Football is back. Walking up the Andersonstown Road on a January afternoon can offer a plethora of pleasures any day of the week: rapscallions nicking sherbet dips from shops; fights outside the Whitefort from all-day drinkers; women in pyjamas. But none can surpass the palpable excitement enveloping West Belfast on match-day when the Saffron Army descend in their thousands upon Casement Park, the mecca of the GAA in Ireland. The smell of battered pastie baps, the WKD bottles rolling gently on the pavement, the fights outside Biddy Duffy’s from all-day drinkers, collections for the Basque region and angry stewards all leave me misty eyed.
On to the game and Antrim, resplendent in their new kit, took to the field like men running after a gaggle of busty women having been celibate for a year. Men like Niblock, Murray and O’Boyle looked particularly excited to be back in action, all three bench-pressing as the photographers took their team shots. One man who I can be sure wasn’t particularly hungry was Tony Scullion. After coming out in the papers during the week as a food-addict before games, the Cargin whippet spent the majority of the warm-up finishing off a KFC bargain bucket from the Boucher Road. The witty Antrim support, tallying over 30’000, immediately burst into a ‘He Eats When He Wants‘ singsong – a majestic sound filtering all the way around the four corners of the ground. During the game they would resurrect this new Scullion anthem at a lull in play. One wag from Portglenone, an ex music teacher, attempted to sing ‘Food, Glorious Food‘ but was evicted by security for simply not being funny.
Better than Lucozade Sport
The Saffrons burst out of the traps, scoring nearly a dozen points before crowd had the chance to take their seats. Michael McCann, who seems to have timbered well over the festive period, scored a point within three seconds. The extra weight on his thighs meant he could kick a ball from a standing start from the middle of the field and score. And that’s what he did from the throw-in. Within ten minutes, Antrim with something like 0-10 to 0-0 up. Paddy Handy Cunningham knocked over a free with his eyes closed, a new trick he picked up from Bukey. O’Boyle, with his boy-band good looks drawing excited giggles from the young female teenagers in the crowd, scored a point despite playing at corner back. It since transpired that he was inspired to forage upfield to escape the unrelenting tongue of keeper Kerr. Sean McVeigh, at full back and with a weird Ballymena/Cockney brogue, also tried the same tactic after receiving a running commentary of the game from the Gall’s custodian. Kerr’s constant berating of his full back line seems to be a Dawson initiative, this time heralding 1-2. We will watch their scoring exploits with interest.
McCann before throw-in.
To their credit, the students in the crowd got behind UUJ. Despite not having enough money to buy a program, smoking pot and wearing long tatty jumpers whilst burning papers in a barrel, they inspired their side to make a comeback, finally drawing level when Cunningham’s clubmate Declan Lynch left Kerr with no chance and laid down a marker for next year’s club championship. He added a second goal in the second half, the first time a player scored two goals past Kerr since he minded the nets during a kickabout at break time in school during first year. It adds extra spice to this year’s first Lamh Dhearg/Gall’s meeting with Kerr, having taken up boxing in recent weeks, liable to take Lynch’s head clean off if he’s through one-on-one.
That was the the wake-up call Dawson’s men needed and they finished the half strongly with McCann shedding a few more pounds by running upfield to knock over another with Close and McVeigh topping it off late on. The half-time entertainment never lets us down in Casement and this year the county board jumped on the reality tv bandwagon by having Antrim stars of the past leaping from the top of a step ladder into a paddling pool of water three inches deep. Sean McGreevy won the competition with Sean McGourty, Olcan McFettridge and PJ O’Hare running him close.
PJ practises for diving competition
Although the students came out of the blocks quickly in the second half (their overdrafts had cleared at 2:30), Antrim soon steadied the ship, keeping the UUJ lads at arm’s length like A Level bullies teasing the first years. Scullion, fresh from a half time ham and pineapple carbonara, broke the land speed record for the northern hemisphere chasing after a misplaced toe-pass from Niblock. Knackered, he couldn’t muster enough strength to shoot on goal and passed to Herron who didn’t mirror his club team mate Lynch. Herron’s favourite TV show is Lost, and so was that chance.
With the lights now on, the complexion of the game changed. Brendan Herron’s balding features seemed to dazzle the Jordanstown defenders as the ball was turned over as soon as play reached anywhere near the Lamh Dhearg maestro. Colm Fleming arrived on the scene and almost stole the show with a cameo scoring appearance. He came on for Conor Murray who eased off the pace a little as soon as he heard he’d already made the hoganstand.com team of the week.
A tumultuous roar greeted the final whistle as the students trudged back to their shacks to engage in some kind of dope orgy probably. Dawson’s men, on the other hand, warmed down before signing autographs for the adoring public. McCann lost three stone. Next week they entertain Tyrone in a game which offers the chance of a quick revenge for the five point defeat last year. The coming together again of multi-All-Star Stephen O’Neill and unbeaten pugilist Chris Kerr brings back great memories of Wright v Schmeichel or Josimar v Jennings.
Team Ratings in the form of Queen songs:
C Kerr = Radio Ga Ga (7/10)
K O’Boyle = I Want To Break Free (8/10)
S McVeigh = Spread Your Wings (8/10)
J Lavery = Put Out The Fire (7/10)
T Scullion = I’m Going Slightly Mad (8/10)
J Crozier = Bohemian Rhapsody (7/10)
N Delargy = Flash (7/10)
M McCann = A Kind Of Magic (7.2/10)
P Doherty = Tie Your Mother Down (7.1/10)
C Murray = Don’t Stop Me Now (8.5/10)
K Niblock = We Are The Champions (8.4/10)
B Herron = Killer Queen (7/10)
P Cunningham = A Kind of Magic (7.6/10)
M Pollock = I Want It All (7/10)
K Close = Flick Of The Wrist (7/10)
M Herron = Somebody To Love (7.2/10)
R Johnson = The Show Must Go On (7/10)
C Fleming = Flash (7.7/10)
S Finch = We Will Rock You (7/10)
J Carron = Under Pressure (NOT ON LONG ENOUGH TO BE RATED)