Off The Fence

Off the Fence: Praise floods in for Boot Room on John McKillop

John McKillop on the Pairc Tailteann pitch after Ruairi Og's win over Na Piarsaigh last weekend
Picture by Seamus Loughran 
Off the Fence with Cahair O'Kane

BRENDAN CROSSAN’S profile of legendary Cushendall figure John McKillop in last Friday’s Boot Room has received widespread praise this week. So widespread in fact, this is basically an edition of Off the Fence in which the readers lavish praise on our esteemed colleague. 

Ruairi Óg will face Limerick and Munster champions Na Piarsaigh in the final following their win at the weekend. A Limerick native, ‘Nick’, emailed to register his thoughts: “I must compliment you on a really engaging and emotive article on John McKillop," he wrote.

“I think that this is what makes the GAA such a great organisation because there are clubs all over the country that embrace people like John who are part of the heart and soul of communities throughout this island.

“Saturday proved a watershed for a great club and community which has hurling as part of its DNA. That iconic mural sums what the place is all about. They will go to the final against a relatively new club from my own county of Limerick and I would have known quite a lot of members of Na Piarsaigh down through the years.

“Like most long suffering Limerick hurling supporters, it would be nice to see a Limerick team win a final in Croke Park. But I have to say that I have more than a passing interest in Ruairi Og as one of my sons, who shares the same name, is one of the backroom coaches to the team.”


THE column also appears to have brought out the romance in Brendan’s fanbase. ‘Antrim Supporter’ contacted us via email to recount their delight at Cushendall’s victory.

“I have a soft spot for the Glens of Antrim, probably as a result of childhood holidays spent in Waterfoot, Cushendall and Cushendun. I learnt to fish off the rocks at Dalriada and to swim off the beach in Cushendall. My first hurling game was at Ossian's old pitch in Waterfoot," the Saffron fan wrote. 

“My own children enjoyed many a day out there and I now bring my grandchildren there as often as I can. So it was with some personal pride that I read Brendan Crossan’s excellent article The 16th Man last Friday.

“It incorporated everything there was to say about Cushendall, the Glens, its people and what hurling means to them. As the article stated, it’s quite simply in their DNA. Terence McNaughton epitomised that more than any player I know.

“I couldn’t make the match on Saturday, but watched with knots in my stomach as something almost magical unfolded in front of me. Cushendall did to a Galway team what Galway teams (and other great southern teams) have done to Ulster teams throughout the decades. Cushendall outmuscled, outskilled and outfought them, and credit to the Galway management who accepted that the defeat was total. Hurling people are like that.

“Nothing is won yet and Cushendall folk will know that and won’t get the run of themselves. But Na Piarsaigh will know that a massive battle awaits them. John McKillop, Terence McNaughton and all of Cushendall deserve their day at Croke and I am sure the people up at Loughgiel will hope that their hurling neighbours can emulate their own great achievements.

“Roll on St Paddy’s Day and let's hope the Green Glens of Antrim rings out loud and clear at the final whistle.”


‘RORY’ added his voice to the chorus of approval: “Great article today about John McKillop. After reading Joe Brolly’s article in yesterday’s Independent about local characters in Dungiven, I couldn’t help thinking that someone should be writing a book about all these wonderful people. As you say yourself, they are the GAA’s richest resource.”


‘BALLYCASTLE MAN’ did likewise: “Brendan, brilliant article about John McKillop, a Cushendall legend, in today’s IN. A character who’s well known and respected beyond Cushendall. It’s a credit to you for highlighting an unsung hero like John.”


AND another ‘Anonymous’ caller was keen to thank Mr Crossan: “I want to congratulate and thank Brendan Crossan for his article on the 16th man. It takes us to the heart of the GAA club in a very caring and sensitive manner.

"Thank God many clubs have their John McKillops, male and female. As Brendan states, they are definitely part of our DNA. Unfortunately, we lost a young man O’Neill from the Greenlough club recently. He had given similar support to his club. I don’t know Brendan, but I appreciate a well-researched piece of journalism.”


IT REALLY was a piece that touched the hearts of so many GAA people. In my own club, we have a similar young man, Kevin Barry Burke, who never misses a training session, let alone a game.

He has been known to appear late in games and snatch an odd goal when the opportunity has arisen. The passion people like John McKillop, Christopher O’Neill (RIP) and Kevin Barry Burke display for Gaelic games really is a fantastic thing to see.


THE other big talking point on the phone lines this week was Armagh’s disappointing defeat at home by Laois last Saturday night.

While they did come back in the final quarter and almost squeeze something out of it, the loss left them staring down the barrel of relegation. While one Armagh texter was keen to apportion every ounce of the blame on referee Barry Cassidy, ‘Pat from Armagh’ was taking a less blinkered view.

“I couldn’t believe Kieran McGeeney’s comments about Armagh playing so well on Saturday night," Pat said. 

"He had three full-forwards and a half-forward who scored one point while they were there. He brought on three sub forwards and they got one point. That’s seven forwards and two points between them in total. Then he says he’s pleased they played so well. They were very, very poor. Some of the forwards shouldn’t be on the panel at all. 

“They’re only fit for Division Three, which is where they’re going to end up at the end of this league. I’m awful disappointed with the way they’re playing. They’re very slow to move the ball forward, the backs have to come up to help. He has two forwards who maybe could score playing in the half-backs. The future for Armagh is very bleak.”


ARMAGH supporters still seem to retain the expectations of a decade ago. McGeeney’s appointment as manager heightened that expectation further. But he is not a miracle worker. The vast majority of the problems are not of his making. The question you have to ask is: would anyone else do any better?

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Off The Fence