1970 to 2020 – The family connections

The hurling circle keeps on turning

Fifty years ago Antrim hurlers won the Intermediate Hurling title, when they beat Warwickshire in the final at Croke Park. Last Sunday the Saffrons once again lifted the second tier trophy when they squeezed past Kerry in the final of the Joe McDonagh Cup, again in Croke Park. Having written a lot about that 1970 team over the past year I started to think of the connections between the two sides, something that always interests me.

The Antrim 1970 team who beat Warwickshire in the final in Croke Park

Sunday’s goalkeeper Ryan Elliott is the first direct connection as his granduncle Chris Elliott was a tough and tenacious corner back on the 1970 team. Full-back Matty Donnelly has lots of connections as his uncle Kevin wore the same number 3 jersey fifty years ago, while his other uncle, Eddie, was one of the real stars of Saffrons forward line during that campaign. His wife’s grandfather JP McFadden came on as a sub in that 1970 final and scored a point, interupting his honeymoon in Galway to be in Croker that day.

Matthew Donnelly’s dad Brian (front left) and his uncle Dessie with their uncle Kevin and Paddy McShane with the All Ireland Intermediate Championship Cup in 1970

Matty also has a double connection with the Antrim team which reached the senior final in 1989, his father Brian playing in the half forward line that day and his uncle Dessie at corner-back, the position he won his All Star award for that same year.

Moving up front on Sunday’s team James McNaughton has a strong connection as his dad’s first cousin Brendan McGarry was on the 1970 side. James has pedigree all right as his dad Seamus ‘Crow’ McNaughton was one of the stars of the Loughgiel team who won their first All Ireland title in 1983 and further back his granny Mary McGarry won an All Ireland Senior Camogie medal with Antrim back in the 1947.

Ryan Elliott’s granduncle Chris Elliott (centre) and Matthew Donnelly grandfather-in-law JP McFadden (holding hurl)with fellow team members on the steps of the Hogan Stand in 1970

Conal Cunning, who played so well when introduced at half time on Sunday, has a strong connection with 1970 team through is late grand-uncle Aidan McCamphill, a stylish performer on the day in the half-back line. Of course Conal’s granny Eilish Cunning, a sister of Aidan, won an All Ireland Senior Camogie medal with Antrim in the 1950s.

Damon McMullan who was a sub on Sunday’s team, and played a part on all of the other games in the competition, his grand-nephew of Danny McMullan who was part of the management team with Neill Patterson and Justin McCarthy in 1970 and his uncle Dominic ‘Jew’ McMullan was midfield on the 1989 team.

Tiernan TC Coyle, who was part of the panel in the early rounds of the Joe McDonagh Cup is another Loughgiel man with a direct connection. His grandfather Johnny Coyle was one of the real stars of the team of 50 years ago, guarding the Antrim goal during that campaign

Brendan McGarry, a cousin of James McNaughton, in action during the 1970 final.

In the management team, selector Johnny Campbell, is a nephew of Barney Campbell who played in the half forward line on the 1970 side. Johnny has a bit of form himself, playing for years for Antrim and winning the Christy Ring Cup (back then the second tier competition in hurling with the Saffrons in 2006, and of course he was joint captain of the Loughgiel team who won the Shamrocks second All Ireland title in 2012.

Antrim’s 2020 team

That is all the connections I can figure out but if there is anyone you know who I have missed out, please get in touch   

A mhuintir na hAontroma, speeches are important

Antrim fan Liam Tunney does not agreee with Paddy Heaney’s views on banning speeches for all winning captains and felt strongly enough about it to put pen to paper

“No harm to the Saffron fans who were outraged, and I certainly wouldn’t want to cause any offence to Conor McCann, but you cannot be serious.”

Paddy Heaney, Irish News, December 16

Paddy Heaney is right, there was a bit of a furore on Twitter last Sunday.

Conor McCann stood on the steps of the Hogan Stand, shifting impatiently while John Horan finished what he had to say.

Obligatory roar complete, he began to unfold a slightly crumpled piece of paper, ready to serenade Antrim’s first national hurling championship trophy in 14 years.

Around the world, Saffron supporters, restricted to watching on a screen, turned up the volume. What would the All-Ireland-winning captain have to say?

They were left with urban myth. And a nagging  sense they should be switching their energy provider.

To cut the victory speech from broadcast was a final, casual show of contempt from throughout the afternoon.

Cargin’s Kieran Close was as surprised as anyone to hear Ger Canning describe him firing over frees with the camán at Croke Park. We await Ciaran Clarke’s big ball county debut.

And while Antrim would love to merge the talent of Conor McCann and Neil McManus into one, Conor McManus is a Monaghan footballer.

Yes, the modern victory speech is usually sterile and rarely produces anything of note, but that’s not the point.

Outside of Ulster, discontinued since 2017, this was Antrim’s first championship trophy since the 2006 Christy Ring Cup win, where they beat Carlow in the final by 18 points.

The build-up around the county in the run-up to the game was the first time the current generation of Antrim children have experienced anything like it.

Casement Park has been out of action since 2013, with Antrim out of hurling’s top flight since 2015. The way the current team has gelled under 2020’s difficult circumstances has reignited hope.

Had this been a normal year, the county would have emptied. Croke Park would have been heaving with Saffron jerseys and Plan B would have been the GAA’s only option.

Those supporters would have hung on every word of Conor’s speech.

He could have said anything – even rolled out a Fr Ted list of all the corner backs who’ve fouled him over the years – and still got a rapturous response.

But, unlike the Limerick supporters watching their team at home, we never got the chance. I’m sure Fr PJ McCamphill, watching in Nairobi, would have appreciated the custom.

Paddy describes it as an anti-climax, but if it’s your team, it’s the crowning moment.

You’re not listening to its content. You listen to it so that in 10, 20, 50 years’ time, you can say you remember the feeling, or describe it to a wide-eyed youngster holding their first hurl.

Occasionally though, you get iconic moments like Joe Connelly’s 1980 ‘Muintir na Gaillimhe’ speech.

After a 57-year drought, the Galway captain stood in front of a riotous support and proclaimed they were back.

He handed over the microphone to a team-mate who led the maroon choir in a rendition of ‘The West’s Awake’ that would bring goosebumps to a wooden post.

That team-mate?

Joe McDonagh.

Hope and history and all that.

A mhuintir na hAontroma, tá craobh na hÉireann ar ais in Aontroim.

McManus: “This team doesn’t know how good they are yet.”

By Brendan McTaggart

So often over the past 12 years, one man has carried the hopes of Antrim going into battle.  Neil McManus.  The Cushendall man has had to watch on the side lines as Antrim took their Joe McDonagh campaign by the scruff of the neck.  Yesterday however, the Ruairi Og man got the call: “Massively frustrating (being injured).”  McManus said:  “I haven’t been injured properly in a long time and it was different for me to try and come back and get to the stage where I felt I was ready to go at it 100%. It was a bad hamstring tear and at one stage I thought that was it for the year but the boys reassured me, I had a chance.  I wasn’t going to make any of the Joe McDonagh games bar the final and that’s the way it turned out.”

Neill McManus and Tony Shivers show their joy at the end of Sunday’s Joe McDonagh Cup final in Croke Park. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine

When introduced in the 45th minute, Antrim had just got back on terms but McManus’ introduction spelled the start of Antrim pressure where they outscored Kerry by five points to one in a seven minute period with Neil himself chipping in with two of his four points overall in that period.  He told us: “I was just delighted to be able to play a very small part in the final.  Finals are a difficult day for everybody, especially with the age profile of this group.  This panel is incredibly talented, amazingly talented actually and there’s a few of us older boys who are needed to just keep the lads on an even keel.  Keep playing hurling the way we should.

“We did things today and made mistakes that we just don’t make normally and kept carrying it carrying it for long periods.  I haven’t seen the possession stats but I’d imagine we were well ahead, it felt like we dominated the game for long, long periods. 

“Kerry probably didn’t perform massively well but our mistakes kept them in it. 

“The job of the boys in the team my age was to help those boys to be at ease in those type of situations, that was my goal coming on the field.  To say: This is the same thing we’ve been doing all year.  Keep doing it and the result will come.”

Unfortunately for him, McManus has been better placed than most to assess this Antrim sides performances during this campaign.  He highlighted one individual for high praise when he told us: “Some of our performances were exceptional.  The best performances that we’ve strung together in a number of years.  Simply because in the past we have been able to put on an exceptional day here and there, but this year our bottom limit was good and sometimes very, very good week after week.

“Coming back against Carlow, I think we were seven down to get a draw.  Against Kerry when they were fancied to turn us over for some reason in Corrigan after we beat them in the league final.  To be 3-6 to 0-7 up early on, we hit them like a train. 

“I’d be buoyed by what I’ve saw from Ciaran Clarke this year.  I genuinely believe he’s one of the best forwards in the country.”

So what has been the difference?  What has happened for Antrim to gain the consistency they strived for in recent years: “The big difference is the squad. We have a squad we can rely upon.  Look at the players who weren’t used today. 

“We’re a long, long way away from when Gary O’Kane was ringing around trying to get boys together for the match against Wicklow in Abbotstown.  He rang me that morning and he knew we played St Thomas’ in an All-Ireland semi-final but he asked me to come for that game.  If anybody deserves today, it’s Gary O’Kane.”

“If anybody deserves today it’s Gary O’Kane”

Antrim wins in HQ’s have been few and far between.  McManus has been there through the good and not so good times but he agreed, playing in Croke Park will always be special: “When you get to an All-Ireland in Croke Park it adds nostalgia to it.  Antrim have delivered some great performances here in the early 2000’s under Dinny Cahill.  The likes of Kieran Heron, Karl McKeegan.  In 2010 I was lucky enough to be involved with the likes of Johnny Campbell and Karl Stewart, it’s incredible to think that’s 10 years ago.  Hopefully those days become more prevalent.”

In the most uncertain of years, it was the most surreal of victories.  Euphoria but with fans missing from the stands, McManus told us that those fans were never far from their minds: “On Wednesday night Aileen answered the door and it was Donal and Patricia Kearney with a card for the team to wish us all the best.  To say Donal and Patricia haven’t missed a match in the past maybe 50 years is an understatement.  They travelled to New York for the Antrim game against New York in the Ulster Championship in 2003.

Antrim hurling fan Donal Kearney (and his wife Patricia) have followed the Saffrons all around Ireland, and even to New York. Neil really felt for fans like them when they couldn’t see Antrim play in Croke Park.

“For people like that, for people who couldn’t get to the games this year for very obvious reasons, this is massive.  When I drove past their house this morning I gave the side of the door a wee rattle and said ‘this is for Donal and Patricia’.” 

So where does yesterday rank in the career of Neil McManus?  Is it up there with the best achievements of his illustrious career?  He told us: “It does and it doesn’t.  I was euphoric at the final whistle but this is just the ticket to get to the top table.  I would have incredible faith in the group of players that are in that room behind us at the minute.  I am known for being confident or for backing myself against most but this team doesn’t know how good they are and that’s regardless if I am involved.  I’m telling you for the future, they don’t know how good they are.  They haven’t really thrown off the shackles yet, today was not a star performance from this team.  It was a winning performance and that’s the important thing but there’s so much more to come.  Today was a stepping stone.

Neill celebrates with Conor Johnston, Joe Maskey, Stephen Rooney and Phelim Duffin after the game

“We’re in the Leinster Championship so we’re no further ahead or behind the likes of Kilkenny, Laois, Dublin, Wexford and Galway at this point of time.  If we could consolidate our position in Division One of the league and in the Leinster championship, the sky’s the limit for this group of players.”