Ahoghill claim first Ulster title

Last week we looked at Clooney Gaels Antrim Junior Hurling championship success in 2006 where they defeated St. Mary’s Rasharkin in the final in Ballymena.

We went on to highlight their journey to an Ulster final in the same year with a facile win over Mullahoran of Cavan in the quarter-final and a semi-final win over Lisbellaw before defeating Shamrocks of Strabane in a tight Ulster final.

Today we look at that final:

Ulster Junior hurling club final

Clooney Gaels 0-14 Strabane (Tyrone) 1-8

Antrim champions, Clooney Gaels lifted their first ever Ulster title at Swatragh on Sunday the 12th of November but it was no smooth ride by any matter of means as a spirited Styrabane side made a spirited late challenge to try and snatch a victory of their own.

Clooney’s Gerard Graham was a key player with a masterful display of free taking as he notched up eight points throughout, six of which came from free conversions.

Graham was first to register a score as he coolly converted a ’65’ just one minute in, much to the delight of the large travelling Clooney support. It was tit for tat sacoring in the early stages as Paddy Shields and Barcley converted frees, giving the Styrabane men a slender lead and Strabane looked like extending that lead when Mark Devine sent a pile driver towards the Ahoghill goals but Declan Scullion pulled off a superb save to deny Devine.

This would be the last time that Strabane would hold the lead as Clooney came back strongly with seven unanswered points, the best of them coming from Dominic Neeson who rifled over from seventy yards, a score that would have been the envy of any senior championship side.

The Antrim champions were now in full flow and were dominating mid-field where Gerard Kelly and Dominic Neeson were making their presence felt. The Gaels were well on top at this stage and held a comfortable lead but, credit to Strabane who came back with four unanswered points in the run up to half time.

The second period of play saw both sides lock horns in a bid for p;ossession with Strabane coming back with two frees to come within two points of the Antrim champions but this would be the Tyrone side’s last score for sdome time. The Ahoghill men responded with Gerard Graham firing over three points and Donal Graham added another to extend their lead to six points.

In the dying minutes Strabane went in search of that elusive goal and it came from Paddy Shields who blasted a 20 yard free to the top left hand corner of the Clooney net but his effort came too late as refereeTiernach Walsh brought an end to proceedings shortly after.

So the Clooney Gaels have written another chapter in the history books and this performance will be cherished for years to come. Declan Scullion in goals kept a clean sheet and made an excellent save in the early stages and he weas well aided by full-back Brian Kelly who put in a solid performance.Youngsters Francis Neeson and Pearse Close deserve special mention and Neil O’Connell, Bernard Graham and John Friel turned defence into attack at every given opportunity. The mid-field pairing of John Kelly and Dominic Neeson were instrumental in this Clooney win and their experience was a telling factor on the day. Clooney’s forwards worked well as a unit and Sean O’Connell worked tirelessly throughout taking some strong challenges in the process while Gerard Graham turned in a man of the match performance with a personal tally of (0-8, 6f) showing a deadly eye from free taking.

Clooney Gaels: Declan Scullion, Francis Neeson, B rian Kelly, Pearse Close, Neil O’Connell, Bernard Graham, John Friel, Dominic Neeson (0-1), Joe Downey, John Kelly (0-1), Sean O’Connell, Gerard Graham, Donal Graham, Aidan Graham, Gerard Kelly.

Subs: PJ O’Connell for Joe Downey, Sean McMahon for Gerard Kelly. Subs not used: Ryan Doherty, Declan Graham, Malachy Friel, Jerard Keenan, Barney Graffin, Martin Graham, Kieran Convery, Diarmaid Graham, Dessie McGuigan, Fergal Gavigan

Lisbellaw next for rampant Cloney

Ulster Club Junior Hurling Championship semi-final 2006

Cloney Gaels 1-15 Lisbellaw 2-5

Having dismissed Mullahoran of Cavan in the quarter-final with a convincing victory, the Ahoghill men entered this Ulster semi-final in a confident mood but also with a degree of caution having been paired against an unknown quantity in Fermanagh champions, Lisbellaw.

With so much at stake the first half was fiercely contested but it was their second half scoring blitz that helped the Gaels on their way to their first ever Ulster championship final. From the outset this one was played at a blistering pace and there was no doubt that both sides were up for a win.

The Cloney men showed signs of nerves in the opening 10 minutes and seemed a bit disorganised, Lisbellaw on the other hand settled down straight away and within two minutes Ryan Bogue had fired home the Fermanagh men’s first goal giving them a dream start.

Lisbellaw dominated in the early stages and when centre field player Kevin McGarry picked off a point in the fourth minute the Cloney men were forced to take stock. The Gaels never lost their cool however and upped their game in a bid to get back into the match.

Aiden Graham led the way with a point over his left shoulder eight minutes in and Captain Sean O’Connell added another five minutes later. When Neil O’Connell was brought to ground, free taker Gerard Graham brought the gap to the bare minimum between the sides.

No sooner had Lisbellaw keeper Peter McEvoy pucked the sliothar out than Gerard Graham gained possession again and made no mistake bringing the sides level much to the delight and relief of the large and vocal travelling Ahoghill support.

The Antrim champions began to get to grips with the game and began to dominate their opponents. Goalkeeper Declan Scullion took a puck out which was gathered by Aiden Graham, who found his man in Gerard Kelly. Kelly played a clever ball to Sean O’Connell, who had a goal chance but opted to flick the sliothar across to the unmarked Donal Graham who brought an end to what could only be described as poetry in motion as he rattled the ball to the top right hand corner of the net.

Lisbellaw, now trailing, pulled one back through Declan McGarry and when Kevin McGarry converted a free on the thirty minute mark they were on level terms for a second time. Cloney’s Declan Graham gathered possession from the puck out and when he was fouled, brother Gerard stepped up to send over the final score of the half leaving it 1-5 to 1-4 in favour of the Ahoghill side at the interval.

The second half saw the emergence of a rejuvenated, more focused and determined Cloney Gaels side as they came out all guns blazing. John Friel got his side going with a superb point from a sideline cut just two minutes from the restart.

Gerard Kelly too got in on the scoring action when he received a pass from Aiden Graham and when Gerard Graham added another to his personal tally, the Ahoghill men were four points clear. Lisbellaw were now struggling against a Cloney Gaels side who were now dominating throughout the field and were doing the simple things well.

Mid-fielder Kevin McGarry replied from a free in the 39th minute but this was to be their last point as the Gaels went on the rampage. The industrious Dominic Neeson found himself surrounded and opted for a long hand-pass which found John Friel who picked off a long range point and when Gerard Graham converted another free the game look out of reach of the Fermanagh champions.

Cloney introduced minor star, PJ O’Connell with ten minutes remaining and within seconds he had registered a score and in a four minute spell Declan Graham, Donal Graham, Sean O’Connell and PJ O’Connell added unanswered points for the Antrim champions.

With five minutes remaining Lisbellaw went in search of a goal with the Cloney men falling back in defence but in the dying minutes the Fermanagh side were awarded a 21 yard free and Kevin McGarry stepped forward to rifle an unstoppable shot to the net.

It proved to be only a consolation score however as referee, John Devine brought matters to a close leaving the final score, Cloney Gaels 1-15, Lisbellaw 2-5.

Cloney Gaels: Declan Scullion, Francis Neeson, Brian Kelly, Pearse Close, Neil O’Connell, Bernard Graham, John Friel (0-2 1 sideline), Dominic Neeson, Joe Downey, Declan Graham (0-1), Sean O’Connell (0-2), Gerard Graham (0-5 – 2 frees), Donal Graham (1-1), Aiden Graham (0-1), Gerard Kelly (0-1).

Subs: John Kelly for Joe Downey, Ryan Doherty for Francis Neeson, PJ O’Connell (0-2) for Gerard Kelly, Sean McMahon for Donal Graham, Diarmaid Graham for Aiden Graham. Subs not used: Malachy Friel, Jerard Keenan, Barry Drain, Michael Graffin, Martin Graham, Kieran Convery, Sean Gavigan, Dessie McGuigan, Fergal Doherty.

Clooney’s Ulster journey begins

Ulster Junior Club Hurling quarter-final

Clooney Gaels 5-16 Mullahoran (Cavan) 0-2

A few days ago we featured Clooney Gaels Antrim Junior Hurling Championship final success over keen rivals, St. Mary’s Rasharkin in 2006 and today we begin their journey to a first Ulster success the same year. Cavan champions Mullahoran were the opposition at Corrigan Park but they proved to be no opposition to the rampant Ahoghill side.

It was evident from the outset that the Clooney men had great determination and organisation. John Friel gathered possession at half-back and sent a cross-field ball to Aidan Graham and Aidan sent over the first point in the opening minute of play.

The Gaels pressed on and fought for possession at every opportunity and in doing so really got to grips with the game early on. Sean O’Connell picked off a point in the second minute for the Antrim champions and when Cousins Gerard and Donal Graham added three between them, Clooney Gaels went five ahead with five minutes gone.

Mullahoran looked disheartened and failed to make any impression on the game in the early stages and when Joe Downey set up Aidan Graham the latter fired to the net and Mullahoran were in serious trouble.

Clooney Gaels were now totally dominating their opponents and were scoring at every opportunity and Aidan and Gerard Graham picked off another two points before play maker, Gerard Kelly found Sean O’Connell just before the interval and he fired to the net to put his side 2-7 to 0-0 ahead as referee Ciaran McGennis brought an end to first half proceedings.

Mullahoran entered the second period of play with a mountain to climb but with the Clooney Gaels determined to get the job done there was no way back as they continued to dominate every area of the field. Donal Graham added another to his tally one minute after the restart and no sooner had the Mullahoran keeper pucked the sliothar out than the Cavan champions were in further trouble.

Aidan Graham gathered the sliothar and passed it on to Sean O’Connell who raised the Green flag for the third time and at this stage the game was out of reach of the Cavan champions. Mullahoran managed their first score of the day in the thirty-fifth minute when centre-back Anthony Sheridan converted a free but his effort was to no avail as John Friel launched a long ball into Donal Graham and the corner forward made no mistake for his first goal.

Donal’s goal paved the way for a Clooney onslaught as they effectively wiped the floor with Mullahoran. Neil O’Connell led the way with a long range point which was followed by six unanswered points through Donal and Aidan Graham, Sean and P.J. O’Connell and Joe Downey taking the honours.

Mullahoran managed a second point and it was again Anthony Sheridan who converted from another free but it was only a consolation score as Aidan Graham fired home yet another goal with four minutes remaining. Clooney’s Sean O’Connell scored the final point of the game with one minute remaining leaving the final score 4-16 to 0-2 in favour of the Ahoghill men.

This was a great start for the Clooney Gaels in their Ulster campaign and they will now play Fermanagh champions Lisbellaw in the semi-final. Best on the day were the Graham brothers Aidan and Donal who between them notched up an impressive 3-7. Captain Sean O’Connell showed great class with a personal contribution of 2-3 and Gerard Graham showed great poise with his free taking skills.

The Clooney defence were not really tested on this occasion but when the situation arose they cleared the danger with relative ease. Declan Scullion in goals marshalled his defence well. The mid-field pairing of Joe Downey and Dominic Neeson ran riot throughout and Dominic deserves special credit for the ground he covered, both in defence and attack.

Clooney Gaels: Declan Scullion, Francis Neeson, Brian Kelly, Pearse Close, Neil O’Connell (0-1), Bernard Graham, John Friel, Dominic Neeson, Joe Downey (0-1), Declan Graham, Sean O’Connell (2-3), (1 free), Gerard Graham (0-3 frees), Donal Graham (1-4), Aidan Graham (2-3), Gerard Kelly. Subs: Malachy Friel for Gerard Graham, Sean McMahon for Joe Downey, PJ O’Connell for Gerard Kelly, Jerard Keenan for Pearse Close, Diarmaid Graham for Donal Graham.

2006 a momentous year for Clooney Gaels

2006 was to prove a great year for the hurlers of Clooney Gaels and marked their arrival as serious contenders on the Antrim hurling scene. This week we look back at that momentous season and begin their journey to a place in an All Ireland junior final in Croke Park with a look back at their Antrim final win over old adversaries Rasharkin at Slemish Park Ballymena.

Antrim Junior Hurling Championship final

Clooney Gaels 3-18 St. Mary’s Rasharkin 1-9

Played at Slemish Park, Ballymena the 2006 Junior Hurling final was an eagerly awaited contest as the hurlers of St. Mary’s Rasharkin met up with old rivals Clooney Gaels from Ahoghill. The Clooney men last lifted the title way back in 1989 and featured names like O’Connell, Graham and Downey amongst others and these names were prominent a generation on where sons, cousins, nephews and brothers had taken hold of the reigns to emulate the spirit of the 89 team.

With so much at stake both sides struggled to find their rhythm at the beginning. Clooney’s Donal Graham was the first to settle when he sent over his first point two minutes into the contest. Donal’s point was followed by a frustrating passage of play as both sides locked horns in a battle for supremacy with little scoring chances being created.

It was Aidan Graham who broke the deadlock when he got hold of the ball, slotting over a point and effectively bringing order to the game. Rasharkin, still scoreless at this stage got to grips with matters and worked the sliothar up field and when a foul was committed 30 yards out Brendan McMullan stepped up and took his score in the 12th minute.

Clooney’s Declan Scullion took a quick puck out and the Gaels gathered possession and worked the sliothar up field where it was fed into Gerard Graham who put the Clooney men two in front. Rasharkin were finding it hard to settle and were giving away to many unnecessary frees and with Gerard Graham in top form Clooney went three points clear at the end of the first quarter.

Donal Graham got the defining score of the first half when a long ball was dropped in around the Rasharkin goalmouth. Rasharkin’s keeper, Kevin Collins had judged the sliothar to be going wide but as it fell short Donal Graham was on hand to flick it to the net. The Graham clan were now making their presence felt and when Aidan found his cousin Gerard he edged the Ahoghill side further ahead.

Their opponents had been on the back foot but responded through Declan McKay who pulled one back as he converted a free but the industrious Sean O’Connell hit back immediately for the Clooney men to maintain their advantage. Rasharkin looked to be in trouble and desperately needed to register some scores and experienced campaigner Christopher Hasson did just that with a fine point in the 25th minute and substitute Liam McCart followed with another to give them fresh hope.

In the last five minutes of the half however Clooney Gaels went into overdrive and began to display great teamwork throughout the field and when the towering figure of Declan Graham got hold of the sliothar he took his point, effectively opening the floodgates. The Ahoghill men finished the half with a flourish notching up four unanswered points through Gerard Graham, Sean O’Connell, Joe Downey and Aidan Graham as the moved into a 1-11 to 0-4 half time lead.


The Rasharkin men looked up against it going into the second half as they went in search of some much needed scores. Daniel O’Mullan took a fine point one minute in from the restart but any attempt at a comeback was effectively squashed when Aidan Graham fired home Clooney’s second goal in the 35th minute.

The Clooney Gaels, now in full flow, turned on the style and big Neil O’Connell picked off a superb point. The Rasharkin defence was now in disarray and continually gave away frees with Clooney’s Gerard Graham gratefully excepting as he added another two to his tally. When Donal Graham and Sean O’Connell added two more from play it was effectively the point of no return for Rasharkin.

To their credit they kept battling away however and in the last quarter Daniel O’Mullan and Declan McKay added two points to Rasharkin’s tally before Aidy Scullion fired a consolation goal past his brother Declan in the Clooney nets with ten minutes remaining.

This score only served to put a better reflection on the score line as Donal Graham responded for the Gaels with another goal and a point almost straight away. Rasharkin added a further two points from frees just before the end but the last score of the game came from Clooney’s John Friel who fired over a massive 70 yard free leaving the final score, Clooney Gaels 3-18-Rasharkin 1-9.

This was a superb performance by Clooney Gaels who took control right from the start and were never troubled by a Rasharkin side who battled hard but just could not cope with the pace, power and superior stick work of their opponents.

They were rock solid in defence where Bernard Graham was outstanding at centre-half-back and showed great determination, as did Pearse Close and Francis Neeson who never put a foot wrong. At mid-field Dominic Neeson covered massive amounts of ground and partner Joe Downey showed great skill and determination. Captain Sean O’Connell led from the front and took a fair few knocks in the process. Star man up front was Donal Graham who contributed not less than 2-4


This team have shown vast improvement over the championship campaign and this is due in no small way to the hard work done by coaches, Brendan Kelly and Harry Graham and indeed of all the coaching staff at the Clooney Gaels club. Great credit is due to them.

Clooney Gaels: Declan Scullion, Pearse Close, Brian Kelly, Francis Neeson, Neil O’Connell, Bernard Graham, John Friel (0-1), Joe Downey (0-1), Dominic Neeson, Declan Graham (0-1), Sean O’Connell (0-4), Gerard Graham (0-5), Donal Graham 2-4, Aidan Graham 1-2, Gerard Kelly.

Subs: Malachy Friel, Dessie McGuigan, Barry Drain, Diarmaid Graham, Stephen O’Connell.

Later this week we will follow Clooney Gaels on their journey to Ulster success in 2006 and their progress to the All-Ireland final in the same year.

2004 a big year for Shane O’Neill’s

2004 was a big year for Shane O’Neill’s GAC Glenarm and today we look back at their achievements that year and carry photographs taken during that memorable season.

Glenarm had actually been beaten in the Antrim final by Shamrock’s Loughgiel Reserves but went through to the Provincial series as the last non reserve side to be knocked out in the county series. They went on to defeat Newry Shamrocks of Down in the semi-final to advance to the final against St. Malachy’s Portadown.

Ulster Junior Club Hurling Final

Shane O’Neill’s 4-13 St. Malachy’s, Portadown (Armagh) 0-5

Shane O’Neills, Glenarm eventually cruised to an impressive victory over a gallant St. Malachy’s, Portadown in this first ever Ulster Club JHC final in Casement Park on the 31st October 2004. So the Antrim champions became the first ever holders of the Paddy O’Rourke Cup named after the former late Monaghan stalwart.

In a game that produced some good hurling it was always eveident, apart from the opening quarter, that the Glenarm side possessed too much power, skill and accuracy desp[ite a valiant effort by the Portadown side, which never gave up the battle despite the odds stacked against them.

Glenarm dominated mid-field through Ronan Matthews and Jim Petticrew while a brilliant half-back line of Bryan O’Neill, Blain McDermott and Ciaran Campbell blotted out the St. Malachy’s attack which lived of scraps of possession throughout the game.

However, Shay McStravick proved accurate from frees for the losers with Ruairi Garvey and Kevin Quinn working hard. The Shane O’Neill’s attack moved with fluency and precision with Hugh Martin McKay, Brendan McDermott and Brendan McAllister most prominent. Peter Gorman Ryan Sands and Charlie O’Neill worked overtime in the St. Malachy’s defence

St. Malachy’s played their best hurling in the first quarter. They took the lead with a point from Stefan McStravick after two minutes. Sean Waide levelled from a free two minutes later. St. Malachy’s playing strongly, regained the lead with a Ruairi Garvey point after 10 minutes but that proved to be their last score of the half.

Glenarm settled and Sean Waide pointed two frees while Hugh Martin McKay added another. The all-important goal came five minutes before half time when a long free from Blain McDermott was collected by Donal McAuley and the centre-half-forward fired low to the net to give Glenarm a 1-4 to 0-2 half time lead.

Brendan McDermott pointed a Glenarm free within a minute of the restart. St. Malachy’s fought back bravely with three pointed frees by Shay McStravick in the following eight minutes but these were their last scores of the game.

The final 20 minutes saw Glenarm move up a gear starting with Brendan McDermott and Hugh Martin McKay slotting home great goals inside two minutes to put the game beyond the reach of St. Malachy’s as they cruised through the final ten minutes adding their fourth goal from Blain McDermott.

Shane O’Neill’s: Kevin Cotttrell, B McMullan, C McNeill, J Milligan, C Campbell, Blain McDermott (1-2), B O’Neill, R Matthews (0-1), J Petticrew, B McAllister (0-3), D McAuley (1-0), J O’Boyle, HM McKay (1-2), S Waide (0-4) Brendan McDermott (1-1)

Subs: J McAllister for O’Neill, L McAuley for Brendan McDermott, J Magill for Petticrew, P McAuley for O’Boyle, B Campbell for McMullan.

After a hard-fought win against British Intermediate champions, John Mitchell’s in the All Ireland quarter-final, Glenarm gained their semi-final place against Galmoy of Kilkenny

Brendan McDermott’s last minute goal proved proved the decisive score as Shane O’Neill’s triumphed 1-7 to 0-8 against a good John Mitchell’s side at Pairc na hEireann.

All Ireland JHC club semi-final Galmoy Kilkenny 6-15 Shane O’Neill’s 1-5

Early in 2005 Shane O’Neill’s bid for glory came to an abrupt and sudden end at a bitter cold St. Vincent’s when they were comprehensively beaten by an excellent Galmoy of Kilkenny. A big crowd accompanied the Antrim champions on the trip to Dublin arriving early at the St. Vincent’s ground.

A driving and swirling wind which blew down the unfenced St. Vincent’s pitch hardly provided the perfect setting for such an occasion but in truth the conditions were the same for both sides but it was the lads from Kilkenny who adapted much better to the difficult conditions.

Shane O’Neill’s battled all the way but in the end were forced to succumb to superior Galmoy side who would not have been out of place in the Intermediate competition.

Today we carry some action photographs from that famous day in Dublin and photographs of the many fans who made the journey to St. Vincent’s to cheer on their heroes.

Later in the same year Shane O’Neill’s Minor team recorded their own little bit of history by beating Eoghan Rua of Coleraine in an Ulster Minor B Hurling final at Lamh Dhearg and today we carry some photographs from that game.

My thanks to Terence Mulvenna for his assistance in putting this article together. Terence supplied me with newspaper clipping from 2004-2005 and it would not have been possible to publish this article without his help.