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The Year Antrim Stunned Hurling World And British Political Leaders Showed Up In Croker

The Year Antrim Stunned Hurling World And British Political Leaders Showed Up In Croker
By Conor Neville

Distressing news as 1991 All-Star midfielder and the owner of one of the most famous nicknames in GAA, Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton, announces that he himself is distressed about the currently distressing state of Antrim hurling.

While they hadn't lit up the skies in the Liam McCarthy competition lately, it was still a bit of a jolt for them to drop out of it altogether, a consequence of their bottom placed finish in the Leinster round robin series last year.

This year, they lost the Christy Ring Cup final to Meath, meaning they're stuck in the comp for another year. Usually at this point, some of the more chauvinistic Meath supporters tend to interject to say that they "twice" lost the Christy Ring Cup final to Meath.

Ever since the 2010 Leinster football final, Meath have been keen to ensure that the referee on the day wears his mistakes and the rest of the world moves on.

Antrim's underage hurling teams, who are still lined up against top class opposition every August, shipped a couple of frightful batterings in last month, losing by 20 points to both Galway in minor and Waterford in U21. The U21 All-Ireland championship still operates off the quaint pre-1997 system whereby Galway and the Ulster champions march straight into the All-Ireland semi-final.

Sambo told Martin Breheny in the Irish Indo that the current state of Antrim hurling is "embarrassing" and that "apathy" is hitting "dangerous" levels.

"Antrim hurling will die unless something is done," is Sambo's verdict.

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It's far removed from what we now must refer to as the glory days of Antrim hurling which, judging from their results in All-Ireland semi-finals, ran from 1986 to 1991.

Their 2010 victory over an improving but still uncertain Dublin team was something of a bolt from the blue and was achieved after a surreal finale when they landed eight and the game's final nine points to win by a single score.

In 1991, they put the frighteners up Kilkenny. The 1991 Kilkenny team weren't the most intimidating side the county ever sent forth (though they did win back-to-back All-Irelands in the years immediately after) Sambo whipped over a leveling score with time ebbing away. The draw, at least, looked secure but Eamon Morrissey and DJ Carey flashed over a couple of quick as a flash points to win the game 2-18 to 1-19.

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In 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1990, their worst loss was a ten point defeat to Cork in 1990. The holy grail of respectability was achieved in that period.

The Antrim-Offaly semi-final of '89 was expected, like many previous semi-finals involving Ulster opposition, to be the tame curtain raiser to the Tipperary-Galway game, the big grudge match of the era.

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Leinster hurling was in poorish shape in the late 80s. Kilkenny were nothing like the animal they are now and Offaly held the whip hand in Leinster.

Though it contained players from both sides, the Offaly team that dominated Leinster between 1988 and 1990 wasn't as formidable as the team who won two All-Irelands earlier in the decade or the team who would pick up a couple more titles in the 90s.

Antrim hung close to Offaly in the early stages and when neutrals assumed that the Leinster champs would pull away towards the end of the first half, an Aidan McCarry goal pegged them back.

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In the second half, Antrim's full forward line ran riot, with captain Ciaran Barr causing havoc and Olcan McFetridge snaffling two goals.

Impressively, the Offaly players formed a guard of honour as a mark of respect to their unlikely conquerors, and Antrim manager Jim Nelson was chaired off the pitch. They knew better than most what the result meant to a breakthrough county.

There was a big guest of honour in the Hogan Stand for the '89 final. Then leader of the British Labour party, Neil Kinnock, attended his first All-Ireland hurling final that year. This could have been in honour of the fact that a team from one of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom was playing, or it could have been simply because the All-Ireland hurling final is a big event and he curious enough to witness it as a spectacle. Either way, Ger Canning noted his presence in the commentary. Years later, UK Minister for Sport Tony Banks showed up at the 1998 All-Ireland final between Galway and Kildare, giving an interview afterwards and pronouncing Kevin Walsh the 'Man of the Match', so British politicians tend to show up regardless.

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Antrim had a goal controversially chalked off in the first half while Declan Ryan's goal could easily have been ruled out. Either way, Antrim weren't in touch after half-time and were heavily beaten.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ef1dhUh5OZk

Read more: Balls Remembers How Ulster Football Went From Whipping Boys To Conquerors In A Dramatic Period

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