Posts Tagged ‘Casement’


Pollock – the Antrim Ali

Once in a while there comes along a hero. Muhammed Ali, Brian O’Driscoll, Rylan, Michael Pollock. It’s early days for Pollock. He has a nice soft voice that is a bit Louis Walshish but he can work on that. What he doesn’t need to work on though is his talent. His goal lit up Ireland on a cold Sunday afternoon such was the majestic execution. His celebration will live long in the memory and women swooned as his under-short garments gave him a billowing groin area as he leapt into the Andersonstown air in sheer joy. Yet, there were other heroes too. We’ll come back to Pollock.

Conor Murray deserves a mention. Rumours that his legs had lengthened over the winter by hanging upside-down from a bannister in school was proven in the affirmative as a noticeably taller Murray used his longer limbs to cover more grass than the average man. He scored a rake of points I think and was replaced by Conal Kelly to give the Breffni lads a break. Kelly didn’t disappoint as his baldy complexion created a dazzling experience for the tired and beaten Cavan side under the Casement lights.

Conor Murray, Christmas morning

Conor Murray, Christmas morning

Ryan Murray deserves a mention. The 19-year-old Civil Engineering student at Queen’s University has overcome the expectation of being Conor Murray’s younger brother and established himself as the smallest footballer to score a point for Antrim since Aidan Hamill in 1967. It’s not easy for Ryan. He’s the Phil Neville, the Anton Ferdinand, the Kolo Toure. The brother who has to live up to the lofty expectations of being the brother of a giant.

Ryan's hero

Ryan’s hero

Michael McCann was the McCann we all expect. The All-Antrim hero. The tee-totalling midfielder is the Scholes of Antrim GAA. He never lets you down apart from the random scything tackle. He’s taller than Scholes and doesn’t have red hair.

The game was tit-for-tat early on as Conor Murray notched Antrim’s first point with a 50-yard left footer whilst waving at a “Bukey” in the crowd. Sean McVeigh, from London, Cockneyed over a point from play but was red-carded for his English brogue at full time. One of the turning points was Cavan’s goal from a penalty. Kerr, despite carrying visible winter timber, purposely allowed Cavan to score their goal in an attempt to replicate Ali’s rope-a-dope technique. Cavan’s exuberance at scoring against Kerr was their downfall. They exerted so much energy celebrating that they were left open for the kill. The St Gall’s keeper’s mind-games won the day.

Pollock was the star show. On a day when all six starting forwards scored, he topped the lot. Although he cruelly ribbed a sobbing Niblock before the final whistle for only scoring one point, he deserved his moment. Despite his ill-fitting under-garments and general niceness, he displayed his ruthlessness in scoring the key goal. It will be talked about for years to come and the new Casement bronze statue design may be constructed in his goal-scoring pose.


K O’Boyle – ON THE ONE ROAD (7/10)
P Doherty – THE MEN BEHIND THE WIRE (7/10)
N Delargy – WOMEN OF IRELAND (7/10)
T Scullion – JANEY MAC, I’M NEARLY 40 (7/10)
J Crozier – WE SHALL OVERCOME (8/10)
J Carron – CROPPY BOY (7/10)
M McCann – GOODBYE MICK (8/10)
C Murray – THE REBEL (8.2/10)
K Niblock – BIG STRONG MAN (7/10)
B Herron – IN BELFAST (7/10)
M Pollock – THE BOLD FENIAN MAN (9.5/10)
R Murray – PADDLE YER OWN CANOE (7.5/10)


As I look out my bedroom window this morning I can still see the dimmed fires burning across the county, as far as the eye can see. Towards Aghagallon I can make out some naked ritual being performed on its highest hill but that might be a standard Sunday morning thing out there. It’s the morning after the night before, and what a night that was. People can recall where they were when the most memorable events occurred across the planet: the gunpowder plot; JFK; Zidane’s head-butt; Katrina and the Waves winning the Eurovision. Well, now worthy of a place on that list is Antrim, the mighty saffrons, who yesterday defeated multiple All-Ireland winners, Galway.

Aghagallon this morning

There was something in the air on the way in that made it feel this day was different to all the others. Some say it was the animal incineration plant near Lough Neagh but I smelt something different. Things were happening for me. My wife had just finished reading 50 Shades that morning and was in some form. When I managed to escape the house (I’m sure she can untie herself) things just fell into place. I managed to get into the ground free. I started talking to the man at the gate about the wife and the book. He didn’t seem to be that interested and ushered me through quite quickly without taking a penny off me. The ground was full when I got in. I reckoned about 50’000. Children were perched on top of the stand like something from the 1920s in Wembley. The Saffron Ultras were behind the goals on the Andersonstown Road in their droves with flares and fireworks littering that stand. I was worried about Kerr and the smoke as I know he has been trying to give up the cigarettes but it was well cleared by the time he graced that end.

Image from during the warm-up

The game started off rather slowly with the Butcher’s men eyeing up the opposition. As I informed you in the previous post, they deployed their Latin tactics and it seemed to be working. From the moment Loughrey roared ‘ad victorium’ before the throw-in like a gladiator, you knew these lads were hell bent on winning today. Tomas McCann, fresh from his honeymoon, quickly burned off the love-making lethargy by merrily and majestically prancing down the field to knock over the first score. He ran to the crowd and embraced Mrs McCann in a touching moment that even had Padraig Joyce in tears. Romance is alive and well up there. Galway hit back with a couple of points, one of which Kerr almost saved. He saw it coming and started bouncing on the sand. Each jump was getting taller and if he’d started bouncing a few seconds earlier, he’d have caught the ball 7 feet over the crossbar. A mighty effort and symbolic of what they were prepared to do.

Kerr jumped as high as this lad

Aodhan Gallagher, with his immaculate dome sparking in the bright Belfast sky, hit his first score. To be honest, the shine was a bit dangerous for children and I saw many mothers shielding their children’s eyes any time Gallagher touched the thing. I want to stop here to talk about Michael McCann. He scored the next point but his overall performance reminded me of Maradona v Belgium or Messi v Arsenal. He lorded the ground like a farmer telling the intruders to ‘get off my land’. Such was his mastery that day that he seemed to double in size and width, like some kind of saffron hulk. The ground shook with his every step. He scored a point in the second half and the ball traveled so far it landed in the lap of some Cavan hillbillies who were sitting in the back of a transit van motoring down the M1. What a collector’s item.

Artist’s impression of the Cavan keepsakers

It was tit-for-tat for the rest of the game really. Some of the highlights were as follows: Tony Scullion made a run in the second half that actually broke the sound barrier. He shouted ‘my ball’ on his own 21 but the soundwaves only reached the crowd after he’d crossed the halfway line. This was roadrunner in 3d. There was a scorch mark on the turf which put the fear of God into the Galway men. Christof Kerr made a couple of crucial blocks but his main contribution was the unusual noise he made when All-Star laden Padraig Joyce bore down on goal with seconds left. Whilst waiting to see the net bulge, the crowd held their collective breath. At that moment, time stood still. All you could hear was a high-pitched Mexican-like ‘areeeeebaaaa oi oi oi oi oi’ with the manic Kerr jumping around like a man on fire. Joyce, with all his experience, just wanted out of there. He fisted it over and ran as quickly as he could away from the scene towards the touchline. A masterful stroke. Finally, there was the winning score from O’Hagan. I watched Bradley taking to him on the sideline before he came on. He showed Deaghlan a ball, pointed at his foot and then pointed towards the Galway goals. O’Hagan shook his head so Adams drew it out for him using colours and all. Deaghlan nodded and the rest is history.

The view Joyce had of Chris ‘ariba’ Kerr

The final whistle offered scenes never witnessed before at Casement. Everyone embraced. Men hugged women, men hugged men. Some men kissed men but they seemed to be from South Belfast. 30’000 ran onto the field and carried their heroes off to the changing rooms. The pitch was torn up for souvenirs. I managed to rip the togs off Murray. Some carried off the goalposts and marched nonchalantly towards the direction of Poleglass. It threatened to get out of hand when a group of women tried to bundle the brave O’Boyle into a mini. The celebrations started in earnest with the Whitefort offering a free bar for 10 minutes. Bonfires were lit from Dunloy to Dundrod, from Cargan to Crumlin. It really confused the OO I’m sure.

Celebrations in Ballycastle

How do you top this? I’m not sure but didn’t I back the right horse when I left the sultry shores of Co Durham seven months ago.

With the Saffron Army embarking on an intensive training weekend on Bundoran beach doing things like horsey-backs and running up steps a la Rocky in preparation for the visit of Galway next week, something I’ll come back to, I took myself off to the GAA’s Mecca called Croke Park in order to mingle with the Galway people. It’s a quick journey from Belfast to Dublin, halted only by a pay station. I had never encountered one of these on a road before and asked the young lady what the money was for. She told me to ‘put one Euro eighty cents into the bucket and buzz off ye bollocks.’ None the wiser, I arrived in Dublin and managed to park outside a hotel called the Skylon.

Murray and Neeson mid-training.

Luckily there were a few Galway supporters enjoying a pre-match drink in the hotel so I availed of the opportunity to mix with them and gather their thoughts on next-week’s collision in Casement Park. The first couple were a bit suspicious of me I thought. Maybe it was my English accent and the microphone but I was told to ‘fuck away off’ and that I was a ‘typical useless undercover gobshite’. I decided to abandon my microphone and ordered a pint of Guinness, standing at the bar out of harm’s way. As luck had it, an elderly Galway gentleman was doing the same so I took a more informal, casual approach. As it turned out I had to explain to him three times about the game in Casement next week. When it dawned on him it was football and not hurling he snorted and I was swiftly told to ‘fuck away off’ again. This was proving to be a tricky assignment.

The hurling men didn’t like football, or me.

I made my way to the pitch and was overawed by the stadium. It’s a fine building. The game itself was called hurling. It’s a bit like hockey only you can lift the ball with your stick and wallop it up to 100mph in the direction of the opposition’s goals. Galway were playing Kilkenny – the so-called Brazil of hurling, nicknamed the cats. Well, they turned out to be more like pussys as Galway pounded them in the first half, scoring 6 goals in the first 10 mins before easing off. The singing and rejoicing in the stands was something I’d never witnessed before. The Galwegians taunted the Kilkenny followers with a spirited rendition of “What’s New Pussycat?” throughout half time. The Cats’ following retorted with a chanted “To Hell or To Connacht!” which I didn’t understand and, after my earlier attempts to mingle, didn’t ask for help. The second half was a pit of a procession with Galway allowing the Cats to weigh in with a few goals to take the bad look off the thing.

Galway might re-release their version

Although it was a fruitless journey in terms of what I wanted to achieve – mingling with the Galway community – I did enjoy the spectacle of hurling and will have a word with the hockey authorities at home as to how to jazz their game up a bit. Even shoulder charging in polo is something I’d pay to see.

Back to Antrim and I managed to catch the least session on Bundoran beach, hiding between two dunes. The Butcher never ceases to amaze me. He has taken the psychological aspect of game warfare to a new level. In the aftermath of the news that Donegal use codewords on the pitch, The Glenullin Genius has gone a step further – he had all the lads sitting behind desks on the beach learning Latin. When Kerr is kicking left he has to shout ‘reliquit’. ‘Dexter’ is right. ‘Meduis’ is middle. If he’s hitting it short, he bellows ‘brevis’. For Tomas McCann, if he’s not going to pass and wants the glory shot, he has to shout the word for shoot – ‘contendo’. Aodhan Gallagher, if he wants everyone to clear away so he can leap like a salmon and claim the ball, shouts ‘mea’ for mine. If Magill wants to be subbed, he harks ‘substituto’. If McBride wants on he quietly whispers ‘bulla’ for boss. The reason he needs to whisper it is because it also means ‘stud’ which would give the wrong impression to the latin experts in the ground. Sweeney asked if they could dress in Latin costume too. He was thrown into the sea.

How Sweeney wanted the Saffrons to tog out

It’s a match-winner I think.

The draw for the next round of the Antrim odyssey that has the world on tender-hooks saw them paired with Galway at home. The draw was made on an Irish TV station by the name of TV3. I had the misfortune of tuning into it early and was put through 30 mins of sheer misery and doldrumity. I remember watching an episode of Fr Ted and they based a show around a rather unexcitable character called Fr Stone. The presenter here was his long lost twin brother. I nearly lost the will to see who’d draw who live and hoped others would update us all on Twitter but I managed to stick at it.

TV3 build up to the draw

Suddenly Liam O’Neill and his magic balls appeared on the screen and sure enough Antrim were drawn out first to the tumultuous roars of approval of the studio guests and everyone at home. Galway followed and I booed so hard I almost threw up. I then set about finding out a little bit about Galway. It’s a county on the west coast of Ireland, mostly known for its rain, sleet, rocks and lightning. People go there for stag weekends and it seems to be a place of general debauchery and rascality on a grande scale. No one wrote it but it came across to me as a giant drunken brothel of a place. There’ll be no place for that in Casement Park.

How I picture Galway

I then spent the next few hours stalking members of the Antrim squad who were just walking around the roads. I knew I wouldn’t get my hands on the big stars as they were away getting massaged or winding down in their luxurious apartments. I did manage to nab a couple of the squad players.

I asked each one – “What did you think of the draw?” Their responses were as follows:

PATRICK GALLAGHER: “Great. Why are all the barbers closed on a Monday? You wouldn’t have 50p on you?”

SEAN FINCH: “Galway is it. Sure they have to travel the whole way here through rocky roads. Wee buns, Jemmy. Have you a light?”

DEAGHLAN O HAGAN: “He better fcukin pick me. I’ve an aunt there.”

CONAL KELLY: “Happy enough. Just glad it’s not away to Kildare. Can’t be bothered with more plane journeys. Here, I can get you a great deal on adult DVDs. ”

BRIAN NEESON: “I’ll say it one more time mister. Stop following me or it’s Wham Bam time. Why do you keep writing all this shit.”

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: “Galway? Wow! Can’t believe that off-licence doesn’t open til 12. Gandhi’s flip-flop here.”

PATRICK MCBRIDE: “I should be getting a massage too you know. Corrrrr, check out the pins on that cat over there. What, she’s 55? Still, has a pulse. Where’s my skateboard?”

KEVIN BRADY: “I’m 51 you know.”

So, there you have it – Antrim Gaels are chomping at the bit for the visit of Galway. The westerners may sleep well. I see they’ve already produced a single for the occasion. Rubbish in my opinion.


That was quite possibly the most enjoyable night of my life. I include the time I met JLS in the toilets in Birmingham Arena. Tonight, typifying the titanic journey these saffron heroes have been enduring, The Baker pulled a rabbit from his cloak of many colours and completely threw the assembled throngs of media into palpitations. It was a shrewd move. I spotted a bevy of Monaghan officials, incognito, worming their way around the top-level of the Casement Stadium. Their costumes were a bit unprofessional, dressed as Subway promotional women. The heavy Monaghan accent, hairy back and bendy legs were a bit of a farce to be honest.

Monaghan officials didn’t make an effort

It was all in vain anyway. Unbeknownst to all but the Saffron men of steel, he had decided to have a fancy dress day in order to create a magical and unbreakable bond between the squad and management staff. It was a wondrous sight when they ran on to the field at the start. With the hundreds of photographers primed to see O’Boyle, Murray and Cunningham run through the last few tactical directions from Bamber Bradley and his team, they got the shock of their lives when Paddy led them out dressed as Rapunzel. His flowing blonde locks and red sequined number oddly suited the Lamh Dhearg Legend. He also carried it off with a certain gravitas, like Kate Moss or Dana or something.

Cunningham, bottom right, poses with the attacking unit.

The run-out continued in that vein. Bam Neeson was a brilliant Hulk, Sweeney a very convincing ET, Anto Healy was Gollum and Kare the keeper was Banana Man. It was a brilliant sight and was glad to have my camera with me. I was slightly concerned with Tomas’s outfit. He came dressed as Baker himself which didn’t go down well. He kept shouting ‘he’s a great player so he is’ or ‘great pass so it was’. I could see Bradley getting a bit irate on the sideline. I hope he’s not dropped.

Kerr facing a 45

Aodhan Gallagher stole the show though. His entrance was what everyone was waiting for. This was the man who held it all together over the last few weeks with his aged appearance but Scholes-like experience. His choice of attire will live long in the memory.

Gallagher went full hog.

We’ll win. I’m totally convinced after seeing that.

Antrim 0-13 Sligo 0-12

Posted: February 5, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

What a wonderful day to be an Antrim supporter. We beat those bastards from Sligo. A man called Tomas McCann scored a wonderful goal that would rival anything seen in La Liga this season. He took the ball on his chest and from 55 yards out he half volleyed it straight past the hapless Sligo bastard keeper. The crowd of about 50’000 in unison leapt to his acclaim and a volley of shots were heard at the Andersonstown end. It capped off a wonderful performance from the Ants and it was great to send those Sligo bastards home with nothing. There were great performances from Cunningham whose redhead didn’t seem to hamper him in terms of confidence.

On second thoughts I’m not sure if a goal was scored but McCann, weighing in at 8 stone and 4 foot 5 inches was a mighty presence despite his obvious handicap. Kerr in goals was a colossus and conceded no goals, something an Antrim keeper hasn’t achieved since 1991. He even managed to purposely concede 3 45s so that he could be seen on the TV. Conor Murray was also a prominent figure and appeared to be wearing Armani underwear which pleased my homosexual father.

A great start to the league and the carnival on the Andersonstown Road was something else. Onwards and upwards.

Celebrations outside Whitefort.