pull away and win comfortably in the end.

Indeed Paul McKillen’s side should have won by much more but were wayward in their shooting, recording 14 wides in the second half to add to their 5 first half misses. Antrim now face Galway in the quarter-final and manger paul McKillen was adament after the game that this performance would simply not have been good enough to serioussly challenge the boys from Connaught.

With Loughgiel mid-field partnership of James McNaughton and Carthal McMullan to the fore, Antrim showed three changes from the side who defeated Down in the semi-final with James carey, Caolan McCaughan and Seaghan Shannon coming into the starting lineup.

A couple of early points from Cushendall’s Christy McNaughton gave Antrim the perfect start and James Carey marked his call to the side with another to make it 0-3 to 0-00. Another point from McCaughan saw the saffron lead 0-4 to 0-1 by the 9th minute and at this stage it all seemed to be going to plan.

Derry began to get to grips however and their ploy of dropping high ball in and around the Antrim square began to pay dividend as Pronsias Burke split the uprights to record Derry’s second score of the game. Christy McNaughton replied for the visitors to restore their three point advantage and when Darra Rocks added another the Saffrons looked to taking complete control once more.

Derry had other ideas however as they battled for every ball and they finished the half with a flurry with Eamon Magill, O’Reilly (0-2) and a superb long range free from Burke put them right back into contention with the sides level at the break on 0-6 each.

                                                 BACK IN FRONT

After the break Antrim seemed to step up a gear and Christy McNaughton pointed them ahead from an early free with Rocks following with his second of the game to move his side two in front. McNaughton added another massive free before Ciaran Steele opened Derry’s second half account to keep his side in touch.

Antrim were now beginning to create more space, aided by the strong breeze as McCaughan added a point and then Owens in the Derry goal pulled off a great save to deny McCurdy a certain goal, the Derry net minder coming bravely off his line to block  the corner-forwards close range effort.

Antrim were now calling the shots however as they hit three unanswered points to put further daylight between the sides and Christy McNaughton added two late scores to put a better look on the scoreline.

Antrim manager Paul McKillen will be trying to arrange a couple of friendlies prior to his sides forthcoming game against Galway and he knows that it will take a considerable improvement on this performance if his side are to make any impact against the lads from the West.

There were some fine individual performances with Ryan McNulty, Dara Rocks, James McNaughton, Eoin Conlon, Cathal McMullan and Christy McNaughton in fine form and if they can sharpen up in their finishing then they look well capable of giving hot favourites Galway a run for their money.