When winning is everything

I’ve never been much of a sports player and outside the few nods of the head to Gaelic games in school haven’t played much football. I’ve been very much a spectator and being an Antrim fan when it comes to top level football usually a spectator of other teams’ spectators.

This year that all changed.My son, who is becoming increasingly football crazy, decided this was the year we travelled to watch Antrim matches where ever they might be – unbelievably timely. As he dragged me almost kicking and screaming to Ballybofey just a few weeks ago the only thing he heard in his ear was pessimism, the expectation of defeat that goes with supporting Antrim over many fruitless decades. And they won. On Donegal’s home turf they won and I told him it was fluke. Antrim don’t normally win and he shouldn’t expect much in the next match.

Then it was off to Clones for the Semi, telling my son the entire time how good it was to be this far and how we could expect at least one more match in the qualifiers when we lost. Then we won. And I was confused. Antrim don’t do getting to finals.

So in the run up to the final I studied the odds, Antrim were 100/1 to win the USFC at the start of the season and we were now down to 14/1. Tyrone are all Ireland Champions and favourites to retain their title. A strong team of skill, movement, strength and just pure big massiveness across the whole park. We couldn’t win this match and I told my son again. He believed me and at this point I think the entire Antrim team and fan base started to believe dreams aren’t made of this.

They lost. Antrim football won. Children in GAA shirts everywhere, bunting and flags in streets alongside Orange Arches, buses filled, tickets for matches not being delivered being worthy of news stories. Antrim football may not have arrived on the big stage today but all of a sudden a hunger that never was there while I’ve been watching has. Long may it continue. Roll on Round 4 and the future.

  • Johnnieismarchinghome

    Mark,

    As a Tyrone fan I naturally am happy tonight. However, seeing Antrim football improve so much, and watching them in an Ulster final was brilliant. If they’d have been playing anybody but Tyrone, i’d have been shouting for Antrim.

    seeing teams like Antrim come in from the cold, is great for our GAA sports.
    Long may it continue.

  • Pat the Baker

    [i]We couldn’t win this match and I told my son again. He believed me and at this point I think the entire Antrim team and fan base started to believe dreams aren’t made of this.[/i]

    And, for all their skill and passion, that’s probably the most important reason why Antrim let Tyrone run up a score in the first half that they ultimately could not come back from. There was an acute lack of belief among the players, with the notable exception of Cunningham. It reminds me of the Tyrone seniors in 1986 and 1995. In both those years they managed to get to an All-Ireland final and gave excellent accounts of themselves. However, they simply didn’t believe that they could do it and ulitimately lost to Kerry and Dublin respectively.

    Now Bradley must instill among his panel the belief that they belong at this level and that they are good enough to succeed. Harte has been able to do this with Tyrone teams from minor to senior level. He made his players believe that they could defeat Kerry in the 2003 SFC semi-final and we’ve never looked back since.

    The talent, support and infrastructure is all there in Antrim – the belief seems to be lacking (also see Sligo v Kerry yesterday).

    As a final thought, the standard of Ulster football has been dire this year – 1/3 of the province defeated in Aughrim over the last fortnight. Embarassing.

  • Driftwood

    Cunningham’s tend to be leaders of men in whatever.
    Some gene among the lowland Scots.
    Actually watched some of the match- need to watch something until the real football season starts in August.
    Anyway, always good to see a British team do well, no matter what the sport. Good day for England in the Ashes as well.

  • I love shit Scottish bands

    Ah Driftwood. If you write it, he will come. I’d return that bait you bought from whence it came, Cunningham. It’s a bit weak, even by your standards. Do remind us, what did you say about Kevin McDaid last week? Don’t forget your shovel if you want to dig

  • lurig

    Aah the whiff of Driftwood has lured me here, I could smell the bait from other websites. Don’t laugh too soon Driftwood the Aussies could well pull off a shock win tomorrow against England if they get on a roll. Anyway what a wonderful sporting spectacle and day out. Tyrone are class but we held our own against them. A joyous day, hassle free and the way it should be. Don’t our Orange and Unionist friends tell us this all the time when they have their ‘celebrations’? Why would they be churlish now, surely NOT anti-Irish/Catholic sectarianism? What happened to civil and religious liberty FOR ALL……or just fundamental right wing Prods maybe as we all suspected?? Mmmmmmmmmm…….

  • Driftwood

    It’s a net forum, take what you want..and leave the rest.
    In a poor summer for sport, i watched, because The Open was becoming crappy, and the 2nd test at Lords was becoming too easy.
    The Cunningham’s were actually among the last to take the field at Culloden, and then bolted.
    So good to see one of the clan score today. It was mildly better than the Glentoran v Leeds friendly yesterday.
    But poor, roll on August and the football season.
    Gaelic soccer is like watching Aussie Rules, only good for a bet.

  • Mark McGregor

    And like flies caught in a net they let one of the biggest occasions in Antrim GAA in lifetimes have a Sluger narrative set by a stirring prick. Catch a grip.

    Aontroim abu – bring on Kerry!

  • I love shit Scottish bands

    Ohhh Driftwood, why the repetition? Why do you feel compelled to repeatedly tell us that you can’t wait for the ‘real football season’ to begin?

    I remember you writing in another thread just a few days ago that you would no longer opine on GAA matters in future- why the sudden change in heart? Also, your opinion on sporting matters is utterly worthless if you consider England’s performance in the Ashes today was ‘too easy’. You’re a very, very cheap wind-up merchant.

    I’d urge everyone else to [b]ignore[/b] this pathetically lonely, stirring prick.

    CLG ABÚ

  • Mark McGregor

    Folks. Tis like this – when Gaels are interested in their stuff Slugger will fill up with crap. Like our first ever live updating bleeding golf thread all of a sudden. It’s sour grapes and leave the begrudgers to their pathetic shite.

  • lurig

    What was the score in the Leeds/Glens match? I actually know quite a few Taigs who follow both teams. If Gaelic Games bore you Driftwood you are just getting a very small taste of what Irish League football does to the rest of us and I speak as someone who has played it. It’s crap, the standard and skill when I played 20 years ago were far higher. Then you had to have a wee bit of ability now if you are an athlete and fit teams will take you on. I went to the Irish Cup Final and it was dire.

  • Driftwood

    LURIG
    I’m not a Prod. Anyway, I hope the Aussies make a fight, they deserved to win in Cardiff. And I’m probably the only person in the UK to admire Ponting.

    The game at Clones did look like a good day out, and I had a good time in Downpatrick when Down won the All-Ireland in 1991.
    I just can’t help fishing sometimes.

    I couldn’t care less if the Orange parades were banned , hopefully they will die of inertia.
    I’m Irish, but anti catholic? YES, anti prod ? YES
    So it goes

  • George

    Absolutely no reason why Antrim can’t become a real force in Gaelic football just like Tyrone have.

  • Driftwood

    Leeds won 3-1 only thanks to Jermaine Beckford, a cut above the rest. Mate playing for the Glens.
    But leeds were not a patch on Maccabi Haifa who stuffed them 6-0 in Israel on wed night.

  • CW

    A good performance by Antrim, even though they never looked like winning. It was an easy path to the Ulster title for Tyrone and standards in Ulster, (once the most competitive province of all) are certainly slipping. Tyrone went for goal on a few occasions when they should have taken their points, somehting they couldn’t afford to do against Cork, Kerry or Dublin.

    It was a cracking Connaught final – a few Mayo hearts missed a beat in the last few minutes!

    And well done to Wicklow, only a few years ago ranked 31st in the tables in front of only London nad Kilkenny, now proving they can do it on the big stag e- Micko has to be the greatest manager of all time, having worked the old magic with 4 counties now

    And if anyone’s thinking of rising to Driftwood’s pathetic (master) bait – don’t.

  • Mark McGregor

    George,

    That’s near a decade away. What has happened in Antrim is young players now have something to aspire to, believe they can achieve and surpass. Hopefully the new found enthusiasm I’ve seen in recent weeks creates the basis of building in a county with a large and mostly undeveloped base.

  • Pete Baker

    “Like our first ever live updating bleeding golf thread all of a sudden.”

    Catch yourself on, Mark.

    If you didn’t find Watson’s resurgence a compelling story then that’s your loss.

    I don’t attempt to ascribe motives to others’ posts and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t attempt to it to mine.

  • Pat the Baker

    For inspiration, Antrim could a lot worse than examining how Tyrone’s coaching facilities and grass roots structures have developed over the past decade or so e.g. the ingenious Club Tyrone: http://www.tyronegaa.ie/clubTyrone/

  • Mark McGregor

    Pete,

    Seems odd that all of a sudden a new interest in golf suddenly appears on your radar and gets live blogged during one of the biggest days of the Ulster GAA calendar.

    Interesting golf games happen often. You choose today to get interested after never having blogged one before. Stop with the bluff.

  • George

    Mark,
    a decade is about right although it could be even sooner.

    The thing is like Tyrone, Antrim is one of those counties that can become a permanent fixture at the top table.

    Teams from smaller catchment areas like Fermanagh, Sligo etc will always only be welcome if occasional visitors, dependent on an outstanding crop to progress to the later stages.

  • Pat the Baker

    [i]…during one of the biggest days of the Ulster GAA calendar. [/i]

    I think you mean to say [i]the[/i] biggest day on the Ulster GAA calendar.

  • Pete Baker

    I’ve already told you once, Mark.

    Your determination to ascribe a motive where none exists is reflective of yourself.

    My post didn’t affect any of the coverage on Slugger of the Ulster Final. So why are you trying to make it an issue?

  • Mark McGregor

    George,

    Thing about Antrim is it lacks the real basis of building a successful County team – the clubs and club competitions are neither strong enough or as embedded in the community as many other similar sized counties. Belfast is a major case in point, many people don’t know nevermind identify with their local club, many areas don’t have a proper club. Initiatives like ‘Belfast Rising’ will take years to work, if at all, in putting the club back into the heart of communities as is the case elsewhere.

  • lurig

    I played GAA from the mid 80’s to the late 90’s and despite what some pundits tell us now Gaelic football then was filthy and far dirtier than it is now. I remember getting whacked off the ball in front of the ref in an Antrim club game and seeing double for a couple of days. The ref said “get up there’s nothing wrong with ye”. Now the game would be held up, quite rightly. I think GAA is as skillful now as it was then but the talent in football (soccer) in the North has gone way back. I played with some very good footballers who went across the water and they had a bit of talent. The Irish League is awful and a kick and rush high ball crap game played in the air by big square shouldered robots. There is NO skill in it whatsoever now.

  • Mark McGregor

    And just not to forget our hurlers – after joining the Christy Ring with a guarantee of 3 years play we are suddenly in the relegation battle. W!T!F!

  • Driftwood

    lurig
    Did you play against Glenn Ferguson?

    But otherwise I agree, Irish league is shit, and Scotland aint far behind.

  • Mark McGregor

    First person to pull me up on that gets a free gum shield.

    I’m tipsy and do see the massive mistake.

  • caoimhin

    And then came Kerry, ohh my. Go on the saffrons!

    GAA football is finding a foothold in antrim thanks to St.Galls and St.Brigids raising the bar.

  • caoimhin

    It’s Kerry next, we’re not gettint it easy

  • Driftwood

    Not trolling here, but an ex boss of mine was a great hurler for Down (obviously Portaferry)and several others (played for Down) were great cricketers (against the rules) and Alfie Linehan played cricket for Ireland, despite the GAA threat to ban him.
    Things have moved on, but many- in GAA circles – still refer to ‘Garrison games’. When will that stop?

  • Mark McGregor

    Now, now, Caoimhim,

    It is club over county people like you that surely prevented a real team spirit growing and cost us the match – shame on you and Glenavy. I blame Glenavy, always do ;0)

  • George

    Mark,
    if Cuala in very non-GAA Dalkey can manage to now have 45 teams playing hurling, football and camogie, anything’s possible for Antrim, if the will is there.

    Dublin football was in the complete doldrums in the early 1970s and even 15 years ago you wouldn’t be getting 70,000-80,000 for Leinster championship games involving the Dubs.

    Today we even dare to consider ourselves the second best hurling county in Leinster (for 2009 anyway).

    Still less than 30,000 for the Leinster final against Kilkenny though.

    Just like Antrim fans, it seems a lot of Dubs fans only go to the football but don’t underestimate the feelgood factor of a great day out for building up support for the game.

  • lurig

    No Driftwood but I played against Stephen McBride who played for Linfield and Glenavon. Now that was one fit strong guy and the best shielder of a ball I ever seen. The hardest fella I ever played against was Mark Glendinning of the Glens but a very nice fella off the pitch. Tommy Breslin of Cliftonville was one of the most talented skillful footballers I ever played with or against. The best natural players I ever witnessed in the Irish League were Jim Cleary of Glentoran and Felix Healy of Coleraine. Roy Coyle’s Linfield and Glentoran sides also played good football. His Linfield team with Peter Rafferty, Lindsay McKeown, Peter Dornan, Martin McGaughey etc were very good.

  • hollow and of no use

    [i]Not trolling here, but… many- in GAA circles – still refer to ‘Garrison games’. When will that stop? [/i]

    Name names and back it up with proof – and if you can’t, you’re an oxymoronic turd with far too much time on your hands.

  • Driftwood

    Lurig
    Did you ever play against Kirk Hunter? Or Rab McCreery (greatest ever irish league player?)
    Why neither ever played for our country is beyond me. Jeff Spiers another great.

  • Pete Baker

    “I’m tipsy and do see the massive mistake.”

    When you’re sober again then, Mark.

  • lurig

    Big Kirk Hunter from the Crues? Despite his ‘hard’ media & terrace reputation he actually was a very good footballer who could play the game. As I say he had a sometimes unfair reputation because I often seen him take a whack as well and let it go. No doubt he was feared by many but as time goes on this reputation grows more legs. Good footballer who took a whack from opponents and gave as good back but not really more nasty than what was about.

  • pete whitcroft

    Hard luck Antrim.
    View this as a staging post on the way to future success.
    I remember Armagh folk quoting past glories for a long time in the 90’s.

  • Driftwood

    lurig
    Kirk never met the standards of Rab McCreery who frightened Claudio Gentile at the Oval in happier days.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glentoran_F.C.

    Well after Glentoran were the 1st ever British club to win a European trophy.

    BTW Are Antrim now eligible for European competition?

  • lurig

    Driftwood

    Even if the Antrim Gaelic side qualified for European soccer could they do any worse than the current sorry lot that represents the Irish League? As I have said as someone who has played at Irish League level it is NOW pish, pure rubbish and the Glens sorry performance against the Israeli side showed that. A select chosen from the best of the Ulster GAA sides could do a better job for the Irish League.

  • Driftwood

    Lurig
    At least they had a good time in the Middle East’s only democracy. Haifa beat Man U 3-1 2 years ago. Andy Waterworth said they were up against a class act, and the Israeli soldiers guarding them were great craic. Football was the winner.

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  • I remember getting whacked off the ball in front of the ref in an Antrim club game and seeing double for a couple of days. The ref said “get up there’s nothing wrong with ye”. Now the game would be held up, quite rightly. I think GAA is as skillful now as it was then but the talent in football (soccer) in the North has gone way back. I played with some very good footballers who went across the water and they had a bit of talent.
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  • fin

    I hadn’t made the connection with Pete’s newfound love of golf, however I had done my usual ‘reality check’ for his blog and as the links numbered only 3 I knew it was a spin of some sort. Pete I’ve told you before you’re transparent when spinning a blog due to the low number of links.

    Driftwood, oh dear, who doesn’t rate Ponting a great player in the UK or elsewhere. I guess you didn’t see the halftime coverage either when all the past captains of winning Ulster teams, a commentator spoke about one of them and his love and ability at sport, great at any sport cricket, rugby, soccer, loved it, cricket, rugby…infact he mentioned the past captains ability at cricket about 4 times. Speaking of which the England & Wales cricketeer Morgan claims his ability is due to his early hurley playing days.

    Finally I hope you and particularily the Sports minister noticed 2 things, one was the size of the crowd at the event, secondly more relevant to the sports minister was the sponsors, Vodafone etc

  • skullion

    Presumably Mark by Christy Ring you mean the Leinster Championship.I’m amazed that our idiotic Chairman somehow felt that regardless of results we would be allowed free admttance to Leinster for next three years.The performance of the footballers has taken away from the abject failure of our hurlers.

  • the joxer

    Any word on where the Kerry game will be played?

  • skullion

    Neutral venue Joxer.Here’s hoping for Parnell Park.

  • delta omega

    As a Tyrone resident I just had to watch the match, and I’m just glad the Antrim that came out on the second half weren’t there in the first. They definitely got a masterclass in the first half especially when Cavanagh went through their defence like they weren’t there.

    One for the books when even a garden-centre unionist like me can enjoy this as a sport and leave all the politics out of it.

  • frustrated democrat

    As someome who was a rugby player, then coach and finally supporter I have always supported Co Antrim GAA teams when they get to finals (usually hurling) or even NI teams when they get to All Ireland finals. I remember many GAA players from all over Ireland supported Ulster Rugby when they won the European Cup in 1999.

    I am just glad to see our young people from whatever background taking part in sport and particuarly in team games and we need to support the many people who give up their time as coaches and administrators to allow it to happen.

    Maybe someday people from all backgrounds will see all sports being open and available to them and I look forward to attending a GAA match in person in the near future.

  • Rory Carr

    To be fair to Pete if he had really intended his live blog on the golf to be a spoiler to the Ulster Final he would probably have blogged on some spectator activity that was much more exciting. Like watching paint dry.

  • The Reincarnation of Paul Revere’s Horse

    The last two posts are good to read. As a GAA player and follower, it’s great to hear that people from other communities are watching and enjoying the games.

    I can appreciate it requires separating the bells and whistles of the anthem etc from the sport and the occasion. Glad to hear Driftwood enjoyed it to some degree too.

    Hopefully Antrim keep their heads up and carry some more belief going in against Kerry. The current Kerry team, especially without Donaghy are a good bit short of the standards of Tyrone.

    Sligo and Longford could both have put them away, Antrim have no reason to feel they can’t finish the job.

    The difference in the teams for me yesterday was the use of the ball. Antrim tried to force long foot passes into an isolated forward which Tyrone’s defense found easy to deal with.

    It was a pity as the Antrim midfield and backs worked so hard to win possession and regain it with great blocks and hard tackling. But when in possession, they needed to be smarter with it.

  • brendan,belfast

    I think its wishful thinking to imagine a 20,000+ pluc turbout for the next game. Lets face it, if its away from home, Kerry will bring about 18 supporters to it. Our own level of support will inevitably drop off from a high of yesterday, to about 7 – 9,000. Parnell Park could accomodate it rightly, and be handier than Clones.

  • GGN

    Maith sibh Aontroim.

    Time to build, by rights Antrim should be the second best footballing county in Ireland.

    Its good that there is a bit of focus particular in Belfast on the game.

    It is not over yet.

  • Mark McGregor

    Brendan,

    Parnell park? It only holds 13.5K and some of us are hoping for a double-header. Far too small a ground.

  • skullion

    Mark

    Brendan’s right.Kerry supporters will not travel and there will be no repeat of Antrim’s support at Clones.Croke Park is out of bounds due to U2 and any double header would involve the Wicklow vs Kildare game.The problem there is that both of those teams will take a large support with them and will have to be a stand alone game probably in Tullamore.

  • Mark McGregor

    skullion,

    That’s not the double-header I was hoping for. It’d make for a good gate if the Antrim v Offaly hurling was on the same bill.

  • skullion

    Mark

    Sorry wrong track.However that would still mean the game being fixed for Parnell Park as that is the venue for Antrim vs Offaly play-off.

  • skullion

    For what its worth my money is on Antrim vs Kerry at Parnell in a double header with hurlers,Galway vs Donegal in Sligo and Wicklow vs Kildare in Tullamore.Would be a great occasion in Dublin with much needed support for the hurlers in what is undoubtedly the more important of the two fixtures.

  • Mark McGregor

    skullion,

    While Parnell Park was suggested for the hurling it is not set and won’t be set until later today (checked with the County to be sure) – so it could be a double-header if people had the wit.

  • brendan,belfast

    I hope its the northern side of Dublin anyhow – if the relegation hurling match wasn’t in the equation i think you would be looking at a double header with Kildare / Wicklow, maybe in Portlaoise.

    But Mark’s right, surely a double header with our hurlers makes sense (‘cept for CJ, who will be able to see up close what an awful slip up he made earlier in the year).

    Apparently the decision will not emerge until this evening.

  • skullion

    Mark

    The venue is fixed its just the time that is to be confirmed.Don’t believe a word you hear from county board.

  • skullion

    Brendan

    Won’t be in Portlaoise as that is fixed for Clare vs Wexford hurling play-off.Possibly Navan in a double header with Meath vs Limerick but i’m sticking to Parnell Park for both.

  • brendan,belfast

    Navan wouldnt be the worst option I suppose – I would just love to see the lads getting a big support again. And Parnell is a handy 2 hour spin.

    Is the hurling the more important? Maybe so given what is at stake but they surely got themselves into an almighty mess by not beating Laois, that was an awful outcome.

    It’s so important that our footballers perform against Kerry – we have to send this season (or not) on a high. I think – seriously – that we can beat them. Tho not with Justin Crozier in the full forward line………

  • skullion

    Brendan

    Whatever happens to the footballers on Saturday this campaign has been a fantastic success.However if the hurlers lose they will be cast out to the wastelands of the Christy Ring which would be a disaster.Lets hope that if it is a double header they play the fotball first for two reasons:the whole antrim support will be there for the hurlers and secondly that the hurlers might get a glimpse of how far a bit of fight and belief can take a team.

  • Brendan,belfast

    that would be the way to play it but, a relegation play off is a fixture of less stature than a 4th round qualifier and the lesser fixture usually opens the proceedings.

    My worry would be that the hurlers would not draw a great crowd in and that if they lose it had a deflating impact on those that are there.

  • skullion

    We’ll try and stay positive Brendan.Even 5000 antrim fans would make a helluva support.Its going to be another great day out and dare we hope for two victories?

  • brendan,belfast

    Skullion – what a day that would make. I’ll sign up for going.

  • Brankin

    “running a golf blog as a spoiler against the Ulster Final”??

    Perhaps the GAA support want to go down the old unionist councils’ route and tie up the swings, and everything else, on a Sunday and force folks to watch GAA?

  • skullion

    So much for predictions.Antrim vs Kerry in Tullamore at 3pm on Saturday.Won’t be a double header now unless the rulebook is ripped up and Offaly are given a home tie.

  • Pat the Baker

    Sunday, 3pm @ Tullamore

    Sounds fair

  • Pat the Baker

    [i]unless the rulebook is ripped up and Offaly are given a home tie. [/i]

    No, that would require too much innovation and common sense from HQ. It will probably be to the detriment of one of the games that they’re spread across two different days but, unless I’m mistaken, I was under the impression that not many from the Glens were following the footballers and the same goes for the city folk with regard to the hurling.

  • brendan,belfast

    Nonsense Pat the baker. there were approx 17,000 antrim fans there yesterday, not a ‘country / city divide’ in sight.

  • the future;s bright, the future’s orange

    good to see england hold out :). expect the ozzies to come back hard.