Is the round robin the first step to major change?

By Brendan McTaggart

I wasn’t exactly kicking and screaming, more coerced into making the journey to the Balmoral Show last Thursday with my father-in-law and brother-in-law. My third daughter of four is mad about farming and that carry on so I thought why not?

For the record, it’s a top day out and I’d thoroughly recommend anyone who has considered it, make the trip. Great day. Seánín was loving life and the sun was out so the job was a good’un. As we were making our way around the different exhibitions – at this point I should say the foody tent with all the samples was my particular favourite, we came across Lar Corbett Sports stand. I wondered if the great man would be there. A quick scooly and a rummage around some of the fine hurls but no Lar. Gutted but my disappointment was short lived as I watched my four year old dance to Marty Mone singing ‘Slip the Clutch’ and ‘Hit the Diff’ at the adjoining stall. Quite the sight.

While I watched in utter amazement, one last look around and there wouldn’t you know, sunglasses and all was one Lar Corbett. My brother-in-law said that my “journalist head took over” but to be honest I couldn’t help myself. I went over and had a yarn with the two time All-Ireland winner.

After a brief discussion about the weather and his hurls, I went in for the jugular and probably asked him something he’s been asked a hundred times already: “What do you make of the round robin format?” I got more than I bargained for.

I was expecting the text book answer of “More games is good for the public etc” but his answer was more honest: “I’m undecided if I’m honest. I think we need to wait until the weekends matches are over to see how the public react and attendances. The crowd and passion in the Munster championship is incredible and a lot of that is down to the intensity but also the knockout nature. It’s going to be a strange atmosphere I reckon in a game where there’s nothing more than a poc of the ball between the sides. I think there could be dead rubbers in the last round of games and no-one wants to see that in championship hurling.”

He wasn’t far wrong. The crowd and atmosphere just weren’t the same. That could have been down to Tipperary not firing on all cylinders, but these two teams played an epic contest in the semi-final of the league not that long ago. That alone should have been giving the Munster opener an edge. Not so.

Then there was Cork and Clare. The Rebels playing their first championship hurling match in the redeveloped Páirc Ui Chaoimh, yet it was a little over half full as they played Clare. A repeat of last years Munster final in a superb new stadium with a capacity of 45,000 yet 24, 950 patrons made their way to the banks of the River Lee. Corbett mentioned the toll it would have on the pockets of the public. A string of championship matches and expecting sell-out crowds A fair point, one that we both thought would have come to play when the ‘dead rubbers’ might materialise.

Was the attendance and atmosphere a knock-on effect of the round robin? It certainly looks like it. A crazy schedule won’t help matter either. A bit closer to home, I think Antrim had suffered as a result of the same problem. I’m not talking about the crowd, Christ it would be class to see half the amount there was at the Páirc on Sunday at an Antrim venue, no – I’m talking about player fatigue. Three matches, battles, wars, in just 14 days seemed to have taken its toll on Antrim on Saturday afternoon. A poor first half gave Laois the upper hand and despite an improved second half, it was too big an ask against a determined Laois side. ‘Flat’ is how I described Antrim’s efforts in my match report from the first half in Pearse Park. The Saffrons looked like a team that couldn’t get to the levels they had reached previously, and it was the same but to a lesser extent against Carlow amidst the craziness that took place during the chaos.

Speaking with Neal Peden after the match in Dunloy, he told me that he was proud of his side’s efforts in the second half but described the opening 35 minutes as ‘one of those things that can happen.’ Looking for silver linings after a defeat is a way of keeping positive energy within a camp and admirable of the Antrim coach. After a league campaign that brought mixed emotions, the Antrim performances in the Joe McDonagh Cup have had the die hard Antrim fans amongst us dreaming again. I put the question to Peden that he would have taken two wins from three at the start of the competition, with a smile on his face he told me: “We try to win every game we play no matter who it’s against and always feel like we’re capable.” From before a ball was thrown in against Meath in Páirc Tailteann, we were told the Saffrons were never looking any further than the next match, their attentions turn to Westmeath now in Mullingar. A place where Antrim and our clubs haven’t had much success in the past. Dunloy came a cropper against Joe Cooney and Sarsfields while Cushendall were chinned by a late Vinny Maher goal against Loughrea some ten years later. Antrim’s fortunes haven’t been much better with a heavy defeat coming at the winter of Kevin Ryan’s rein at the helm while PJ O’Mullan’s team tasted defeat for the first time in Cusack Park.

Westmeath are a strong side and just two years ago they defeated Kilkenny in the Leinster U21 championship. It’s going to take undoubtedly an improved performance from Antrim but they have this two weeks to recover and recuperate. A break that both management and players will have welcomed. It will be required before making the journey to Cusack Park on June 2.

Before I left Lar to his own devices and made my way around the rest of the Balmoral Show, he said the GAA should look into a Champions League format and forsake the provincial championships for the good of the game. The round robin format in both Leinster and Munster could be the stepping stone to some more radical changes in the future.


Antrim master the Exiles at St. Paul’s


Photographs: Bert Trowlen

Masters Football

Antrim 2-13  London 1-7

Antrim Masters lined out against London Masters at 2pm on a sunny afternoon in St Paul’s GAC Belfast. The new stand, 4G training facility and club house facilities were remarked on by the London lads as something to be proud off.  Both teams had lost their opening game and in the respective warm ups it could be seen that each wanted their first win in 2018.

Antrim started quickly when Sean Og Maginness rifled to the roof of the net in the third minute after a slick movement up the pitch. London were un-phased by this and with a big midfield took charge for the next 15 minutes scoring 4 fine points. London could have been further ahead but for an outstretched save by Sean McGreevy on his right hand post and strong defence marshalled by Lawrence Higgins in full back.

The Antrim coaching team of Brian White and Ronan Hamill brought John Barr and Paul McErlain to bolster the middle third of the pitch. This allowed the Antrim midfield of Gerard Doherty and Stephen Mulvenna to gain dominance and badly needed possession to feed the running full forwards Kevin Madden and new recruit Kevin Brady. They scored the next 6 points to leave it 1-6 to 0- 5 at half time.

The second half started where the first half left off with Antrim still on top around the middle third. Aidan Donnelly was a constant thorn in the London masters side as he weaved and bobbed to score, feed and get frees. Kevin Madden scored 2 more points to bring his tally to 7 and put some badly needed daylight between the teams. London to their credit never give up and fought for every ball leaving Antrim with some tired bodies. When Charlie McLarnon rattled to the net with 10 minutes left the game was all but over.

London rallied again and scored a 6 yard box scramble goal and a further 2 points to ensure the Antrim men had to make use of the rolling subs and the full squad of 27 players to secure the win.

Brian White’s men move on to the next match against Cavan on the 9th June 2018

Antrim scores : Sean Og McGuinness (1-0), Charlie McLarnon (1-0), Kevin Madden (0-7Aidan Donnelly (0-2), collie Mallon (0-1), Frankie Wilson (0-1), Gary Hughes (0-1), Kevin Brady (0-1)

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Tir na nOg advance in extra time thriller


Laverty Cup Quarter Final

Tír na nÓg 1.17 (20)

Aldergrove 2.11 (17)

It took two periods of extra time to separate these two excellent sides and get an eventual winner at Whitehill on Sunday afternoon . With a stiff breeze in favour of the home side they made the most of it keeping Aldergrove scoreless for 22minutes and gaining an 8 point advantage at the short whistle. However the tables were  turned in the second half when the St. James’ men began their come back and kept the blues scoreless for 31 minutes to edge themselves two points ahead with time almost up.

Tir na nOg launched one last attack however and  Aaron McNeilly fired the ball to the back of the net to put Tír na nÓg a point ahead only for Matthew Donnelly to equalise and send the game into extra time which seen Tír na nÓg run out eventual winners by 3 points.

Aaron McNeilly (2) and Ciaran O’Neill struck first for the home side with the breeze on their back after 4 minutes at Randalstown. After narrowly putting the ball wide when through on goal Jack O’Mahoney righted his wrongs and spilt the posts as did wing half back Eamon Óg McAllister from a 45. The momentum remained with Tír na nÓg as McNeilly hit his second free of the day of his left foot to leave his side 6 points clear after 12 minutes.

Aldergrove tried hard to break the Tír na nÓg defence but Brandon McClarnon kept his defence in line and fought off the attacks. O’Mahoney was looking lively and set Conor Crossey up for the next score before Caoimhin “Cevo” McConnell tested keeper Josh Higgins to no success. Crossey fired the ball over the bar again before McAllister got his second point.

Corner forward Emmett Murray got Tír na nÓg’s tenth point of  the day and 22 minutes into play Aldergrove got their first point of the game through substitute Rian McCarthy who was introduced for Padraig Hanna after 20minutes. His impact was immediate. Two minutes later mid fielder Gary Duffy got Aldergrove’s second point before Ciaran O’Neill set a placed ball on the ground and put it over the bar. Full back Irvine received a black card forcing Aldergrove to change re-shuffle and introduce David Aikens after 25minutes. Just before the half Kian Jones knocked the ball over the bar for the visitors to leave the half time score; Tír na nÓg 0.11, Aldergrove 0.3.

With the teams changing ends the wind now favoured the visitors and like Tír na nÓg they were to go on the rampage for the next half hour. Three minutes into play Oliver McAtamney was forced to take down McConnell giving away a penalty and picking up a yellow card. Cevo McConnell made no mistake, slotting the ball to the back of the net and renewing his team’s faith in a comeback. Matthew Donnelly was responsible for the next score through a free kick followed by Kian Jones after a foul on Conor Morris. The Tír na nÓg management were forced to make a substitution after Oliver McAtamney picked up a yellow card and a tick so Ethan Higgins was brought into the fray on 43minutes.

Conor Morris and Oisin Graham narrowed the home side’s lead to one point before Tír na nÓg went on the counter attack only for O’Mahoney to slip the ball just wide of the post. Aldergrove made no mistake and didn’t miss the target after 54minutes when Michael Blaney drilled the ball to the net and helped his team take a two point advantage for the first time in the game. With normal time almost up Randalstown would only have themselves to blame when McNeilly dropped a free short and a goal mouth scramble devastatingly rolled wide.

From the resulting kick out Ciaran O’Neill rose high at mid field and played his captain McNeilly straight through on goal and taking the bull by the horns he rattled the net to turn the lead back in favour of the Whitehill side. Aldergrove didn’t lose hope just yet but Jones failed to capitalise on his chance. Just when the home side felt they had done enough Matthew Donnelly squared things up and sent the game to extra time. Tír na nÓg 1.11 (14), Aldergrove 2.8 (14).

Both teams fought tooth and nail in the first half of extra time, after 7 minutes Peter Cullen who had moved up to wing half forward kicked a ball from far out left to spilt the posts, swiftly followed by McNeilly to leave Tír na nÓg 2 points ahead at half time of extra time.

Similarly to the second half Aldergrove came back fighting and kicked points through Michael Blaney and Morris who levelled proceedings up once again. McNeilly got his fifth point of the game from a dead ball and quickly followed this up with a huge 40meter kick after O’Neill played a perfect ball. Ciaran O’Neill then set the ball on the ground once more and spilt the posts after a foul to bring the gap to 3 points but Jones clawed another free kick back for the Crumlin side. 2 minutes into injury time the home side continued to press and were awarded another free which McNeilly confidently stepped up to stroke over to take his personal tally to 1-7 but more importantly to send his side through to the semi-finals of the Laverty Cup.


Tír na nÓg:  1. J. Higgins 2. O. McAtamney 3. R. Conceicao 4. J. Venckus 5. P. Cullen 6. B. McClarnon 7. E. Óg McAlister 8. C. O’Neill 9. C. Devlin 10. C. Crossey 11. A. McNeilly 12. M. Porter 13. E. Murray 14. N. McKee 15. J. O’Mahoney 17. O. Robb 18. E. McDonald 19. C. McCamphill 20. P. Duggan 21. E. Higgins

Subs used: E. Higgins for O. McAtamney (43mins), J. Hartnup for N. McKee (64mins), N. McKee for J. Hartnup (70mins), O. McAtamney for P. Cullen (76mins)

Scorers: A. McNeilly (1.7- 4 frees), C. O’Neill (0.3- 3 frees), E Óg McAllister (0.2-  1 45’), C. Crossey (0.2), J. O’Mahoney (0.1), E. Murray (0.1), P. Cullen (0.1)


Aldergrove: 1. O. McGarry 2. S. Bradley 3. E. Irvine 4. A. Mulholland 5. D. Gough 6. O. Creaney 7. C. Fogerty 8. P. Hanna 9. G. Duffy 10. M. Donnelly 11. O. Graham 12. C. Quinn 13. C. McConnell 14. K. Jones 15. C. Morris 16. P. McGregor 17. M. Blaney 18. R. McCarthy 20. D. Aiken 21. E. Gough 22. N. Wilkinson 23. S. Davy

Subs used: R. McCarthy for P. Hanna (20mins), E. Irvine for D. Aiken (25mins), M. Blaney for C. McConnell (39mins), E. Gough for A. Mulholland (57mins), P. Hanna for G. Duffy (75mins)


  1. Blaney (1.1), K. Jones (0.3- 1 Free), C.McConnell (1.0- penalty), M. Donnelly (0.2- 1 Free), C. Morris (0.2), G. Duffy (0.1), R. McCarthy (0.1), O. Graham (0.1)

The outstanding quarter-final between All Saints and St. Comgall’s was postponed because of exams and will be rescheduled.

Cargin progress at the Expense of their Parish Rivals


Laverty Cup  (Qtr Final)

Erin’s own Cargin 1-10 Kickham’s Creggan 1-06

Cargin made progress into the semi-final of the Laverty Cup when a strong opening period performance proved the platform for an eventual win.

The Toome lads had the assistance of the brisk breeze on their backs in the first period and with Pat Shivers and Paudie Mc Laughlin dominant in the central zone, they had a useful, if not substantial 0-08 to 0-03 lead by the end of the first thirty minutes.

The Erin’s own lads did add further supplement to their lead shortly into the start of the second half when a well laid counterattack progressing through a number of hands concluded with a Sean Og O’ Neill delivery opening the way for the strong running Paudie Mc Laughlin to finish to the net.

The visitors with the assistance of the elements worked hard to reduce the deficit but they struggled to penetrate a stout home defence in which the Johnston brothers, Orrin and Malachai, and Ruairi Mc Cann caught the eye. Late in the game Eunan McAteer strode forward to deliver a 56th minute penalty to the back of the net and reduce the deficit to a handful of points but that was to be as close as they were to get.


Cargin were quick to make use of the strong breeze as the home side played hosts to their near neighbours and keenest rivals from Creggan in a quarter final pairing in the Laverty cup.

Ronan Gribbin had the ball between the sticks after Pat Shivers claimed the opening throw in to send the centre forward on his way to open his side’s account.

Creggan were quick to follow suit as Dominic Mc Ateer defied the elements as he despatched a 40 metre free kick directly between the posts following a foul on the advancing Morgan Nelson.

The home side were not to linger abreast with their visitors for long however as Pat Shivers sent over back to back frees awarded for infringements committed on Paudie Mc Laughlin and Ronan Gribbin respectively, in the 4th and 5th minutes.

Although the home side were dominant in possession they were not foot perfect in advance with misplaced passing a problem at times but they had moved half dozen points ahead by the 20th minute,

Shay Bovill was on hand to punish a 13th minute indiscretion on Sean og O’ Neill as he sent the award directly between the posts and when Eunan Quinn was similarly man handled a minute later the former fully punished the indiscretion as he added another point.

Pat Shivers made it 0-06 to 0-01 in the 19th minute after Eunan Quinn claimed the leather to send the mid-fielder on his way and when Sean Og O’ Neill received from Ben Dobbin to send Pat Shivers in for another point the home side looked in control.

The Creggan lads having struggled to gain access, and hampered by the strong breeze in the opening phase broke away in the 25th minute as Dominic Mc Ateer came wide on the right to claim a Morgan Nelson delivery and transfer between the Cargin posts.

The home side were quick to return fire after full back Odhran Lynn made timely interception and clearance to send Ronan Gribbin racing away on the left hand side to add a point but it was to be the visitors who were to have the last say in the opening period as ace marksman Dominic Mc Ateer added a third point.

Joe Mc Ateer had been halted in motion on his way up the right hand side and the resultant free was sent over the black spot but Cargin still had a 0-08 to 0-03 advantage at the short blast.

The Toome lads started the second half facing the breeze but despite this they were quickly into stride and an opening minute strike as Paudie Mc Laughlin delivered to the back of the net much aided the cause.

An Odhran Lynn interception had halted a Creggan advance to initiate a slick counter which concluded when Sean og O’ Neill collected on the right hand side to deliver a pint point delivery to the incoming Paudie Mc Laughlin to finish to the net.

Cargin were now in a strong position with a 1-08 to 0-03 lead and although the ever accurate Dominic Mc Ateer added a point to the Creggan total as play quickly returned to the other end a couple of minutes later further white flags raised by Shay Bovill and an excellent Ruairi Mc Cann effort saw the home side at 1-10 to 0-04 and residing in a good place at the 44th minute.

The home side came close to adding a second goal in the 46th minute but Malachai Johnston’s attempt when he made approach from the right wing came off the post.

The die looked cast as the quarter final tie entered the last ten minutes but although the Kickham’s side looked beaten they were certainly in no mood to ‘cry enough’ and back to back Dominic Mc Ateer points raised their hopes.

Cargin looked like thy had done enough but they were halted in their tracks as a lofted Dermot Mulholland delivery was seized by Lee Martin inside the Cargin square and when the big man was hauled to the turf a penalty was the decision.

Eunan Mc Ateer stepped forward to send the award firmly to the net but time was not to be a friend of the visitors as the long blast followed within seconds to the relief of the home contingent as Cargin crossed the winning line at 1-10 to 1-06 to proceed to the semi-final.

Cargin: Odhran Molloy, Sean Og Quinn, Odhran Lynn, Orrin Johnston, Malachai Johnston, Mark Keegan, Ruairi Mc Cann (0-01), Pat Shivers (0-02), Paudie Mc Laughlin (1-00), Eunan Quinn, Ruairi Gribbin (0-02), Brian Dobbin, Sean Mc Auley, Shay Bovill (0-04), Sean Og Mc Cann


Conor Kelly for B Dobbin

Creggan: Joel Dudley, Rory Mc Veigh, Aaron Hughes, Peter Mc Ginley, Oran Hampsey, Eunan Mc Ateer (1-00), Conor Magee, Lee Martin, Dermot Mulholland, Joe Mc Ateer, Morgan Nelson, Sean Duffin, Ethan Carey-Small, Dominic Mc Ateer (0-05), Aaron Harbinson

Referee John Moran (St James Aldergrove)