Stars who lit up the Saffron sky brightest
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Though silverware has proved hard to come by over the years, Antrim has produced some outstanding individuals. Tony McGee selects the finest players to have worn the Saffron shirt...
Undoubtedly one of the best forwards that Ulster ever produced. The O’Connell’s club man was a dual player with both county and province before dual players were fashionable. For a while, he also gave back much of what he learned as Antrim football manager.
A strong, attacking half-back from Creggan, whose charges up the right wing relieved many a dangerous moment for the Antrim defence. He had the capacity to set his forwards in motion.
Unlike his brother Brian, Joe played in attack, mostly on the half-forward line, from where he took many vital scores in the 1960s. A handful for any opponent.
began his county career as a minor goalkeeper, but then moved out to the edge of the square, where he became a permanent fixture. He had many great duels with Sean O’Neill. John also played corner-back with authority and represented Ulster in that position. A quiet style of player who rarely got flustered.
Mickey Darragh (jun)
Antrim produced many excellent forwards down the years and the St John’s man was one of the best in the ’80s. Stocky in stature, he ran at defences with purpose and his speed left many a defender in his wake.
The utility man of Antrim teams, Aidan had spells in attack, at half-back and corner-back, despite his lack of height. He made no secret of the fact that he preferred playing up front but wherever he played he gave 100 per cent. When at left half-back, he often raced into attack, carrying the challenge to the opposition.
The Falls Road postman delivered many a blow to opposing teams’ hopes of success against the Saffrons. Danny was a fine fielder of the ball. He may not have been the best marksman around, but his other talents made up for that.
As a minor, the Dunloy teenager played at full-back in the last Antrim team to win the Ulster title (1951). Even then, he was a pillar of strength in front of goal and his shrewdness as a footballer was later carried into industry. The big hands that so often fielded the ball later shook the hand of US President Bill Clinton.
An ’80s player who was sound as a bell at full-back with good hands and long clearances. He will always be remembered for the performance he gave against Tyrone when he beat off the best that the Red Hands could throw at him. A member of St Paul’s, Greg’s career in the Saffron shirt ended prematurely as he decided to concentrate on his dentistry business.
‘Fitzie’, as he was better known, was the typical rugged midfielder, whose energy never seemed to burn up. A good fielder of the ball and also a good carrier of the ball into enemy territory, the Lamh Dhearg man could swing a game in a matter of minutes.
Donal made his name early as he played senior county football when barely out of teenage years. He was a full-forward in the Antrim team of the early ’50s, but his veterinary business took him to Galway so his Saffron football career was shortened.
The Irish army captain was an imposing figure in midfield during the better years of Antrim football. At over six feet tall, he was a strong opponent and a good team player. Like Kevin Armstrong, Gallagher also managed his native county for a time and, when in the army, steered the careers of other county footballers.
Just what the doctor ordered as a forward. A corner-forward in the 1951 Ulster Championship winning team ‘Medicine Man’ Sean continued his attacking role for some further years. A wily winger, typical of the mode of his time.
The stocky Rossa man completed a highly-dangerous full-forward line, firstly, in the All-Ireland-winning U21 side and then at senior level for a number of years. Fast and accurate, he was a nightmare for opponents as he twisted and turned and was accurate with both feet. Certainly an educated forward.
Not a lot passed through the middle when Glenavy man Ciaran was wearing the number six jersey. A player who led his line with purpose and was usually available to cover off when the need arose.
The St Gall’s defender (below) is another centre-back who can stamp his authority on a game. He has been in the county side since his teenage days and has played with success at corner-back and wing-back as well as in the centre of the half line. He likes racing upfield to have a pop at the posts.
The Ahoghill dentist extracted much pleasure from Antrim fans as he bossed forwards from far and wide. Seamus played at full-back in the All-Ireland U21-winning side and continued to make his mark at a higher level in subsequent years. His cool presence in front of goals was a calming influence.
Equally effective at both midfield and centre-back and manned the middle for a long spell. He was another Antrim player who played with Ulster and his height and strength in lar na pairc often proved the difference between victory and defeat. Also liked to drive forward for scores.
Antrim’s only football Allstar was the ‘Peter Canavan’ of his day. Another product of the Saffron U21 national-winning side who was a speedy right corner-forward with an accurate boot.Small in stature, he made up for his lack of inches with his ability to evade tackles and speed past opponents for scores.
An uncle of Andy’s, but from a different era. Joe shared in the glory days of the ’40s and ’50s and, like his sharpshooting nephew, was a corner-forward.
A product of the St John’s ‘football school’, Gerry normally operated at centre-forward, from where he snapped up many great scores. He was a very difficult player to mark as he had a swerve to take him out of close quarters.
Another St John’s player. The late Gerry won a Sigerson Cup medal with Queen’s University and won many plaudits from the Antrim fans who enjoyed his ball-carrying and attacking talents. Gerry made up for lack of pounds with his speed.
Fr Frank was not only a gifted footballer, he was an all-round sportsman, also excelling at golf and basketball. While teaching PE at St Malachy’s College he coached many young footballers.
The Glenavy clubman missed the best of Antrim’s days, but he stood out as one of the best full-backs in Ulster and beyond during his county days. A sturdy number three, whose ability to turn defence into attack was as invaluable as his long kicking.
Played between the Antrim posts during the past two decades bringing off many an important save. There have been many good ’keepers in Antrim teams and the St Paul’s man ranks with the best.
Another prominent goalkeeper who played in the Saffron side of the ’60s that could hold its own with the best, but still didn’t get the results many fel they deserved.
The strapping midfield man from St Teresa’s was a powerhouse in Antrim teams during the ’70s and ’80s. He played university football also and was included in Ulster teams.
The Rossa player was from the old school. A player who stood firm in the face of pressure. A strong defender, he was a most difficult player to out-fox or shake off.
A product of the ’80s, the Glenravel man was the typical attacking half-back who also had some outings in attack. For both club and county he was a busy-bee type who was always involved in the thick of things.
If only for the fact that he is the proud holder of an All-Ireland senior football medal, he deserves inclusion. Granted, the medal was won during his spell playing with Derry, but he gave many good displays for his native Antrim in midfield.
Another half-back of quality, ‘The Coggar’ played with success during the ’40s and ’50s. He was a member of the 1951 Ulster SFC-winning side.
A Wily corner-forward who proved a real headache for defenders the country over, not least defenders from Kerry. The late Paddy was certainly one of the best players that Antrim ever produced.
Paddy’s brother wasn’t far behind on the honours list. A midfielder of great ability he was many inches taller than his sibling and made full use of every inch he had. Fearsome in the air and accurate in attack.
Paul ‘PJ’ O’Hare
AN under-rated player. The St Gall’s man was an exceptional full-forward and deceptively fast for his size. He was the perfect targetman and his understanding with his corner-forwards was uncanny.
John P O’Kane
From Lamh Dhearg, O’Kane first made his mark with Antrim and, later, with Louth, wearing both the Ulster and Leinster jerseys. Normally a centre-back, he came through the ranks to take his place among the best Saffron players of his time. Exceptional in the air.
A strong player of the ’50s and ’60s, Hugh captained Queen’s in the Sigerson Cup. One of the most polished players of his time, he missed out on laurels with his county, but still made a big name for himself.
There is little that can be said about the ‘Red Dog’ that hasn’t already been said. It seems that Antrim has a tendency to produce a great number of excellent midfielders and full-backs and the Glenavy clubman was among the best centrefielders. Not a player to tangle with by any means, he was a solid block of football power.
Another top Antrim midfielder, who only recently retired from county football. He captained the team for quite a spell and led by wholehearted example. A fine fielder of the ball. What he may have lacked in finishing he made up for in his ability to set his forwards in motion.
A tenacious little corner-back who gave opponents little room to run. He was also a fine dead-ball kicker and took kick-outs with precision. The type of defender that forwards didn’t relish facing.
A TOUGH tackling half-back, usually playing on the right side of defence. He was a member of the ’60s side that pushed other teams to the limits without really clinching championship honours, although reaching a provincial final. Patsy was a forward going player who set up many attacks.
The life of Fr Liam was cut short, but not before he left his mark on football as a left winger in attack. A speedster whose scything runs cut through many defences. He didn’t have a long football career, which was interrupted by studies, but he made the best of it while it lasted. When captaining an Antrim minor team to victory a big future was forecast for him.
He led the way as a goalkeeper in the ’40s. One of the old style ’keepers who had to deal with a lot more pressure from forwards than the present custodians have to. He dealt extremely well with the style of the day.
Not the burliest of full-backs, by any means, but George was a wiry, tall defender who could deal with any style of opponent. He played during an era when full-forwards and full-backs were usually big, strong and, sometimes, immobile players. But he was different, he made full use of the lean frame he had to man the square with confidence.
Remember if you think, we have left someone out who you think merits a place on the top 125 of Ulster's great footballers feel free to add you own.
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