Antrim milestone to be celebrated in Belfast
THIS THURSDAY in Belfast’s Titanic Building, the Ulster Council will mark a happier centenary than that commemorated by the venue. This year is the 100th anniversary of one of the province’s most distinguished football teams.
Antrim became the first Ulster county to contest the All-Ireland final when reaching the 1911 final, played in January 1912, and did so again the following season. The 1912 final was played in November 1912, 100 years ago this month.
Sadly for the county, they lost both finals – the first heavily to Cork and the second by just five points to Louth. Along the way Antrim became the first Ulster team to beat Kerry in the championship, in the 1912 semi-final, which was the heaviest defeat – 3-5 to 0-2 – inflicted on Kerry in the All-Ireland championship until Meath bettered it 89 years later.
The man behind the commemoration is historian Donal McAnallen, who is the Ulster Council’s cultural, educational and outreach officer.
“It was also the very first championship win over southern opposition by any Ulster county and I think it’s fair to say it was unexpected,” he says. “There were some complaints about how Antrim played. Their tactics were to play the ball on the ground to a greater extent than would have been usual at the time – described in a contemporary report as ‘fast and clever groundwork’ – but it can’t be looked on as a freak occurrence. This was a team that won five-in-a-row Ulster titles in six years (the 1911 provincial championship wasn’t contested).”
Historically Kerry have distanced themselves from the result by explaining that the team had complacently decided to attend the wedding of a well-known Kerry man in Dublin on the eve of the match.
McAnallen points to the fact that Kerry had a powerful team, which went on to win back-to-back All-Irelands in 1913 and ’14. “I suppose Antrim winning was a bit of a surprise but in that match two of Kerry’s most famous footballers were playing: Dick Fitzgerald and Pat ‘Aeroplane’ O’Shea.
“That Antrim team was remarkable in that its five-in-a-row had to be won by playing just one out of 16 fixtures at home. The Ulster Council needed money at the time and it was felt that south-Ulster venues would be more profitable.
“Antrim players tended to be based in Belfast and because of their jobs, commercial travellers and shop workers, were more flexible in their ability to travel than say, farm workers.”
As well as a celebration, Thursday’s commemoration is intended to highlight an omission by the provincial council.
“Antrim got no medals for any of their five championship wins,” says McAnallen. “Yet the following year, Monaghan were presented with a set for winning the 1913 championship. It caused a long-standing grievance and in 1927 the Antrim players were eventually presented with a set of medals to commemorate their wins.”