There are few enough red-letter days for Ulster hurling to let one pass-by unremarked.
For those blissfully unaware of the travails of hurling in the north, no Ulster county has ever won a senior, Under-21 or minor All-Ireland or National League title. Nor has Ulster ever won the [inter-provincial] Railway Cup in hurling. The only senior hurling title came nearly 30 years ago, to Loughiel Shamrocks in the 1983 All-Ireland senior club hurling championship.
[I feel obliged to also note that QUB won the Fitzgibbon Cup in hurling some 30 years earlier, in 1953.]
On the former occasion, Loughiel Shamrocks had defeated the Leinster champions, St Rynagh’s of Offaly, after a replay. Last Saturday, Loughiel returned to the final and again an Offaly club (in this case Coolderry) provided the competition. Exploiting a shaky looking Coolderry full-back line, four first-half goals (including 3 from the imperious Liam Watson) meant that Loughiel were never really troubled en route to a 4-13 to 0-17 win.
Notably, much of the same Loughiel panel had endured the indignity of losing six consecutive Antrim county finals between 2003 and 2008.
A crowd of 25,000 (and a live TV audience) witnessed the Croke Park win, including Ballymoney’s DUP mayor Ian Stevenson (whose grandfather Sean O’Neill had played for the club in the 1920s). Loughiel, like Coolderry (and Crossmaglen and Garrycastle who drew the football final) are merely amateur local clubs with the core playing staff generally drawn from a handful of families. In the stadium the Shamrock’s support was visible and audible in both the main stands.
By Tuesday, the fans and players of all four clubs will have went back to their lives. The kids who played the half-time mini-games got to tell the story in the playground. Little fuss, no bomb scares, no grand-standing, no ministerial air-miles, no losing fans smashing windows, no nonsense.
Having said that, Liam Watson’s second and third goals were special enough to live in the memory. The second was an outrageous free (9 minutes into the clip). For the third (10.45 into the clip), at speed, he showed great touch to tame a dropping sliotar into his path and lash it past the Coolderry keeper.
Hopefully that memory won’t have to sustain us saffrons for another thirty years.