Antrim and Kildare hurlers issue joint statement

Ahead of Saturday’s relegation/promotion playoff between Antrim and Kildare, both panels of hurlers have come out in opposition to the format of the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Kildare, winners of last weekend’s Christy Ring Cup final, will take on Antrim for a place in next year’s Joe McDonagh Cup; with the loser of that tie fated to spend another year outside the peripheral reach of the All-Ireland series.

In a joint-letter, both panels believed it is “incumbent on us to highlight the unfairness and inconsideration surrounding this fixture in the hope that we can positively affect change for the future.”

As of the current structure, Meath, the bottom-placed team in this year’s Joe McDonagh Cup, have already been relegated. With Offaly set to make the move down from the Leinster Championship next year (with the winners of Carlow and Westmeath going in the other direction), the six-team format of 2018 will become a five-team tournament for next year’s Championship – the winners of Kildare and Antrim joining Kerry, Laois and the remaining sides mentioned.

Unsatisfied with the prospect of this “illogical” change, the hurlers of Kildare and Antrim have outlined their reasons in a point-by-point method:


  1. The Joe McDonagh Cup should remain at 6 teams; a request which is made in the interest of competitiveness, fair-play and equity. The McDonagh Cup has shown everyone how competitive hurling at the lower levels has become and the tier below the Liam McCarthy should encourage teams to achieve higher standards, not shut them out. This is a point which many panels have echoed throughout the year. A 5 team competition is illogical and only serves to make it more difficult for aspiring counties to compete. Antrim should remain in the competition as they did not finish bottom and Kildare should fill the relegated 6th spot.

  1. The Christy Ring Cup competition, and by consequence the Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups, have been eroded in standing for a number of years consistently since their inception. For example, the Christy Ring Final used to take place before Liam McCarthy All-Ireland Semi-Finals, which held true to the original intentions of promoting hurling in the weaker counties. This progressive principle has been lost to a point where all these competitions have been downgraded to tiers 3, 4 and 5 and run off in their entirety before the end of June. This does nothing to promote respect for these competitions and this grievance has been aired numerous times in the past.

  1. If the system of promotion/relegation matches is being discarded next year, then the time for implementation was this year’s competitions. They are unjust, unequal in advantage and unnecessarily stressful. Winning your respective competition must be the end-point and high-point of your competitive year. No further fixtures should ever be considered for any reason and automatic promotion must be the incentive. Promoted teams should be afforded the courtesy and respect of being given a pre-season to prepare for superior opposition and competition. Kildare suffered under a similar situation in 2014 and failed to win the Christy Ring for a further 3 seasons. This could have happened to any team in the competition that year. Manipulating the rules of promotion/relegation in such a fashion can and does have long term ramifications for progression.

  1. The scheduling of this fixture exemplifies a blatant disregard for the welfare of the players. Both panels acknowledge that the week turnaround, the date, the timing and the location were not fixed with the best interest of the players in mind. We call for a more transparent, communicative, flexible and equitable process to be considered when fixing matches, especially of this nature and given the circumstances of all players involved.

  1. Regardless of the result on Saturday both panels will support each other to retain the 6 team McDonagh Cup format and pursue all possible avenues to make this happen.


Utmost of all, the two panels of players are keen to stress that their frustrations are aired in the hope that “the GAA to listen to the concerns of the players and that increased respect is given to all participants of the great game of hurling.”

Having been repeatedly overlooked throughout much of the year thus far, the hurlers from both panels are keen ensure greater attention is paid to the Joe McDonagh Cup.


Classy Carlow sink Saffrons

Christy Ring Cup final @ Croke Park

Antrim 4-15 Carlow 5-23

By Brendan McTaggart

Leading up to Saturday’s Final, it felt like everything was finally falling into line for the Saffrons.  Promotion and league winners, back to Division 1B and the Liam McCarthy Cup for 2018, just the Christy Ring Cup to attain and Antrim would accomplish the complete season and everything in the City and the Glens will be rosy.

It felt like we had entered the apex of that corner, the corner that would lead to the changing of fortunes for Antrim hurling.  Woody, Sambo, Pappy and Neal Peden were orchestrating the perfect tune with Croke Park to play host to their masterpiece.  Unfortunately for the Saffrons management, players and fans alike, the Antrim crescendo was unceremoniously destructed by a tidal wave of red, gold and green – no Boy George of Carlow-Chameleon pun required.  The Barrowside symphony derailed the Saffron dreams at Headquarters with James Doyle the man primarily responsible for further Christy Ring heartbreak for Antrim.  The St Mullins man finished the final with a personal tally of four goals and one point in a breath taking display to break Saffron hearts.  Doyle was ably assisted by Denis Murphy who was metronomic from placed ball, 11 efforts at target, 11 white flags raised.  Perfection.

In a flawless first half, everything Carlow touched turned to gold and it was the complete 70 minute performance from the Barrowsiders that Antrim have been striving towards.  So many times in the last 13 to 14 months, joint manager Dominic McKinley had been frustrated by Antrim’s inability to perform for the full 70 minutes but always felt that his team were capable of achieving that goal.  The Saffrons have shown a steely resolve this season and in the three previous outings against Carlow that showed the green shoots of improvement had finally sprung.  On Saturday they took their eye off the ball for a ten minute period in the first half and it was all the invitation the Barrowsiders needed.  They scored 3-6 in the final ten minutes of the first half, Doyle with a hat trick while Antrim mustered 1-1 in reply, Eoghan Campbell with the last touch to get the sliotar over the line.  Three brilliant goals and nothing Chrissy O’Connell could do with them.  Indeed were it not for the bravery and brilliance of the Loughgiel man in the opening minutes at Croke Park it could have been much worse for the Saffrons.  O’Connell, as he has done on countless occasions this season, pulled off a top class save from point blank range and recovered to repeat the fete seconds later.  Was that an early sign of things to come?  It didn’t feel like it at that time.  Antrim, although slow in starting, did hurl well in the opening quarter and took the lead on a couple of occasions.  Arron Graffin with his first start in two years for Antrim was having a great game with club mate Paddy Burke and Captain Simon McCrory also leading the way before the wheels came off thanks to the Barrowsiders wrecking machine that is James Doyle.

James Doyle’s four goals, three of them in the last ten minutes of the opening half, desroyed Antrim’s Christy Ring chances.

11 points separated the sides at the short whistle and it was going to take a monumental performance from Antrim to drag themselves back into the game.  They regained their mojo and gave Carlow their all after the restart but unfortunately for Antrim, Carlow were in no mood to capitulate.  Antrim threw everything they had, including the proverbial sink in the second half and Carlow returned it with interest.  The second half was a fascinating face-off between two gladiators giving everything in their arsenal to gain an upper-hand.  Antrim introduced Daniel McKernan at half time and he along with fellow Sarsfields man Niall McKenna had a major influence on the second half.  McKenna was introduced during the first half and showed glimpses of the brilliance he produced at the same stage just 12 months ago against Meath, twice.  Ciaran Clarke scored the first of two second half goals after just four minutes of the second half to renew the Saffron charge and breathe fresh impetus into the game but another Carlow major just five minutes later all but extinguished any hopes of a Lazarus like recovery.  Captain Martin McKavanagh this time with the finish, adding to the two points he had already registered at the start of the second half.

Antrim continued to show the renewed belief instilled this season with Matthew Donnelly performing well when introduced into the Saffrons defence and a Neil McManus goal from a 21 yard free kept the Saffron faithful dreaming.  When Clarke scored his second major shortly after, the Carlow lead was reduced to eight points with still 14 minutes remaining.  Game on and the Antrim support began to believe once more only for Colm Bonnar’s men to hammer the final nail in the Saffron Christy Ring coffin.  Doyle with his fourth goal of the match along with four Barrowide points in the space of ten minutes was replied to by a solitary white flag from a Clarke free.  Game over.  Three Saffron points unanswered was a case of too little too late for Antrim before Eoghan Campbell’s game was cut short for a dangerous tackle on substitute Seán Whelan.  A red card brought from pure frustration more than anything but it spelled the end of the Saffron challenge.  A free from Carlow Captain Kavanagh on the stroke of full time gave the Barrowsiders an 11 point victory and Christy Ring back to Carlow for the third time and ending an eight year absence.




Chrissy O’Connell; Simon McCrory; John Dillon; Stephen Rooney; Ciaran Johnston; Paddy Burke; Arron Graffin; Conor McKinely (0-1); Paul Shiels (0-1); Neal McAuley; Conor McCann; Eoghan Campbell (1-00); Conor Johnston; Neil McManus (1-2, 1-1 free); Ciaran Clarke (2-9, 7 frees, 1 ’65)

Subs: Niall McKenna for N McAuley (26 mins); Daniel McKernan (0-1) for C McCann; Paddy McGill (0-1) for P Shiels (48 mins); Matthew Donnelly for J Dillon (50 mins); Conal Cunning for Conor Johnston (67 mins)



James O’Carroll; Alan Corcoran; Paul Doyle; Gary Bennett; Richard Coady; David English; Richard Kelly (0-1); Jack Kavanagh; Diarmuid Byrne (0-3); John Michael Nolan (0-2); Martin Kavanagh 1-3, 1 free); James Doyle (4-1); Denis Murphy (0-11, 11 frees) Eddie Byrne; Paul Coady (0-1)

Subs: Kevin McDonald for J Kavanagh (43 mins); Chris Nolan (0-1) for P Coady (46 mins); Seamus Murphy for D Byrne (58 mins); Jack Murphy for D Murphy (68 mins); Seán Whelan for J Doyle (inj)

Ref: Mick Murtagh (Westmeath)


It was all Antrim in 2006

Christy Ring Cup final preview


Antrim 5-13 Carlow 1-7

I doubt if it will be like this on Saturday but it was mainly one way traffic when Antrim beat Carlow in the Christy Ring final in 2006, the Saffrons running out winners by 5-13 to 0-1. The men from the Glens were rampant during a very one sided first half and were actually 3-6 to 0-0 ahead before Carlow opened their account in the 27th minute, the goals coming from Joey Scullion, Johnny McIntosh and Kieran ‘Pinky, Kelly.

Leading 3-8 to 0-2 at half time Antrim took their foot off the pedal in the second half, but they did add two further goals from Brian McFall and Johnny McIntosh to run out winners by eighteen points. I think most Saffron fans would settle for winning by just one of those eighteen points on Saturday.

There was a bizarre incident early in the second half of the ’06 final when a Carlow fan ran onto the field and was chased, and promptly caught, by match referee James McGrath who showed a real turn of pace as he apprehended the intruder.


Graffin named in starting fifteen

Aaron Graffin, who has not worn an Antrim jersey since suffering a cruciate ligament injury against Westmeath in May 2015 makes his return to the Saffron shirt against Carlow in tomorrow’s Christy Ring final at Croke Park.

The team is along expected lines but Graffin’s inclusion being the big talking point while Dunloy teenager Conal Cunning had been added to the list of subs