Back in 1986 Antrim gave the first real indication that they were a coming force in hurling when they ran Cork to six points in the All Ireland semi-final, before a paltry 2000 fans in Croke Park.
In the years leading up to that Antrim had suffered some bad beatings at the quarter finals stages but when Sean McGuinness took over the reins things began to look up. They came close to getting promoted to Division 1 in 1986, but Westmeath beat them in the final league game in Mullingar. That summer they avoided a quarter final when Galway played Kerry instead so they were straight into the All Ireland semi-final to play the Munster champions, who turned out to be Cork, after their win over Clare in the final.
Two years earlier the Rebels had beaten them in the quarter final in Croke Park by 3-26 to 2-5 so most pundits were expecting something similar this time around and suggested this was a waste of time playing the game. However Sean McGuinness had instilled a bit of self-belief in the Antrim side and on August 10th the Saffrons showed that they were on the up when the scored 1-24 against the Munster men, but unfortunately things weren’t so good at the other end where they conceded 7-11.
The Antrim forward were flying that day and with four of the six forwards coming from the Ballycastle team who were to win the Antrim Senior Championship a few weeks later they tore the Cork defence apart. Of the 1-24 scored that day 1-19 of it came from Ballycastle players with Paul McKillen getting 1-4 from midfield, Peter Boyle got 0-5, Dessie Donnelly 0-4, Olcan Laverty 0-3 and Brian Donnelly 0-3.
The other scorers were Danny McNaughton 0-2, Jingo McKernan 0-2 and Aidan McCarry 0-1
Cork’s goals came from Jimmy Barry Murphy who grabbed a hat-trick, Ger Fitzgerarld got two while Thomas Mulcachy and Kevin Hennesy got one apiece
After the game when members of the southern media came into the Antrim dressing room to interview the management Sean McGuinness told a few of them what he thought of their previews and showed them the door.
Despite defeat Antrim had made a statement and they were to go to win promotion the following year and played at the top level for almost a decade.
Unfortunately we have no photos from the game but thanks to Bert Trowlen (and Big Gerard) we have copies for the programme from that day, which make interesting reading. The Antrim minor team, who also played Cork that day contains a good few names who were to go on an make a name for themselves in the game, including 16 year old Gary O’Kane who would go on to play in the senior final in 1989.