Posts Tagged ‘McCann’

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

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.

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

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 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)


“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Winston a Saff?

When Churchill came out with those words I’m not sure he was thinking about the Butcher Bradley’s Saffrons, but he just as well might have been. The journey has ended. From that first game which ended in a defeat to Fermanagh on a cold bitter night when a pre-diet Jan Molby ran riot, to that crucial final fling in Thurles last weekend, it has been a mighty, mighty ride. How can I forget the highs of turning over Sligo, Tipp and Offaly in succession as Antrim began their league campaign in a blaze of glory. Oh how we dreamed. I pictured Loughrey parading through Portglenone on the back of a transit van in late September and appearing stocious on Newsline. We had the heartbreaking defeat to Monaghan – a game which could easily have been the catapult to another Ulster final. The glorious victory over Galway, heralding Antrim’s biggest scalp in half a century. It had to end sometime and when that final McCann shot tailed off in the final seconds last Saturday, all that was left was emptiness. The dark abyss of club football in Ahoghill.

Ahoghill in late August

We never really got going. Tipperary emerged from their changing rooms to the theme tune of Jaws, signalling a sinister determination to succeed that day. They were men possessed. During the warm-up they displayed a new level of preparation never seen before on grass in Ireland. Their manager set out 15 squares on the field in which two players boxed each other, bare-knuckle, with no discernible Queensbury Rules applied. After three rounds of that, he made his assistant bring out a selection of mini-wire meshes in sandwich shape which all 30 players were made to chew on and swallow. Anyone who didn’t follow this through was made to do a plethora of press-ups with the heftiest women in Tipperary parking their arses on the poor lad’s back. It was mental  really. I caught Baker looking over at these goings-on and uttering to Adams “That’s mad stuff, so it is.”

Tipp ‘Keeper before throw-in

I think the sight of what was going on up the other end of the field un-nerved the more civilised Antrim side and it was reflected in their play. Wides were the story of the day. I’m not going to name players today who maybe didn’t play as well because they don’t deserve it as they all sent Galway home with aplomb last week. But one fellow hit one so badly it just sailed back over his own head much to the annoyance of Baker who was doing the ‘you’re dead’ throat-slitting gesture. It just wasn’t meant to be. Loughrey tried to gee up his troops and sent over two points from inside his own 45 but it was swimming against the tide.

Tomas McCann did knock a couple over but I’m 99% sure he also missed a couple of frees because of the pressure being exerted on him by the foreign women who ran up and down the stands directly in line with any run Tomas made. It was some sight but, as with being a newly-wed, he had to ignore the blatant sexual tension emanating from the Lebanese women stand. Although Antrim went toe-to-toe with the home side in the second half, you just knew it wasn’t to be their day especially when McDonagh’s togs split in the second half and he asked for a replacement pair. Baker forgot to pack a spare and, with the bench failing to part with theirs, he had to wear a camogie skirt for the remaining 15 minutes. It was very off-putting for the Antrim lads waiting on the breaking ball as they had to view Simon sail in their Tipperary air, from below.

McDonagh has taken a liking to it

When the final whistle sounded, the saffron thousands gave a 45-minute standing ovation and chanted all types of songs like ‘I’ll Tell My Ma’ and ‘Mickey Marley’s Roundabout’. It brought a tear to the eye of most.

That leaves me in a bit of a quandary now as my visa doesn’t run out until the day after the All-Ireland Final. I have decided to take it a weekend at a time and follow some game, starting with the Tipp/Down game this weekend. The Saffrons may be gone but they’ll live long in the heart. And next year, who knows? We might be discussing potential All-Stars in Raffo’s. Baker did it his way.

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.

This will be made into a film in years to come. Two words. Tomas McCann. I can see someone like Danny DeVito playing him. Or maybe Dr Evil. Somebody like that. Here is how the story goes. Yesterday, McCann got hitched. That’s right ladies, the man every woman imagines when they read 50 Shades of Grey finally allowed one special lady to spend the rest of her life in a semi-erotic bliss by agreeing to be her groom. Thousands lined the roads leading to the rocket church in Dunmurry for the ceremony. Young buxom women openly cried in a show of emotion not seen since Sean McGreevy took off his top during the Antrim/Down game of 2000. One girl from Glengormley set herself on fire in protest at the wedding. She was doused by a few WKDs nearby. The rest of the Antrim team attended the wedding with all but one drinking shandies. Gallagher stuck to his Islay Whiskey knowing full well that he plays better that way. There was a slightly awkward moment when Baker attempted to dress up as one of the bridesmaids in order to spy on the lads and got away with it until the vows when the priest asked if anyone had any objections. Baker said “No, so we don’t” in a broad mid-Derry accent and scratched his knackers. He was ejected.


The plane journey next morning was an eventful journey. Tomas’s wife refused to leave his side, such was the night they’d finally experienced and it was only when Tomas promised her ‘more of the same’ did she relent and allow the main man to join the rest of his teammates on the Easyjet flight with no luggage. Young Kirr the keeper arrived in his pyjamas and holding a Grover teddy but no one seemed to bat an eyelid at that. It turns out he’s not a morning person as opposed to young McBride who was freestyling to a Justin Bieber record being played over the sound system.

Kerr arrived on time

Arriving in London was straight forward apart from young Conor Murray trying to negotiate with duty-free, speaking Spanish and attempting to off-load Euros to purchase a bar of Toblerone. He was saved by Sweeney who explained to security staff that the Lamh Dhearg man had only ventured as far as the Devinish before this weekend. After a few mishaps the team finally made it onto the field at 12.45, 15 minutes before throw-in. Locals were a bit bemused by the Keeper Care’s approach. As with Murray, he hadn’t been out of Ireland before and appeared on the pitch with an oxygen mask for the supposed altitude deficit, factor 40 sun lotion and a translator not unlike Trapattoni’s attractive female sidekick.

The game was rather exciting. Antrim forged ahead when the grandfather of the team, Aodhan Gallagher, scored a screamer from 45m out. This man was here to entertain and he didn’t disappoint. The over 45s in the female section of the crowd swooned, believing that Grant Mitchell was making a new movie. Tomas McCann, despite his night of virginal passion, still had enough energy to score 0-5 in the first half included one effort he headed over, backwards.

Tomas, tired after wedding night.

Cerr, on the other hand, had a torrid first half. He was half-eaten by mosquitoes and agreed to buy a timeshare by someone on the sideline. Two goals flashed past him, the first time that’d happened since he was in p2 when CJ McGourty nutmegged him twice in one move at breaktime. After that it was plain sailing for the Galls shot-stopper as Baker assured him at half time that he could eat more paella and frites after the game. He made a blinding save from some cockney who clearly exclaimed ‘cor blimey!’ in amazement. Antrim won the encounter after a boy called Niblock, who also does news reports for the BBC, scored a wondrous goal from his own half – a real 60m daisy-cutter. This man could be big. There were other good performances too from Mick McCann and Magill. Both lads managed to blag their way into staying over that night as they wanted to take in a ‘show’ involving cross-dressing.

So, onwards to the next round and we find out where the Saffron juggernaut will venture next. Bouncer Bradley has few concerns and hopefully Tomas will have the whole honeymoon craic out of his system. What a win. What a weekend.

Scorers – London: C McCallion, E O’Neill 1-1 each, S McVeigh, M Gottsche (0-1f) 0-2 each, S Kelly (0-1f), M Mullins, J Scanlon 0-1 each
Antrim: T McCann 0-5 (0-4f), K Niblock, A Gallagher 1-0 each, J Loughrey, C Murray 0-2 each, M Sweeney, C Kelly 0-1 each

LONDON: E Byrne; J Scanlon, S McVeigh, D McGreevy; A Gaughan, S Mulligan, S Hannon; L Mulvey, M Gottsche; S Kelly, K O’Leary, M Mullins; C McCallion, E O’Neill, G Crowley.

Subs used: P McGoldrick for Kelly (41 mins), B Osbourne for McGreevy (46), P Finn for Crowley (53), M Carroll for Mullins (64), N Egan for O’Neill (67).

ANTRIM: C Kerr; A Healy, R Johnson, K O’Boyle; T Scullion, J Crozier, J Loughrey; M McCann, A Gallagher; C Murray, M Sweeney, C Kelly; T McCann, M Magill, M Johnston.

Subs used: D O’Hagan for Healy (61 mins), M Armstrong for Murray (69).