GAA Football

Antrim aim to go to town in country junior final

Stalwarts: Paddy Quinn (left) and Ronnie McNeilly
John Hart

ST COMGHALL’s of Antrim town take on Con Magee’s, Glenravel tomorrow (Creggan, 2pm) in the Antrim JFC final, bidding to claim the title for a fourth time.

Club chairman Paddy Quinn was manager of the last St Comgall’s team to lift the title – in 1998 – having captained them to glory three years previously. That 1995 win bridged a gap of 23 years from the club’s first championship win, which featured Ronnie McNeilly and his three brothers as key members of the squad.

With Antrim having fallen to St Teresa’s at the final hurdle in 1970, St Enda’s were the favourites two years later, but St Comgall’s had an ace up their sleeves.

The famous Bryansford side of 1969 that ended a 27-year famine for Down SFC honours was coached by Sean Smith.

Attracted by ready employment thanks to British Enkalon, Antrim’s population was expanding rapidly and when a new primary school was built Smith moved there to become principal. He took the helm of the club and his focus and professional approach to training was revolutionary at the time.

“We had the wind in the first half but were only four points up at the break,” said McNeilly.

“The second half was a masterclass in how to frustrate opposition and points from my brother Raymond and Eugene McQuillan sealed the victory for us.

“The press reports at the time singled out the defensive efforts of my brother Eric and Brian Doole as a key part in Sean Smith’s conservative strategy.”

As McNeilly’s playing days were drawing to a close, Quinn was starting out as a classy and precocious talent.

By the time St Comgall’s had their next shot at glory in 1995 against St John’s, Quinn’s youthfulness had given way to a captain’s role.

“The game was nip and tuck but a sweet strike from Damien Devine saved the day and when the final whistle blew the Johnnies manager graciously offered us their champagne that had been a demonstration of their confidence,” he said.

He was on the sideline as manager for the 1998 final win over Ballycastle and will watch his son Paddy take to the field tomorrow and try to emulate his father’s championship-winning exploits.

“When he’s had a good game, and if I feel he’s got a little big for his boots, I remind him. But the truth is no one would give up those bragging rights quicker than me,” said Quinn.

“I’ve been a part of the club my whole life and I would be tremendously proud if he were to be part of a winning side on Saturday.”

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