AS celebrations continue in the Loughgiel area this week following their famous Croke Park All-Ireland Club Hurling Final victory on St Patrick’s Day, congratulations have flooded in, including praise from the DUP mayor of Ballymoney, Cllr Ian Stevenson.
The Mayor, who was present in Dublin for the game, said: “As Mayor I would like to congratulate Loughgiel Shamrocks on their sporting success on Saturday, and for winning by such a margin.
“It has been described as the Gaelic sport equivalent of winning the Champions League, in club terms. It is yet another example of the high level of sporting excellence which a borough this size produces on a regular basis.
“I am pleased for those who have been able to see it twice in their lifetime, since they last won in 1983. I am particularly pleased for my councillor colleague Alderman Harry Connolly who has been involved in GAA for 54 years and who was a very kind and courteous host on the day.”
The mayor intends to host a reception for the victorious Loughgiel team.
Last week, Mayor Stevenson was catapulted into the media spotlight when he told how his late grandfather, Sam O’Neill, played for the Shamrocks in the 1920s.
And in the build-up to the final when Cllr Stevenson visited Loughgiel’s ground to wish the team well he pulled on a Shamrocks’ jersey and was pictured hurling with star player Liam Watson.
Loughgiel SDLP councillor Harry Connolly - who is high up in the Shamrocks club - thanked Mayor Stevenson for travelling to the big match in Dublin on Saturday.
Alderman Connolly said: “As Vice-President of the Club I wish to pay tribute to the Mayor, Cllr Ian Stevenson, for his attendance at the Semi-Final in Parnell Park and again at Croke Park on March 17. He has shown that is Mayor for all of the Borough of Ballymoney. Well done Ian.
“The winning of the Club Championship brings great honour to the club, the Borough of Ballymoney and indeed Antrim hurling asa a whole, north and south.”
Alderman Connolly added: “I congratulate Shamrocks hurling team for their success on winning the All-Ireland Club Championship. As Vice-President of the Club I specially pay tribute to the fine display of first class hurling. The players, from the goalie to the forward line, played a game that will go down in the record books as one of the best ever seen at Croke Park - a credit to them; a credit to team manager PJ O’Mullan and his selectors; a credit to the hard work in training since October last year put in by these dedicated players.
“And we can’t forget the loyal supporters who attended the Semi-Final at Parnell Park and Croke Park on Final Day.
“The people cannot say that we did not take the Tom Moore Cup across the border this time as was said by some critics when it was one on a replay at Casement Park in 1983.”
North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay also congratulated Loughgiel.
He said: “This is not only a great day for Loughgiel but also a great day for Antrim and Ulster hurling. The hurling clubs here in north Antrim are very competitive to say the least but this is proof I believe that any of our local clubs are capable of going to Croker in the years ahead and bringing the All-Ireland back to Antrim.
“That is not to take away from the performance of Na Seamroga. The big stage did not faze the team one bit and the self-belief key to clinching big games like this was there in abundance. The audacity of Liam Watson’s goal from a 20 metre free after he was fouled by a Coolderry back was the moment of the game for me but equally as important was the crucial blocking, hooking and defending – they were outstanding throughout.
“The only bad omen I seen before the game was the pundits in the programme, every one of whom wrote off Loughgiel’s chances of winning on the day. As one scribe on ‘Tweeter’ wrote afterwards ‘Eat your words lads!’
Loughgiel Sinn Fein councillor Anita Cavlan said: “Loughgiel is like one big party at the moment and it’s richly, richly deserved. I was speaking to some of the Coolderry supporters at half-time and they couldn’t believe the support that the Shamrocks had, not only in terms of numbers but in voice. “There was a great sea of red and white across on the Cusack stand that we could see from the Hogan end and there’s no doubt the supporters throughout the stadium played a key part in spurring the boys on to victory.
“This is a great boost for the club and the people of the parish and will no doubt provide further dividends in terms of solidifying support for the club and copper-fastening the hurlers’ position as role models to young people within the community. GAA is about sport, it is about community and Loughgiel Shamrocks truly exemplify that.”
Ballycastle SDLP councillor Dónal Cunningham also congratulated Loughgiel.
He said: “I have great memories of the last occasion when Loughgiel reigned as All Ireland Champions and the positive effect it had on club hurling in Antrim. Massive crowds enjoyed the club hurling scene of 1983, I particularly remember the thrills of a closely fought Feis Cup semi- final and replay between the Shamrocks and Cushendall played at the Ballycastle pitch. Also a classic “friendly” v Galway champions Kiltormer which served as the opener to the new Rasharkin pitch and as a Ballycastle man I can never forget the epic 1983 County final which saw Ballycastle victorious. If interest in Club hurling in 2012 can match what was on offer in 1983 we are in for a treat.”